Discuss Marx Concept Of Alienation Sociology Essay

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Alienation is the idea that a working class man "is 'alienated' from his essential nature and individuality, economic and spiritual being" Churchich (1990).This essay will outline what alienation is and examples given by Marx and his view on who is to blame, the four main concepts of alienation will be discussed as well as support and criticism.

Marx puts alienation down to the divide in labour and private property which is seen as dehumanizing society. Marx based his ideas on Hegel and Feuerback however also criticized their views. He agreed with Hegel's idea that people can become alienated from themselves but doesn't believe people alienated themselves. Feuerback's views from 'The Essence of Christianity 1814' were that people view of god is the means of how people view themselves and when people worship god they in fact worship themselves. He believes when people place something higher than themselves they consequently become alienated from their being. Marx believed religion tries to divert people's attention away from the truth about alienation.

Marx's view of alienation in labour can be interpreted as the way a worker feels a sense of foreignness to products of their own labour. This is experienced by working class people in factories who were put into long and awful conditions of work to survive. They were uneducated, in unfortunate positions, treated badly and poorly paid. Due to these conditions the workers started to underbid one another to get a day's work in order to support their families. Marx thought the working class factory workers need to join hands to make an improvement on their working conditions. He suggests that workers need to obtain their rights and require more pay and better working conditions. Marx, in his "Estranged Labor" from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts believed a worker becomes similar to a alienated animal. He believes the workers labour belongs to someone else so a man only through his animal functions can freely express himself. These functions are everyday tasks in their own house, drinking and eating, reproducing and so on. Marx believes a worker feels more like an animal in his human functions so eventually animal functions become human functions and vice versa.

Marx alienation notion is in theory quite influential and powerful because it gives an account of how human life is degraded however it makes clear that it is not expected or natural. It provides a detailed explanation of the experiences of labour. Marx's theory of alienation shows the results of capitalist production on the physical and psychological state of people and on the social situations they engage in or are part of. This was Marx method of seeing his contemporaries so he could understand and explain how they interact and relate to each other.

Marx proposed 4 types of alienation based on a regular factory worker under capitalism. There are two divisions in the private ownership system; workers with no property and owners of property. Due to this divide in society workers not only are the workers poor but they also have to suffer 'alienation' from the world. The first type of alienation is the concept of what a person produces or makes does not belong to them. The idea that everything produced by a person only benefits the world which they do not fit into. Rubin (1990) outlines a quantitative and a qualitative part to how goods are produced he said the worker doesn't really get paid for the amount of labour put in so is exploited This benefits capitalism as the more alienated the worker becomes the more work he does. Qualitatively, the worker puts creativity into the product he creates however is not given creative labour to replace it. He believes that with capitalism, work doesn't inspire or introduce workers to new things; instead it takes away a person's energy and wears them out. An individual helps to make all these objects that he does not own himself which makes them feel and look smaller compared to this world. They may help create an expensive car, build houses or make expensive clothes which they cannot afford.

The second form of alienation is the work process. It is separation of the worker from the work itself for example the job performed does not belong to them instead it is a way of survival in the world. They are not doing the job for themselves but for someone else. This kind of work does not allow a person to become creative as it does not come from his own accord as they are following instructions from others, instead indicates a loss of self worth for the worker. For example when a person works at a call centre doesn't create anything, follows the same method, copies a script and doesn't get to make any important decisions. It becomes dull and automatic so the mind doesn't have to be used. The worker doesn't have control over the conditions and organization of work nor do they have any control on how it influences them psychologically or physically. This reduces a person's ability to be creative.

The third type of alienation is the alienation from other humans. Instead of spending time with people you want you have to work with people whether you do or do not like them. In society there is some resentment or dislike between the different class structures which is partly to blame for this type of alienation. People become alienated from people who take advantage of their labour. According to Cox (1998) Marx said if the worker is tormented by his work then it must give delight to another. If a man views his activity as unfree and not something they wish to do then he views it as under the order, force or oppression of another person. Workers are linked to people through the products they produce however don't personally connect to them. Each day people may wear clothes, eat food, live in houses, use tools created by people who have worked to make them however they are not known personally instead they are known only through the products brought and consumed. Man doesn't see his fellow man as equal instead as higher or lower than them in society. People don't know each other individually but as products of capitalism however the capitalist society is more individual and independent compared to the working class.

According to Korkotsides (2007) People take things for their own use irrespective of how it was produced and under what conditions or circumstances. As Marx supposed that people in working class are generally the most alienated, the liberation from alienation will have to begin with liberating the working class. Marx believed production of goods frequently makes new desires to use human powers for money and benefit instead of improving the abilities of humans. People see each others as rivals and as inferior or senior to them.

The fourth type of alienation is a person's alienation from "species-being," or human individuality. Humans base their life around work it is an essential part of life for the working class. Human identity is formed by doing work without thinking for example when doing the same job day in day out a person becomes lifeless in terms of personality and identity and becomes more like a robot. In the private ownership system a worker is alienated from their purpose of life and individuality essential for a human being. What makes a human is the skill to shape the world around by thoughts, abilities and actions however under the capitalist society this is not always the case. Labour is pressured and forced and does not relate to a person's personal preference or interests. According to Cox (1998) Marx suggests workers benefits capitalism by constantly producing for them however even though he helped make them successful and wealthy doesn't get much recognition or benefit from it. In his manuscript he said that capitalists make palaces for the rich but hovels for the working class. It throws some workers into cruel ways of labour and makes some workers into machines. It gives them brainpower but makes stupidity and cretinism at the same time. Humans have socials skills so they can work together to develop on their interests however capitalists divide humans and put all their effort and interests into labour. When a capitalist is bettering production in their factory, without knowing they can be reducing profit rates for their own class by slowing down the profit rate. A company may produce to accomplish a sharp demand, however when the products are in store they may find other companies have already done it first. Sometimes more than what is required is produced and is not needed. Recessions in capitalism means labourers 'consume less as more then what's required is produced this is down to their work being too productive.

Marx view of a content person was not someone with many material possessions but someone who is happy in their life in terms of good emotional contact with other people, education, and a person who may not have many possessions but is not scared to say what he feels. An unproductive worker who dosent wants to contribute to political processes in Marx eyes is a victim of alienation. He highlights what a person can be and how they should be independent and not concentrate on what they possess. Marx view is supported by Kant and Fiche who thought workers should stop being inactive like the workers were in history and start becoming active producers of their own future.

Marx alienation concept is influenced by Hegel therefore there are similarities with both theories. "Hegel thinks self-alienation is to be conquered with the advance and development of history" Sayers (2003). They both agree that the spiritual and social parts of alienation and their how they can be defeated are combined. On the other hand Hegel believed alienation is defeated in society at present which Marx disagreed with. According to Sean Sayers (2003) Kierkegaars also backed Marx view he believed man today is alienated from one self and in mankind due to prejudice and lack of individuality.

According to Churchich (1990) alienation was seen as mainly religious and it had more of a psychological meaning linked to the soul however Marx disagreed believing alienation is down to man not nature or god. Marx disagreed with Hegel's idea that alienation is originated in nature of human life and says he reduced history to just thoughts, observing real events and objects merely as manifestations of spirit. A Humans contentment and needs have to be linked to the forms of production in order to be measured. "Humans are different to animals in terms of their needs because nature decides an animal's natural needs are and a humans needs are essentially social and historically established by themselves. He believed creativity separated humans from animals. Marx argues a person's consciousness of the requirement for certain things is a product of concrete historical situations and can't be decided by just thoughts.

Marx and Smith had a similar thought as they worked on putting an end to capitalists exploiting the working class and believed society and economy ought to centre their attention on making people's lives better. Despite this they do differ on the means of economy. Both Smith and Marx see labour as divided and see it as the key feature of capitalism. According to Meek (1977) While Smith views capitalism as an advantage to not only society but on a person too. He believes a person sees power as a natural need; their wish is to stand out, elevate themselves and obtain a source of wealth. Marx sees capitalism purely as unnatural and a disadvantage to a worker.

Marx believed capitalists have a strong social and economic foundation and the only way to conquer alienation is when this changes. Support for Marx idea that alienation is dividing a person from their labour is for example a person works to earn a living and will get paid but ultimately the company profits from this. The worker won't earn as much money compared to the amount of work put in therefore the company will get more profit by underpaying the worker causing the worker to disconnect.

A criticism of Marx's alienation theory is it's seen as not scientific and can't be used for experimental research. The problem with this criticism is Marx's alienation concept is centred on historical tests and it studies labour when it is not controlled by authority. Another criticism is Marx states that nearly all work is alienated and the worker does not benefit from their work however this may not always be the case for some. If a mechanic fixes a car he may not have one himself however he will learn a skill which can be useful for him in the future or may have personal satisfaction from doing the job to the best of their ability. Another example is that of a blacksmith may own a shop working the hours he wants, deciding any important decisions as well as setting his own working environment, creates his own product and makes the decision of how they sell. Most importantly the communication with customers is more of a personal nature than professional.

There are many examples of modern alienation for example when a worker doesn't get enough from capitalist work he may take out loans from banks to buy the products they create, for example a big house or a car. They are exploited by mortgages and loans however if they become unemployed it is all taken away from them. The resolution to alienation isn't to look back at history but to recognize what can be done in today's society and how it can be transformed. A book by Oliver James describing the Affluenza virus supports Marx where he blames capitalism for creating alienation. The 'Affluenza virus' is sets of principles that makes people more open to emotional distress. This is done by putting importance on obtaining wealth, goods and fame. He suggests changing the way people live their life to conquer this which isn't always easy for people to do. Alienation isn't that easy to solve when oppression and exploitation exist in society.

To summarize Marx early works was influenced by Hegel and Feuerbach. His alienation theory is the debate that the life of work in a capitalistic society disadvantages them of enjoyment or creativeness of labour. He saw creativity as a vital aspect of living and this kind of labour not only alienates them from their work but also from their independency in effect causing dehumanization. The example of factory workers supports Marx's view that capitalists exploit the working class and the four concepts of alienation workers go through describe how they are alienated. According to Marx alienation will continue to exist along as capitalism is around.


Churchich, N, (1990). Marxism and Alienation. 1st ed. U.S: Associated University Presses.

Sean Sayers. (2003). The Concept of Alienation in Existentialism and Marxism. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/philosophy/articles/sayers/alienation.pdf. [Accessed 22 November 12].

Ronald L. Meek. (1977). Smith, Marx & After. [ONLINE] Available at: http://cas.umkc.edu/econ/economics/faculty/henry/courses/Econ506/Readings/Meek.SmithMarx.pdf. [Accessed 23 November 12].