Kin Lane

How Industry Categories Have Been Defined and Continue to Shape Us

I am reading Capital Volume One by Karl Marx (I know ;-). After getting over the hump of the introduction and the first couple of chapters, I am really getting into it. I just finished the chapter on how the work day was defined over the course of a couple decades in the 19th century, and it is fascinating to think about all the forces on both sides of the equation that have gone into defining the eight hour workday, but also the industries we work in. I’ll spend more time thinking about the work day in a separate post, but one thing I am stuck on right now is how much the classification of our industries is shaped by the regulatory, and the opposition to regular forces over the years. How the naming and grouping of our business sectors and industries are shaped and set into stone by government, industry owners, and the workers as they struggle for balance in the workplace.

In Capital, Marx describes the back and forth exchange between factory owners, factory inspectors, and the parliament when it comes to defining the work day. Reducing the length of the work day for unlimited, to 12, 10, and eventually 8 hours, as well as the elimination of night work, and the exploitation of women and children. Amidst all of this exchange, as the laws are written, enacted, and enforced, the naming and grouping of different types of business continues to take shape for the sake of regulation. There are numerous other forces that have gone into shaping how we define our industries and business sectors, but it is interesting to consider how factory owners and regulatory authorities grouped to not just regulate specific sectors of business, but to also accommodate the demands of factor owners. Such as resisting the elimination of night work from mining or transportation, or resisting the number of hours children can work because the lace industry depends on those tiny fingers.

One reason business sectors exist is so that we can apply and exclude regulation to them. So that people in the transportation industry knows that they can still operate all night, despite most other industries being forbidden from operating around the clock. It shows how the factory owners help shaping the naming and grouping of industries so that they can obtain the exclusions they need for their own small slice of the market pie. It’s fascinating to consider how a list of industry specifications are what defines the frontline in the ware between capitalism and regulatory forces, and how the words we use to describe the products and services that we produce are forged in this back and forth. I think largely this evolution of industries and business sectors is shaped by corporate and government forces, and I’d hope that workers have had some influence here, but I am guessing these phrases we use to describe industries are more about the capitalist side of the equation over having anything to do with the human identity of those involved in labor.

I am fascinated by this history. I want to better understand how industry classification came to be now. A significant part of my job today is identifying which business sectors are being impacted by APIs, and the standards which are applied within an industry. This has got me thinking about how the words we use to describe the industry sectors, but also the naming and ordering of the design of the data models and APIs used to access data within each industry gets shaped. How much of these existing data models and newer API standards are shaped by the commercial entity, industry organization, regulatory agencies, or by the individual works and users who operate within each space. Similar to the policy that goes into defining each industry, the design of APIs will ultimately codify how each business sector works. The naming and ordering the bits that are exchanged within each industry in real time around the globe will shape the relationship between corporations, government, and the individuals who’s lives are dedicated to working within an industry, or served by the products and services that come out of each industry. The more I learn about relationship between business and regulation the more of the politics of all of this I can see, and the more I understand how the words we use really matter when it comes to defining how we see the world around us, but how our market driven world ultimately shapes what our reality is or isn’t.