1. “Alienation refers to the sense of powerlessness, isolation and meaninglessness experience by human beings when they are confronted with social institutions and conditions that they cannot control and consider oppressive”. – (Seeman, 1959 – as quoted by I. Robertson)
2. “Broadly speaking ‘alienation’ denotes a socio-psychological condition of the individual which involves his estrangement from certain aspects of his social existence”.1 It is difficult to provide an adequate analysis of this concept for it has been used differently by different scholar. But it was Karl marx who introduced to modern sociology “the theory of alienation “
Due to Alienation Man No More Remains a Man, but Becomes an “Impoverished Thing”:
For Marx, the social arrangements which form the context of work in capitalist society alienated the worker. They failed to provide him with the opportunities for a meaningful and creative existence.
The worker is alienated in that neither he receives satisfaction from his work nor receives the full product of his labour. The worker is accordingly alienated from “the true nature of man”.
The conditions that characterise the modern industrial production prevent the worker from “exercising his full creative powers and so releasing the full potentialities of his nature.”
Thus, alienation is “that condition when man does not experience himself as the active bearer of his own powers and richness, but as an impoverished “thing” dependent on powers outside of himself – (quoted by Duncan Mitchell)
No Control over the Social World:
According to Marx, alienation results from the lack of a sense of control over the social world. People forget that society and social institutions are constructed by human beings and can, therefore, be changed by human beings. The social world thus environs people as a hostile thing, leaving them “alien” in the very environment that they have created.
Economic Alienation is more important:
Marx applied the term “alienation” to many social institutions such as law, government, religion and economic life. But he gives more importance to alienation in the economic field. He writes “religious alienation as such occurs only in the sphere of consciousness, in the inner life of man, but economic alienation is that of ‘real life’. It therefore, affects both aspects (mind and action)”
Four Aspects of Alienation:
Marx took more interest in analysing the process of alienation in capitalist society. Because of his close association with Engels, Marx became personally aware of the anguish and alienation of urban industrial workers.
According to Marx, alienated labour involves four aspects:
(i) Worker’s alienation from the object that he produces;
(ii) from the process of production;
(iii) from himself and
(iv) from the community of his fellowmen.
According to Marx, “alienation appears not merely in the result but also in the process of production, within productive activity itself.”
Alienation Leads to Dehumanisation:
Marx was of the opinion that alienation would lead to dehumanisation and devaluation of human beings. The worker is a victim of exploitation in the world of capitalism. “The more wealth the worker produces, the poorer he becomes.
Just as labour produces the world of things it also creates the devaluation of the world of men. This devaluation increases in direct proportion to the increase in the production of commodities”
Extreme Division of Labour – A Source of Alienation?
An important source of this alienation, in Marx’s view, is the extreme division of labour in modern societies. Each worker has a specific, restricted and limiting role. He or she no longer applies total human capacities of the hands, the mind, and the emotions to work.
The worker has very less responsibility. He does not own the tools with which the work is done, does not own the final product, does not have the right to make decisions. He becomes a minute part of a process, “a mere cog in a machine”. Work becomes an enforced activity, not a creative and satisfying one.
Alienation – At its Heights in a Capitalist Economy:
This situation is aggravated in the capitalist economies, in which the profit produced by the labour of the worker goes to someone else. “In short, the worker spends his life and produces everything not for himself but for the powers that manipulate him. While labour may produce beauty, luxury and intelligence, for the worker it produces only the opposite deformity misery and idiocy” – (Abraham and Morgan)
“Alienation” – In the Words of Marx:
Marx’s summary of the nature of alienation at work, written well over a century ago, seems as relevant today. It runs like the following: –
“What then, constitutes the alienation of labour? First, the fact that labours is external to the worker, that is, it does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind.
The worker, therefore, only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside, himself. He is home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home.
His labour, therefore, is not voluntary, but coerced, it is forced labour. It is therefore, not the satisfaction of a need: it is merely a means to satisfy the needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists; labour is shunned like the plague.
External labour, labour in which a worker alienates himself is a labour of self-sacrifice. Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s that it does not belong to him; that he belongs, not to himself but to another.”
The term alienation pervades the beginning works of Marx, but, it is not found in his later writings. On the basis, we cannot generalise as some commentators have done, that Marx abandoned the idea. The idea gets its expression again in the “Das Kapital”. As Lewis Coser points out, “Explicitly stated or tacitly assumed, the notion of alienation remained central to Marx’s social and economic analysis”.