Sociological Approach to Alienation, Feeling Alienated, Organisational Dynamics, MS-26

Discuss the sociological approach to alienation. Have you or any of your associates ever felt alienated from your own self or others? Prepare a chart of those feelings and analyse them.

"Alienation, as most generally used in social science, denotes an estrangement or separation between parts or the whole of the personality and significant aspects of the world of experience. (1) Within this general denotation the term may refer to (a) an objective state of estrangement or separation; (b) the state of feeling of the estranged personality; (c) a motivational state tending towards estrangement. (2) The separation denoted by the term may be between (a) the self and the objective world; (b) the self and aspects of the self that have become separated and placed against the self, e. g. alienated labour; (c) the self and the self."

This definition furnishes a whole row of modalities of alienation but with the personality invariably the subject. However, this interpretation is far from all-embracing. When, for instance, Marxian sociologists speak of the alienation of the worker from the means of production they have in mind not the individual but a whole social class. Frequently the "focus" of alienation is one or another social group (the alienation of an ethnic minority from the rest of society, the alienation of the intelligentsia from the masses, etc.), and even mankind as a whole. However, the discussion of the problems of a separate individual that stem from the specific features of his personal private existence is far from being the same thing as discussion of the problems of a specific social group, problems which derive from the group's social status, or, finally, discussion of the problems of human life generally.

Marvin Scotte divides the categories of alienation into four groups: alienation from values, from norms, from roles and from facilities. Some existentialists, to escape the inclusion of a priori ontological conditions, furnish a formal definition of alienation as "exclusion of a certain possibility" - which is not defined. With many American sociologists alienation denotes a conflict between the aims of culture and the means of their realization which prevents the individual from taking part in socio-cultural activity. Thus, according to Keniston, alienated people are those "who reject what they see as the dominant values, roles and institutions of their society."

Not infrequently this is crystallized to mean the conflict between the social role "given" to the individual and his own value orientations. In other words, alienation implies a conflict between the individual and society, against the background of the contradictory character of

the system of social culture itself. Finally, in socio-psychological researches alienation often denotes the inner conflict in the mind of the subject who feels incapable of realizing aims set. 10 Hence, one and the same term may denote the estrangement of the individual from human environment, the forced alienation from man of the products of his labor, the independence of power from the ruled and so on and so forth.
In what is alienation manifested?
The concrete answers this question are so varied that it is altogether impossible reduce them to a system. However, the main point is whether this is an objective, or subjective (psychological) phenomenon Marxists say the first, implying a tangible social process which exists regardless of the degree to which people take cognizant of it. Herbert Marcuse is of the same mind. He believes aliena-tion "has become entirely objective; the subject which is alienated is swallowed up by its alienated existence. There is only i dimension and it is everywhere and in all forms." n The fact; that people are unaware of their lack of liberty is precisely proof of the totality of alienation. In the eyes of other authors on the contrary, alienation is exclusively or primarily a psycho-logical phenomenon, and they are interested in the inner emo-tions of the individual. Thus, Melvin Seeman regards alienation exclusively "from the personal standpoint of the actor." 12 Aliena-tion in this case is expressed in the individual's feeling of his powerlessness, in feeling that his life is meaningless, and so on. All characterization of the objective situation engendering such emotions is deliberately eliminated, since these situations may vary. This psychological interpretation of alienation currently dominates in empirical sociology in the United States.
By what is alienation produced?
This falls into two question (a) Does the term imply a definite process or state? A process presumes that a quality, possibility, etc. was initially possessed and subsequently lost. The task, hence, is to elucidate how occurred (for instance how someone became estranged from the community or became disillusioned with certain values). Characterization of alienation as a state implies merely a description of the obtaining situation without indicating its origin. When, for instance, a Marxist says the worker is alienated from means of production he does not at all imply that the worker on possessed these means of production and then lost them, (b) What is the dynamic factor of alienation? Or, in other words, is the subject himself alienated from certain relations, norms and values or vice versa? The concept of alienation of the subject gives oriority to an analysis of the subject's attitude to the appropriate phenomenon, and this attitude explains his behavior. If relations, norms and values are seen as being alienated from the subject, it is external social conditions that emerge as the alienating factor and these are to be investigated.
What are the causes of alienation?

Answers differ radically. Some authors deduce alienation from overall conditions of human existence, others - from certain definite social factors such as private ownership, the social division of labor, or scientific and technical progress - while still others proceed from individual psychological factors, including neuroticism.

What ways and means exist for overcoming alienation?
The answer plainly stems from all that has been said before. If alienation derives from the overall conditions of human existence, there is no problem at all. If alienation has concrete social causes, it can be overcome only by changing the social conditions. Finally, if alienation is an individual psychological phenomenon, it is enough to alter the appropriate personal attitudes - by psychotherapy, for instance - to overcome it.

So, to sum up: when speaking of man's alienation and describing its symptoms, different authors mean totally different things. They differ not only in the answers, but even in the very approach to the problem.
The sociological conceptions of alienation distinctly betray different philosophical orientations. The empirico-positivist orientation views alienation primarily in the socio-psychological aspect. Authors are interested in one key issue. This is how concrete, clearly-defined social conditions affect the value orientations and attitudes of the individual, or of a social group in regard to their social functions. Their main concern is to reduce the concept of alienation to definite, empirically measurable parameters, which may become the subject of a socio-psychological study. Seeman, regarding alienation as the summation of the individual's emotions, divides it into five different modalities:
(1) powerlessness, when the individual believes his activity will fail to yield the results he seeks;
(2) meaninglessness, when the individual has no clear understanding of the events in which he takes part, when he does not know what he should believe in and why he should behave precisely in some fashion and not otherwise;
(3) normlessness or anomie, a situation in which the individual encounters contradictory role expectations and is compelled to behave in a socially unapproved fashion to achieve his purposes;
(4) isolation, that is, estrangement of the individual from the dominant aims and values of his society, and finally
(5) self-estrangement, which is the individual's estrangement from the self, the feeling that his own self and its abilities are something strange, are a means or implement.

Seeman's typology, which many students have accepted with one or another modification, is employed in the empirical investigation of socio-psychological processes as, for instance, the worker's attitude to his job, the degree of identification of personality with the social role, etc. However, in this case alienation describes not so much social situation as individual or group self-consciousness. Thus, alienation of labor is reduced to the conflict between the individual's value orientation and his occupational role. In the view of a group of American sociologists, "the compatibility of the individual's value orientations with the expectations of the work organization is one determinant of alienation from work."  In the light of Seeman's approach, Aldous Huxley's"happy robot," who is quite content with life as it is, because he has no individuality and easily yields to manipulation, must be considered as free from alienation. Alienation is viewed here "as the quality of personal experience which is the product of specific social conditions."  The subject of study is the consciousness of the individual, his attitude to his social role. This being the case, the social conditions themselves prove to be not an integrated system but rather a summation of separate elements.

Take, for instance, Robert Blauner's well-known book Alienation and Freedom. Blauner traces the way in which different social and technological conditions affect the worker's attitude to his job and factory; whether the worker feels free or dependent, satisfied or dissatisfied with his job, whether he looks at it as his own free activity or as a monotonous routine that he is forced to do. Following up Marx, Blauner maintains that work permitting autonomy, responsibility, social connection and self-actualization furthers the dignity of the individual, whereas work devoid of such features restricts his development and is therefore to be negatively valued. Blauner attempts, as he puts it, to reduce the idea of alienation, as framed in the early writings of Marx, to clear-cut empirical concepts.

However, in this "reduction" the concept of alienation is transformed to the point of unrecognizability. In Blauner's view "industrial powerlessness" incorporates four elements: first, the producer's alienation from ownership of the means of production and the finished products; second, the inability to influence general managerial policies; third, the lack of control over the conditions of employment, and, fourth, the lack of control over the immediate work process. However, of significance for the American worker, Blauner contends, are the last two points only, which directly bear upon his life. "The more general and abstract aspects of powerlessness" are of no concern to the worker since he has been accustomed to them. "Today, the average worker," Blauner comments, "no more desires to own his machines than modern soldiers their howitzers or government clerks their filing cabinets." 15 If viewed simply as observing definite sentiments, most likely Blauner is right. However, the very restriction of a worker's interests to immediate activity only is the product of capitalist relations which transform the human being into the simple agent of production. For Marx this aspect was cardinal, while the worker's empirical psychology was but a derivative. However, it is this that is missing in the psychological interpretation of alienation.
The question of the individual's attitude to work cannot be comprehended at all if we confine ourselves to the individual job relation only. Too much depends here on the worker's level of requirements which, in turn, depend on his social status, education, etc. Blauner's investigations have shown that the sharply negative job attitude which H. Swados, E. Chinoy and others observed in the case of automobile workers is not typical of most American workers. According to Blauner's data, from seventy-five to ninety per cent of American workers are on the whole satisfied even with routine repetitive work. 16 But this, as Blauner himself notes, is due mainly to an upbringing which induces the individual to rest content with little and not seek more. The individual's job attitude is a derivative of his other value orientations. Meanwhile, precisely the integrated character of the social structure as well as that of the individual fail to be reflected in the psychologico-analytical interpretation of alienation.