Types of Societies

Hunting and gathering tribes, industrialized Japan, Americans—each is a . Sociologist Gerhard Lenski (1924–) defined societies in terms of their technological sophistication. As a society advances, so does its use of technology. Societies with rudimentary technology depend on the fluctuations of their environments, while industrialized societies have more control over the impact of their surroundings and thus develop different cultural features. This distinction is so important that sociologists generally classify societies along a spectrum of their level of industrialization—from preindustrial to industrial to post-industrial.

This photo is a police officer looking down at his phone and texting while on duty
How does technology influence a society’s daily occupations? (Photo courtesy of Mo Riza/flickr)

When cultures meet, technology can help, hinder, and even destroy. The Exxon Valdez oil spillage in Alaska nearly destroyed the local inhabitant’s entire way of life. Oil spills in the Nigerian Delta have forced many of the Ogoni tribe from their land and forced removal has meant that over 100,000 Ogoni have sought refuge in the country of Benin (University of Michigan, n.d.). And the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2006 drew great attention as it occurred in what is the most developed country, the United States. Environmental disasters continue as Western technology expands into less developed (peripheral) regions of the globe.

We take electric light for granted in the United States, Europe, and the rest of the post-industrial world. Such light extends the day and allows us to work, read, and travel at night. It makes us safer and more productive. But regions in India, Africa, and elsewhere are not so fortunate. Meeting the challenge, one particular organization, Barefoot College, located in District Ajmer, Rajasthan, India, works with numerous less developed nations to bring solar electricity, water solutions, and education. The focus for the solar projects is the village elders. The elders agree to select two grandmothers to be trained as solar engineers and choose a village committee composed of men and women to help operate the solar program.The program has brought light to over 450,000 people in 1,015 villages. The environmental rewards include a large reduction in the use of kerosene and in carbon dioxide emissions. The fact that the villagers are operating the projects themselves helps minimize their sense of dependence.

A photo of a family of villagers in Africa in front of a solar panel on top of a roof
Otherwise skeptic or hesitant villagers are more easily convinced of the value of the solar project when they realize that the “solar engineers” are their local grandmothers. (Photo courtesy of
Abri le Roux/flickr)

Information societies, sometimes known as postindustrial or digital societies, are a recent development. Unlike industrial societies that are rooted in the production of material goods, are based on the production of information and services.

Digital technology is the steam engine of information societies, and computer moguls such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are its John D. Rockefellers and Cornelius Vanderbilts. Since the economy of information societies is driven by knowledge and not material goods, power lies with those in charge of storing and distributing information. Members of a postindustrial society are likely to be employed as sellers of services—software programmers or business consultants, for example—instead of producers of goods.

Societies are classified according to their development and use of technology. At the turn of the new millennium, a new type of society emerged. This postindustrial, or information, society is built on digital technology and nonmaterial goods.


Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. 2005. “Israel: Treatment of Bedouin, Including Incidents of Harassment, Discrimination or Attacks; State Protection (January 2003–July 2005)”, Refworld, July 29. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/440ed71325.html).

Kjeilen, Tore. “Bedouin.” Looklex.com. Retrieved February 17, 2012 (http://looklex.com/index.htm).

University of Michigan. n.d. “The Curse of Oil in Ogoniland”. Retrieved January 2, 2015 (http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/cases_03-04/Ogoni/Ogoni_case_study.htm).


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Rothschild's Introduction to Sociology Copyright © by Teal Rothschild is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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