120 alienation

of alienation. Related concepts include job
commitment, effort bargaining, and, conver
sely, resistance. In the political sphere voting
behavior and a sense of political efficacy have
emerged as central empirical indicators of
underlying alienation from societys power
The intellectual movement from a social phi
losophy of alienation to a social science of alie
nation has produced a wealth of research on the
causes of job satisfaction and related empirical
measures of political and social disengagement.
Autonomy to decide on the details of ones own
work tasks and freedom from oppressive super
vision have been identified as among the most
important determinants of experiencing satis
faction and meaning in ones work. Other
determinants of job satisfaction include both
positive foundations for self realization, such
as perceptions of justice at work and supportive
co workers, and corrosive factors, such as large
organizational size, bureaucracy, and control of
local operations by remote corporate entities.
The absence of work can also generate a sense
of alienation because one has no useful role in
society. High levels of unemployment have
been empirically linked with increased depres
sion, higher rates of illness, and even suicide.
Globalization has contributed to job loss for
many workers who are displaced by workers
elsewhere in the world who either have access
to better technology or are willing to accept
lower pay.
In the political sphere alienation arises from
a sense of estrangement from political power.
Such estrangement arises because political
institutions have become increasingly distant
in large complex societies, but also, impor
tantly, because effective channels of participa
tion have been blocked for many people or
simply do not exist. The role of individual
and corporate wealth as determinants of poli
tical influence has led many people to a lack
of confidence and trust that the political insti
tutions of society either represent their inter
ests or are open to their participation. Political
alienation appears to be on the increase. In
western nations, particularly in the United
States, the proportion of people who bother
to vote has fallen to a historic low. In the
1960s in the United States about three quar
ters of the population felt that the government
was run for the benefit of all. Today, this
number has fallen to roughly one quarter.
Even for those who have good jobs and
some opportunity to exercise political power,
overwork and the experience of feeling chroni
cally rushed and pulled in multiple directions
have become increasingly common sources of
disaffection. Such stresses can lead to feelings of
alienation and separation from ones life. In
spite of widespread overwork, however, surveys
indicate that many people prefer work activities
over family and leisure activities, further con
tributing to overwork even in the face of work
that may be less than fulfilling. It appears that at
least some work in modern society may compete
well with alternative activities in the private
spheres of life. If people prefer work to family
and leisure, does this imply that alienation from
work has ended? Or does it simply suggest that
the roles of community and family are fading as
these assume a smaller and smaller place in
peoples lives? These changes, if true, present
a challenge to traditional alienation theory as it
struggles to understand the increasingly diverse
experience of life in modern society.
Theories of alienation, as scientific explora
tions of the causes of job satisfaction and poli
tical behavior, serve a pivotal function in
moving us beyond workplace and societal prac
tices that destroy human motivation and toward
practices that liberate human involvement and
creativity. Theories of alienation, as exercises in
social philosophy, help to keep alive questions
about the future of society by envisioning pos
sible alternatives that do not yet exist. Such
exercises are necessary if the social sciences are
to retain a transformative potential beyond the
tyranny of what is and toward what could be.

SEE ALSO: Anomie; Capitalism; Class Con
sciousness; Dialectic; Gramsci, Antonio;
Industrial Relations; Labor Process; Marcuse,
Herbert; Marx, Karl; Mass Culture and Mass
Society; Political Sociology


Bottomore, T. B. (1963) Karl Marx: Early Writings.
McGraw-Hill, New York.
Fromm, E. (1966) Marxs Concept of Man. F.
Ungar, New York.