Three Authors in Search of a Proletariat

The Post-Industrial Society

by Alain Touraine
Random House, 233 pp., $7.95

Critical Theory of Society

by Albrecht Wellmer
Herder and Herder, 139 pp., $6.95

Toward a Critical Sociology

by Norman Birnbaum
Oxford University Press, 451 pp., $10.95

According to Alain Touraine: “A new type of society is now being formed. These new societies can be labeled post-industrial to stress how different they are from the industrial societies that preceded them…. They may also be called technocratic because of the power that dominates them. Or one can call them programmed societies to define them according to the nature of their production methods and economic organization.”

This description does not differ widely from those which have been formulated by a number of other writers. Brzezinski, for example, has observed that “America is in the midst of a transition that is both unique and baffling…ceasing to be an industrial society, it is being shaped to an ever increasing extent by technology and electronics, and thus becoming the first technetronic society“; emphasizes the central importance of theoretical knowledge in the system of production, and the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.

But if the initial descriptions of the new society are similar, the interpretations of its historical character and potentialities are not. Brzezinski and Bell conceive it as a society in which major social divisions have been largely overcome, the domination of technically competent elites is more or less widely accepted, and the general course of social development is determined by a relatively harmonious process of economic growth. In such a society, it is claimed, there will be no basis for widespread dissent:

…it seems unlikely that a unifying ideology of political action, capable of mobilizing large-scale loyalty, can emerge in the manner that Marxism arose in response to the industrial era…. The largely humanist-oriented, occasionally ideologically minded intellectual dissenter, who saw his role largely in terms of proferring social critiques, is rapidly being displaced either by experts and specialists, who become involved in special governmental undertakings, or by the generalists—integrators, who become in effect house ideologues for those in power, providing overall intellectual integration for disparate actions.

Touraine’s view is entirely different. The social conflict between capital and labor, he suggests, is losing its central importance in the capitalist societies of the late twentieth century, but new forms of domination (which are to be seen also in the state socialist societies) are giving rise to new social conflicts—between those who control the institutions of economic and political decision-making and those who have been reduced to a condition of “dependent participation.” The new dominant class is no longer defined by property ownership, but by “knowledge and a certain level of education.” The revolt against it arises from the will of the dependent class to break away from its dependence and to embark upon an autonomous development. Touraine supports this idea of the changing nature of social conflict by referring to the growth of new social movements, especially those that took a prominent part in the revolt of May, 1968, in France:

One of the significant aspects of the …

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Letters

Test Your Theory September 21, 1972

End of Ideology? June 15, 1972