My industry

In my e-mail on the 7th, this offer — merely the latest in a long series of virtually identical such offers from a wide assortment of sources — to provide postings on this blog:

I manage some relevant blogs and ecommerce sites in your industry and can write a feature blog, article or other piece with a link to our site.

Occasionally, these offers come with the suggestion of a possible payment for this site use, but usually not: the transaction is conceived of as one of mutual benefit, providing greater public access — eyes on the page — for both host and guest (the guest presenting themselves as experienced in the art of SEO, search engine optimization; the host having an already-established audience).

Characteristically, the offer above is pure boiler-plate, utterly vague about what industry the prospective host is in. What, in fact, is my industry?

(Note: I delete these overtures without responding. The general principle is to avoid engaging with net nuisances.)

Now, the relevant NOAD entry:

noun industry: 1 [a] economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories: the competitiveness of American industry.[b] [with adjective or noun modifier] a particular form or branch of economic or commercial activity: the car industry | the tourist industry. [c] [count noun] [with adjective or noun modifier] informal an activity or domain in which a great deal of time or effort is expended: the Shakespeare industry. 2 hard work: the kitchen became a hive of industry.

The industry of captain / titan of industry, cottage industry, industrial-strength, etc. NOAD tries to start with the most widely used current sense, in this case industry as the name of a particular sort of economic activity (sense 1a), associated with the Industrial Revolution, and characterized by the large-scale mechanization of manufacturing processes (as in the chemical plant in #1 below) and the treatment of workers as mere components in these processes in factories.

(as in the early assembly line in #2 below):


From Wikipedia:

The Industrial Revolution … was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power and water power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanized factory system.

According to OED3 (Sept. 2014), the modern sense of factory

A building or range of buildings with plant for the manufacture or assembly of goods or for the processing of substances or materials.

first appeared in print in 1618, referring to a factory for making books; then to fabric factories, earthenware factories, factories for lead products, etc. And, eventually, in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1906, in a reference to “The children compelled to conditions of harsh servitude in the factories and mills” — in the “dark Satanic mills” of the Industrial Revolution in William Blake’s poem “And did those feet in ancient time” (printed ca. 1808).

Generalization. From sense 1a comes a generalization to 1b, referring to any specific type of economic activity. From the Internet Geography site:

There are four types of industry. These are primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary.

Primary industry involves getting raw materials e.g. mining, farming and fishing.

Secondary industry involves manufacturing e.g. making cars and steel. [industry in NOAD‘s sense 1a]

Tertiary industries provide a service e.g. teaching and nursing.

Quaternary industry involves research and development industries e.g. IT.

Referring to farming (on one side) or teaching and research (on the other) as industries involves a metaphorical extension of industry from manufacturing to other sorts of activity — and a shift in syntax from anarthrous industry (They all got jobs in industry) to arthrous (They all got jobs in the farming industry, roughly synonymous with They all got jobs in farming).

As metaphorical extensions often do, this one tends to carry over many of the associations of the metaphor’s basis — in this case, the mechanization of economic activity, an elaborate hierarchy of the workers engaged in that activity, and a focus on the creation of a product — into other areas.  In addition, these extensions treat all manner of human activities as like manufacturing and selling goods, as being at root economic activity, ‘concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth’ (NOAD).

These extensions have brought us the labels education industry, science industry, medical / healthcare industry, and religion industry (I am not making this last one up — from Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, “The largely tax-free religion industry is one of the biggest in America, worth $1.2 trillion/year”) for the fields of education, science, medicine / healthcare, and religion in general — labels that many professionals in these fields are uncomfortable with — and labels like art industry, music industry, and sports industry not for professional art, music, and sports in general, but for the specifically commercial side of these domains.

All of these labels started as technical terms, metaphors used as terms of art by analysts of society and culture, but some of them have moved into the general culture, and in doing so, some of them have lost their uncomfortable manufacturing or commercial associations. For many people now, education industry is just a more formal-register synonym of everyday education (and similarly with some other cases: tech(nology) industry vs. tech(nology), for example).

An important point: the categorization from the Internet Geography site is  a classification of types of activities, not of people or of people’s occupational roles. The people involved in the steel industry, for imstance, are not just the steelworkers (though they are the central participants), but also foremen and upper management, salespeople, suppliers of materials and parts, and so on.

For occupations, there are again technical analyses, for instance, the ISCO; from Wikipedia:

The International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) is an International Labour Organization (ILO) classification structure for organizing information on labour and jobs. It is part of the international family of economic and social classifications of the United Nations. The current version, known as ISCO-08, was published in 2008

The ISCO-08 divides jobs into 10 major groups:

1 Managers

2 Professional, including science and engineering; health[care]; teaching; business and administration; information and communications technology; legal, social, and cultural (legal, librarians / artists / curators, social and religious, authors / journalists / linguists [interpreters and translators], creative and performing artists)

3 Technicians and associate professionals

4 Clerical support workers

5 Service and sales workers

6 Skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers

7 Craft and related trades workers

8 Plant and machine operators, and assemblers

9 Elementary occupations (cleaners, helpers, labourers, food preparation assistants, service workers, refuse workers, etc.)

10 Armed forces occupations

I haven’t found a good account of the folk categories of occupation within some social group (but then I’m ignorant of most of the anthropological and sociological literature). Especially one that’s sensitive to people’s views of occupation as an aspect of their personal identities.

To get back to the e-mail at the top of this posting: what is my industry? Two, I would say: education and scientific research. I say that because those are the industries in which I find my occupational identities. But as a matter of technical usage, I have no occupation — I receive no significant payment for any of the work I do and so should probably list my occupation on my income tax return as None, but I’m allowed to save face and write in Retired, which is to say that I have no occupation now but I used to have one — and hence belong in no industry at all. It’s a simple matter of terminology from economics.



Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: