Man, Machines, and Modernity
This dissertation explores the paradigm of “industrial society” in French and sociology in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It argues that the term “industrial society” was not a concept, but a series of hypotheses and debates connected to the rise of sociology as a form of public intellectualism and the remaking of European social-democratic thought in the shadow of American hegemony and the Cold War. It shows that while sociologists attributed the concept of “industrial society” to nineteenth-century precursors like Saint-Simon, Comte, and Marx, it was in fact a thoroughly twentieth-century reworking of the sociological tradition and social-democratic social theory. “Industrial society” was the way that sociologists transposed their radical commitments into social science, embracing a supposedly “realist,” anti-ideological analysis of the social world as the best intellectual path for a modernized reformism that could either embrace the Cold War status quo or push it toward new forms of radicalism. As a conceptual history, the dissertation explores the industrial-society paradigm in four component parts. These included, first, the “logic of industrialization”: debates about nature and future of social development across capitalist and Communist societies, where sociologists often saw family resemblances rather ideologically opposed systems, and replaced a Marxist teleology of class struggle with more ambiguous evolutionary schemas centered on culture, institutions, and technology. Second, the “managerial revolution,” or the expansion since the early twentieth century, of white-collar social strata and the growing importance of bureaucracy and scientific expertise in most domains of society, especially industry and public administration. Third, the “integration of social conflict,” or the idea that the so-called “industrial society” emerging after World War II would or should be able to manage its conflicts—especially labor conflict—by containing them within a set of rules, institutions, and social contracts that advanced social justice but prevented them from threatening the social order itself. Fourth and finally, the “end of ideology,” which suggested that the result of these other social developments would be a society in which passions cooled, grand ideological visions faded, and politics shifted toward expert management. Stated this way the industrial-society paradigm can appear as merely the sociological expression of a centrist and technocratic postwar consensus. The sociological story told here suggests, however, that it was a major modulation of left-wing social thought in Western Europe and the United States in the middle of the twentieth century. This dissertation follows a cast of characters as they transposed the radical commitments of the 1930s into social science in the 1940s and 1950s, gradually embracing modernist ideals of value-neutral science and pragmatic social reform. In particular, it shows how the sociology they built remade the political left, providing an alternative public sphere and social vision that helped unite the fractious anti- and post-Communist left in countries like France. Beginning in the 1950s, sociology gradually crept into the public consciousness, filling newspapers and popular magazines, left intellectual journals, think-tanks for technocrats, and state-funded research institutes. The overlapping positions of sociologists in the university, the media, and politics enabled them to evangelize a vision of industrial society to people of influence and even in popular culture. By hovering in an ambiguous space between a moderate reformism and radical social thought, between technocrats and militants, industrial-society sociologists created a distinctive form of twentieth-century social-democratic thought that optimistically saw an automated, socialized, and at least partially planned society emerging, almost of its own accord, from the structural forces driving modern social evolution themselves. Temporally, this vision originated in the 1930s in left critiques of the Soviet Union and Stalinism, crystallized in the mid-1950s, and began to fracture amid the social upheaval of the late 1960s. It would be severely shaken by the social conflict and crisis of the 1970s, but in highly ambivalent ways that often led to industrial-society ideas being transmuted into new forms and mobilized by new social actors. The 1968 generation appeared to mount a critique of the industrial-society paradigm and of its sociological advocates, but they often did so by radicalizing its core notions and, and recovering the romantic and utopian impulses that had gradually disappeared from older sociologists’ thinking. While on balance this dissertation tells a story of the acclimation of French and European social science to American norms, the 1970s fracture of the industrial-society paradigm had effects in France that contrasted with the Anglo-American world, most notably the success of new sociological ideas in politics. Unlike in the United States and United Kingdom, which entered the 1980s under aggressive neoliberal leaders, the French Parti Socialiste won the presidency in 1981 with a brand of modernized socialism that borrowed heavily—at least in the party’s rhetoric—from the radicalized industrial-society vision of the 1970s, precisely the sort of ideological rebranding for the left that sociologists had envisioned decades earlier.