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Alienation is the social and psychological
separation between oneself and ones life
experiences. Alienation is a concept originally
applied to work and work settings but today is
also used to characterize separation from the
political sphere of society. To be alienated is
to live in a society but not to feel that one is a
part of its ongoing activities.
Theories of alienation start with the writings
of Marx, who identified the capacity for self
directed creative activity as the core distinction
between humans and animals. If people cannot
express their species being (their creativity), they
are reduced to the status of animals or
machines. Marx argued that, under capitalism,
workers lose control over their work and, as a
consequence, are alienated in at least four ways.
First, they are alienated from the products of
their labor. They no longer determine what is
to be made nor what use will be made of it.
Work is reduced to being a means to an end a
means to acquire money to buy the material
necessities of life. Second, workers are alienated
from the process of work. Someone else controls
the pace, pattern, tools, and techniques of
their work. Third, because workers are sepa
rated from their activity, they become alienated
from themselves. Non alienated work, in con
trast, entails the same enthusiastic absorption
and self realization as hobbies and leisure pur
suits. Fourth, alienated labor is an isolated
endeavor, not part of a collectively planned
effort to meet a group need. Consequently,
workers are alienated from others as well as from
themselves. Marx argued that these four aspects
of alienation reach their peak under industrial
capitalism and that alienated work, which is
inherently dissatisfying, would naturally pro
duce in workers a desire to change the existing
system. Alienation, in Marxs view, thus plays a
crucial role in leading to social revolution to
change society toward a non alienated future.
The study of alienation has probably
inspired more writing and research in the social
sciences than any other single topic. Today, the
core of that research has moved away from the
social philosophical approach of Marx, based
on projecting a future that could be, and toward
a more empirical study of the causes and
consequences of alienation within the world
of work as it actually exists. Although less
sweeping than Marxs original vision, this
approach has produced insights that are largely
consistent with his views. The contemporary
approach substitutes measures of job satisfac
tion for Marxs more expansive conception