Industrial Sociology: Overview

Industrial Sociology is a relatively young branch of sociology. While Durkheim and Max Weber made some analysis of industrial institutions, industrial sociology as a separate branch got its push due to the famous experiments at Hawthorne Works in Chicago, of the Western Electric Company, conducted by George Elton Mayo and his associates between 1924 and 1932. While the field cannot be confined by any one definition, various sociologist have tried to define industrial sociology in the following ways-

According to Miller and Form, “Industrial Sociology is a substantive area of general sociology which might more accurately be termed the sociology of work organisations or sociology of economy”.


According to J H Smith, “Industrial Sociology is concerned with industry (or any form of work organisation) as a social system, including those factors (technical, emotional, political) which affect the structure, the function and the changes in that system”.

However, there is no general agreement among sociologists about the origin, definition and content of the sub-discipline.


Sociology is the study of the collective behaviour of people together in society as a whole. It would explain the reasons for why people behave the way they tend to behave. And when our economies turned into industrial economy urbanization began with the competition. Industrialization is both boon and bane for our society. Industrialization brought a lot of development alongside class divisions among the people. And so has the social problems that have arisen with all the complexities.

The key terms of industrial sociology are ‘industry’ and the concept of sociology. The industry here refers to the place where the goods and services are produced for consumption in an economy. It is the place where every single person comes and interacts with each other for the process of production and consumption. The concept of sociology in the industrial sector gives us the discipline for the behaviour of the people. The relationships between people are explained while they grow in the field of industries.

Industrial sociology does not merely see them as an economic organization but more like a social or human organization. The concept covers how people communicate with each other, who do they communicate at the times of distress, how the community

Emergence and Evolution

With the rise of industrialisation rose interest in socio-economic aspects of industrial societies. Industrial sociology has blurred contour and as its subject matter has not been delimited, it often crosses over into the subject matter of Economics. Adam Smith addressed the philosophical issues and moral sentiments attached to economic activities. Later he turned his attention to the social (macroscopic) and organisational (microscopic) roles in society of capitalist and labours. He regarded effective mobilisation and utilisation of labour as the true wealth of a nation instead of material things such as silver and gold. Smith’s work on free trade, minimal government interference, the role of differentiated divisions of labour, the rise of ‘factory system’ laid out the basics for modern industrial sociological research: economic organisation, manager’s and worker’s waves, economic exchange and trade, the correlation between technology and division of labour, the distributive effect of industrialisation on national stratification system, etc.

Charles Dickens’ literary treatment of socio-political life in early 19th century Britain has also aided sociologists. Post Elton May’s study, industrial sociology rapidly grew as an area of theoretical research and not just practical application to aid industrialist to increase the productivity of labour.

Subject Matter

Burns has classified the subject matter of industrial sociology in the following ways-

  1. Bureaucracy: analysis of the bureaucratic machinery i.e. the behaviour and attitude of the officers and black coated workers.
  2. Study of Functions: The study of the workplace as a system by which individuals achieve a balance between work and their own goals in the form of complex organic or social-technical systems.
  3. Study of Functional Group: the study of informal groups of working individuals and the contrast of the system of relationships, aims and beliefs especially with the management.
  4. Analysis of Industrial Relationships: a study of trade union behaviour, labour organisations’ bargaining procedures as industrial relations complex.
  5. Influence of Industrialism on the Individual: analysis of industrialism on the social life of workers as individuals, including balance and interaction between work and non-work areas of life.

Industrial Human/Social Relations

Industries form human interactions and relations across fields. These social relations can be categorised in the following ways-

  • Internal Relations– the social or interpersonal relations between individuals within the same industry. For example, the owner, the managerial staff and the labourers of a single industrial complex. These can further be divided into formal, informal and mixed.
  1. Formal Relations: relations that form between individuals by virtue of their role or status in the industry. These relations are strictly non-personal and have no emotions attached. For example, the relation between boss and employee or two co-workers who are not friends.
  2. Informal Relations: the personal relations within a workspace which operate according to emotions and passions. These may develop between individuals or groups. For example, two co-workers may be friends or workers may get divided into factions where one fraction has enmity against the other faction.
  3. Mixed Relations: relations which are neither completely formal not completely informal fall in this category. For example, a party after work between the managerial staff and labourers would fall in this category.
  • External Relations: a factory, mill or industry’s relation with other industries, government and social organisations are categorised as external relations. Industries need a licence from the government, advertisements with the media and recruitment from educational institutions. Their relations with all these institutions are external relations.

Scope of Industrial Sociology

Industrial sociology is an applied discipline. The following things come under its scope. This list is not exhaustive.

  1. It studies the process of industrialisation historically.
  2. It looks at the influence of physical and social environment on industrial development and vice versa.
  3. It studies the role of government and state in industrial management and development and helps in the formation of government policies in relation to industries, the education system for a better workforce, loans to industries, etc.
  4. Deals with three different organisations of the workplace which are conceived as distinguishable but interrelated namely management organisation, an informal organisation of workers and union organisation.
  • Management Organisation caters to the relationship between management and workers. It includes policies, social programs, welfare structures, working on the management, etc. It deals with the formal aspect of the relationship.
  • Informal Organisations are relationships voluntarily formed between workers without any institutional control. These relationships can manifest themselves in the form of cliques, gangs, friendship groups, bands, etc. These informal groups determined norms for social behaviour.
  • Union Organisation refers to the role of formal groups or organisations such as trade unions and participation or involvement of workers in union activities. They play a vital role in maintaining industrial peace or creating industrial unrest.

Importance of Industrial Sociology

  1. Stability in Industrial Society– having a constant database of social industrial phenomena and theories that explain it allows for better administration of industries.
  2. Remedies to Problems of Industrial Society– the revolution in the industrial age has led to differences in status and role of social institutions which has created social unrest. Industrial Sociology allows for the study of problems and proposes solutions to problems such as strikes, lockdowns, unemployment, wages, health sanitation, housing, education, social security, etc.
  3. Helping in Personality Development– underdeveloped personality increases social disorganization. Industrial sociology is used for personality development of those individuals involved in the industry.
  4. Aid to Familial Integration– family is the central social unit of society. Most families in poor industrial neighbourhoods face social evils such as poor recreation, prostitution, alcoholism, unhealthy living conditions, overcrowding, etc. Industrial sociology addresses these issues.
  5. Industrial Planning– in the age of planning, industrial sociology makes industrial processes more efficient by gaining maximum output out of minimum input. This planning is possible only with the knowledge base provided by industrial sociology.
  6. Peace and Prosperity– economic stability, labour satisfaction and efficient distribution of resources (which can be achieved with the help of industrial sociology) allows for maintenance of national and international peace and prosperity.

Why do we require Industrial Sociology?

The concept of industrial sociology is wide and is very vital to the organization. The following could be stated a few of the reasons why we would require industrial sociology.

  • They help us identify the problems existing in the industry and also gives us the probable solutions to it.
  • At the times of industrial distress, they would help us understand the situations better.
  • It helps us understand the relationship between one’s personal activities with that of industrial activities.
  • They show us the way human interaction flows through the organization helping in times of miscommunication.
  • It analyses the depth of the industrialization and magnitude of the problems arising along with the development.
  • It helps with industrial planning, in maintaining a good relationship between the labour unions and the management.
  • The trade relations can be easily identified and chaos with the organization channels can be reduced.
  • The most important reason would be to maintain peace and prosperity within an organization.

With the event of industrialization and vast developing economy, it is very important for us to realize the human potential in order to compete in the vast competition. In order to realize human potential, it is important for us to learn human behaviours in the first place in a given situation. Industrial sociology serves as a platform to learn about the human pattern of behaviour.


Etzioni, Amitai. (1958). Industrial sociology: the study of economic organizations. Social research. 25. 303-324.

  • by Suriya Anitha and Astha Nain.
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