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The sickness of an information society: R.H.Tawney and the post-industrial condition.

  R. H. Tawney is frequently cited as one of the most distinguished social theorists of the twentieth century, and his position in the British school of ethical, democratic socialism is assured. This paper revisits that contribution for the so-called post- industrial age. It emphasizes Tawney's roots in philosophical idealism and Christian socialism, demonstrating how these systems underpinned his famous critiques of inequality and the acquisitive society. His deontological morality anticipates key ideas of John Rawls, leading similarly to a robust social egalitarianism. The moral basis of Tawney's left-liberal politics explains its durability and thus its relevance for the Great Information Society Debate. Tawney would have rejected many of the propositions associated with the information society thesis, including the allegedly axial role of information itself. While recognizing the importance of information and knowledge in democracy, he would not have supported transformationist rhetoric on behalf of an electronic information polity. Tawney's essentialist socialism may be vulnerable to some of the better documented post-industrial trends, notably the move from goods to services. However, his work supplies useful resources for critical perspectives on the technocratic social structure and on the exaggerated economic role of teleworkers, inter alia. As regards the last in Daniel Bell's triad of polity, social structure and culture, some might lament the anchorage of Tawney's progressive politics in a particularist metaphysics, specifically Christianity. Yet the return of religious modes seems now as certain as the rise of new modes of information and communication. The Christian socialist values that inspired Tawney's ideal of social democracy, especially an expansive vision of brotherhood or 'fellowship', could therefore be appropriated for a modern normative theory of the information society

  • Type:


  • Date:

    01 September 2004

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    Taylor and Francis

  • DOI:


  • ISSN:


  • Library of Congress:

    HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    335 Socialism & related systems


Duff, A. (2004). The sickness of an information society: R.H.Tawney and the post-industrial condition. Information, Communication and Society. 7, 403-422. doi:10.1080/1369118042000284632. ISSN 1369-118X



social democracy; information society; Christianity; post-industrialism; communication policy;

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