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Chapter 8

Work in Non-industrial Societies

Main Idea: Some technological advances have resulted in making people work harder and longer.

  • "The development of agriculture . . . resulted in dramatic increases in the duration, pace and extent of human labor."  This conclusion is supported when one considers the three distinct stages through which agriculture passed:
  • Hunting and gathering: required limited work, but supported small populations.
  • Slash and burn (swidden) cultivation:
    • Land was cleared for very limited growing seasons, then left for up to 20 years. 
    • Could support population density of up to 150 people per square mile.
    • Required between 9 and 19 hours of work each week.
  • Sedentary farming:
    • Reused same land each year.
    • Could support population density of up to 6,000 per square mile.
    • Required 40-60 hours of weekly work
  • Sedentary agriculture gave rise to division of labor with specialized producers
    •  Now one worked not to produce something for direct use of family.

    • Freestanding activity governed by self-interest rather than a sense of obligation to one’s group.

    • Basic economic activity was the MARKET BASED EXCHANGE: One in which both parties participate in a transaction through which each expects to gain.

    • In some societies – other factors such as social class or caste regulate the economy.

  • Other factors affecting technological innovation in non-industrial societies:

    •  Guilds: Guilds are groupings of people engaged in the same kind of occupation.  Their purpose it to restrict the practice of a craft to its own members.

      •  Consequences:

        • Shut out potential skills that outsiders could have brought

        • Slowed innovation.

        • Lack of competition lead to higher prices

    • Slavery

      • When slaves are readily available – few incentives to  invent and use labor-saving machinery.

      • Slavery also fostered a negative attitude toward work.


    • Time can refer to the amount of time expended on work as well as the way work is scheduled.

      • A rather casual attitude toward the scheduling of work changed in part due to Calvinism which believed that material prosperity and systematic and methodical approach to work was a sign of being chosen.

      • The development of the clock was another factor in how time impacted work. Precise division of time was first required in monasteries. The clock allows precise measurement of time and the regulation of daily activities including work.

Study Questions:
1. Describe the three stages of the development of agriculture.

2.  Define market based exchange.

3. What are some non-economic factors that may regulate an economy?

4. In what ways did slavery and guilds discourage technological innovation?

5. Name two factors that changed working patterns.


 Self Test