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Overview Of Industrialization In The Modern Era – Essay

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Published: Tue, 11 Apr 2017

The rapid growth of the global economy profoundly effects modern economic development and stability, labor, and, most especially, the environment. In combination with the Earth’s natural geologic functions, the process of human globalization radically transforms local issues into national and international problems, heightening cultural, political, social, and economic issues in a manner in which they are no longer local or regional in nature. The western paradigm, of course, has been that industrialization and development of nations is the way to bring modernization. Bringing modernization has been considered not only desirable from a cultural standpoint, but ethnocentrically it has become the only way to join in the “club” of developed nations for trade and mutual advocacy. From the local social and cultural aspect, indigenous populations are being bombarded with marketing and advertising images to the point that they do not feel part of the human race without some of the consumer products so clearly advocated by regional and local media. What globalism also teaches us, however, is that development in one part of the world has consequences to the rest of the globe as well. These consequences go far beyond the obvious – individual environmental impact in a certain area; and move much further into the food chain for both the underdeveloped area and the macro-environment.

Thus, it is difficult to ask the question of whether industrialization and development is the best thing for a continent or group of countries – Africa, for instance, without asking broader questions about the environment, and even populations, cultures, and the hegemony of numerous peoples. Pollution, for instance, a clear result of development and industrialization, is not a modern phenomenon. Modern humans have an idea that primitive cultures lived in pristine balance with their environment, but many recent studies show this is not true. For instance, archaeological studies from Paleolithic sites (10-40,000 years ago) make great use out of piles of discarded stone tools, litter, and the refuse produced by a campsite. Forging of metals appears to be a key turning point in the creation of significant air pollution levels; in fact core samples of glacier ice in Greenland show significant air contamination that is associated with Greek, Roman, and Chinese metal production. In soil samples, there are traces of lead pollution from Roman smelters, which may be traced all over Europe (Hong, 1996, 248-9).

Persian scientists of the Islamic Golden Age were writing about pollution between the 9th and 13th centuries as a concern for medical issues like water contamination, soil contamination, mishandling of solid wastes and even basic environmental assessments. These cultures were moving into concern about pathogens and what consequences poor management of human waste, etc. would have on civilization (Gari, 2002, 475-81). As early as 1272 burning of coal in major European urban areas was causing such a problem that there were times it was banned. It was the industrial revolution, however, that gave birth to the environmental problem of pollution to the effects of what we now consider drastic. The emergence of large and numerous factories and consumption of huge quantities of fossil fuels spewing chemicals into the atmosphere, wastes into the water table, and untreated wastes into the soil. By the 1880s modern cities were seeing huge issues with pollution – by the mid-20th century some cities were even experiencing such severe smog events that they became a health hazard (History of Pollution, 1).

The Paradigm of Industrialization – The idea that industrialization is the path to modern development really began with the manner in which European countries developed during and following the Age of Exploration and Discovery in the 16th and 17th centuries. For development to occur at the industrial level there needed to be an economic and political system that would support such growth – that system, of course, grew out of feudalism and was titled capitalism. Capitalism, in its most simplistic form, is an economic system that uses open and free competition and markets. Capitalism means the means of production and distribution are owned by individuals or groups, not by the state, and are therefore at the whim of competitive forces and a need for resources and profits. However, from a socio-economic perspective, capitalism also seems to engender a particular philosophy that requires the owners to continue to seek even greater profit, expansion, and exploitation – all to fuel the need for more goods, services, and economic gain. Of course, some would argue that the exploitation of Africa and the New World also had religious and cultural justification, but one could equally argue that it was the economic need for profit, and the cultural excuse, that drove Europe into all three continents (Africa, North and South America).

Early capitalism was feudalism – a relationship between an owner (Lord) and a vassal (worker) that relied on mutual cooperation and protection. Feudalism in Europe resulted in surpluses that caused a hierarchy in society (tradesmen, etc.), a larger urban class, and a need for more exploration to fuel markets. This early capitalism and a hunger for markets actually fueled exploration, which affected Africa because of its proximity to Europe, the manner in which Europeans visited Africa during the Crusades, albeit briefly, and the amount of raw materials and human capital available – seemingly for the picking due to technological (weapons) advantages (Wood, 2002).

The institution of modern capitalism began out of the political machinations of technological and economic advancements that naturally occurred post feudalism. The edicts of Christianity promoted the goodness of manual labor, which helped to provide some of the fuel to fuel capitalism. In addition, Christianity’s encouragement of a work ethic helped product a surplus, which increased the population in Europe, particularly after the Crusades of the 10th to the 14th centuries. This excess in population resulted in a greater number of workers available, which banded together to form Guilds. But it was the technological innovation of machinery and the vase advancements o industrialization that literally changed Europe over a few decades into an expansionist and needy (for resources) set of clashing world powers. The exploitation of human and natural resources during what was to be known as the Industrial Revolution provided enough economic growth that specialization occurred, robust domestic and foreign markets were born, banking and transportation systems improved. This spiraled, buttressed with natural resources, stable government, a politically supported merchant class, and a number of technological inventions that literally transformed society (Bryer, 2004). It is important to note that there are numerous similarities to Africa – large amounts of natural and human resources, availability of markets – but lacking in the infrastructure of stable government and a merchant class, technology and banking tended to not develop in the same manner.

Imperialism and Colonialization in the Process of Industrialization – Most scholars see the major reasons for European hegemony in the 19th century to be economic in origin, arising from a long tradition which allowed Medieval Feudalism to evolve into an industrial capitalism that controlled vast amounts of wealth. This wealth allowed the transference of technology that combined with the colonialism and exploration of the New World starting in the 1500s to create a system of super states that could dominate all other nations. These super states, of course, needed fuel to exist and grow – and that fuel was the process of colonization. Colonizing other countries, often on of the prime components of Imperialism, is defined as the policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations; manifest destiny is the idea that God gave a nation the right to practice this. Africa, possibly because of its geographic proximity, possibly because of the goods and resources available, was one of the first to experience the effects of this part of industrialization and development.

Without certain circumstances, though, this trend towards industrialization and the control of technology could not have happened. Environmental factors, for instance, allowed societies to develop near the great river valleys of the world (Nile, Tigris/Euphrates), but also, through again, a series of geological factors, included raw materials that contributed to the technological advancement of societies. These early civilizations then, had the advantage of early urbanization and organization, turning into the great Middle Eastern civilizations, then Greece, Rome, Byzantium, and finally the European powers (Cain and Hopkins, 2001).

Of course, to become dominant globally, one needed a steady supply of capital. For the great European powers this capital was supplied through the labor and products of colonies (e.g. the British colonies in India; France and the Dutch in Africa; Spain in South America and Asia).The circle was almost complete; the mother country gained in technology which allowed them better warships and military supplies; the colonies supplied cheap labor and either raw materials or finished goods at an exemplary price; the mother country sent advisors and their own colonists, which in turn changed the culture and atmosphere as well. Great Britain is perhaps the best example of overt imperialism that almost required more than just military might to succeed.

Beginning in the late 16th century, Great Britain began amassing dominions colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by London’s Parliament. By the mid-19th century, for instance, the British Empire had influence on almost ½ billion people and ¼ of the total global population and economy. As a result, its political, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, it was often said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because its span across the globe ensured that the sun was always shining on at least one of its numerous territories (Hodge, 2008).This pattern continued throughout the 19th century, and, when combined with the kinship of most of Europe’s leaders resulted in numerous squabbles that would eventually result in World War I and the beginning of the decline of European dominance. Still, there is no mistaking that European culture (especially religion) in the spread of European ideals and culture worldwide. This did have an ironic effect though; as revolutionary fever and an unwillingness to continue on without self-rule ultimately contributed to Europe’s ebb as a global power.

Industrialization and Development in Africa- Thus, for centuries, the idea has been to use Africa as a means to develop Europe and other countries (the United States, some Asian countries, etc.). Most of Africa was seen as a vast area of resources – timber, gemstones, precious metals, ore, agriculture, and of course, for centuries, the trade in human slavery. Post World War I and II, though, and then after using Africa as someone of a battleground for the Cold War, the rise of globalization caused a new paradigm to appear – what should the political, social and economic path of Africa be in the 21st century. One issue, of course, is that Africa is not one region – it is a continent so large that it has no unifying geopolitical paradigm. Northern Africa tends to be dominated by the Arab World, having been a part of that series of colonization for at least a millennium. Resources, religion, and oil often dominate this area. As we move towards sub-Saharan Africa, but find that although the groups congregate in the towards resources, there is still some lingering prejudice from colonial days. Southern Africa, most recently independent, is desperately trying to maintain some semblance of economic development amid social strife and egregious poverty (Wangew, 1995). However, more of the seminal question remains – when we review the material on imperialism, development, industrialization, and globalization we must ask – is there really a choice for the African continent regarding development?

The continent remains rich in natural resources; it is the second-largest and second most populous continent and covers 6 percent of the earth’s total surface and 21 percent of the total land area. It has about 1 billion people, and accounts for almost 15 percent of the population (Reader, 1999). Still, despite its abundant natural resources, the continent is one of the worlds poorest and underdeveloped. It harbors numerous deadly diseases and viruses (HIV, malaria, and elephantiasis), corrupt governments, horrid records for human rights, failed central planning, and high levels of literacy, frequent tribal conflict and genocide. In fact, according to the United Nations, the bottom 25 ranked nations in human development were almost all African (Human Development Reports, 2010). This is part of the overall question about African development – Africa must develop. Poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, disease and lack of potable water affect much of the continent to the point where the World Bank announced revised global poverty estimates based on how poor 81 percent of Sub-Saharan African figured on the list. This, despite decades of aid, confirms that external impetus for change has been unsuccessful in the region – and had almost 60 percent of the population living below the poverty level in 1996 (almost 400 million people). In fact, the average person in sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $.75/day and is poorer than they were in the early 70s. Much of this is attributed to unsuccessful economic programs often spearheaded by foreign companies and governments, combined with internal corruption and a lack of funds getting to the appropriate areas of the population (Grischow, 2011).

This is ironic considering the abundance of resources in most of the continent. Angola, the Sudan and Equatorial Guinea have an abundance of petroleum resources that are now being extracted. Africa has over 90 percent of the world’s cobalt and platinum; 550 percent of gold, 98 percent of its chromium, and almost 40 percent uranium (Swain, 2008). The Democratic Republic of the Congo has over 70 percent of a rare mineral, coltan, than is used in most mobile phones, more than 30 percent of the world’s diamond reserves, and large veins of unexplored rare metals. Guinea, near the DRC, is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, the ore from which most aluminum is extracted (Futehally, 2010). Certainly, from a geo-political standpoint, all these rare resources should mean an advantage to the continent. Yet, the growth in Africa over the last few decades has been driven by more of a service economy and not by manufacturing or agriculture. This growth has been without jobs, without a more robust and educated population, and without reduction in poverty. In fact, most recently in 2008, the global economic crisis pushed another 100 million Africans into the brink of food poverty (Ibid.). China is certainly paying more attention to the continent, and since 2007 has built stronger ties with many nations in Africa. China, it seems, realizes that it will take investment into the infrastructure of the country, partnering with legitimate governments concerned with economic opportunity rather than political gain, to advance the growth, development and industrialization of the area. In fact, China has invested over $1 billion in Africa, banking on the fact that African can not only feed itself if it had decent governance, but that it could use its natural resources to dramatic change its economic and cultural situation (Politzer, 2008; Africa Can Feed Itself, 2010).

It is not a question of whether Africa must industrialize and develop. It is a question of how to guide that process so that it forms a growing middle (educated) class, deceases foreign aid, and allows for greater African independence and participation in global affairs. The main thrust of this, at least initially, would likely start at governmental reform, investment in Africans building African projects, managing their own projects, and perhaps channeling any aid into education and development where it will likely have a longer term aid effect. Thus, the question is not whether, but how rapidly Africa can become part of the Developed Word (Aryeetey, 2004).

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