For Karl Marx, one of the key consequences of the capitalist relations of production and the ideology that defends them is what he calls "alienation." Alienation occurs when workers in capitalism begin to view the things they produce as foreign objects. They see goods as something foreign to them and that has the power to control people. „Productive labor“ is the primary and most important human activity, in which people truly express their own being. When people give up the products of their labor in order to place themselves on the market as goods, they then lose a part of themselves. Workers are alienated not only from the things they produce but also from the whole system - economic flows and impersonal market forces of supply and demand, as well as from the ruling ideology and institutions that support capitalist domination. Eventually, workers become alienated from themselves. Religion is one of the main examples of human alienation and, as a value and as an institutional system, it plays a crucial role in protecting and justifying capitalist domination. Marx believes that "man makes religion, religion does not create man." People attribute their own powers to supra-empirical forces and thus become alienated from themselves. Since religion is the most important source of alienation, people must abolish religion and religious illusions and myths, in order to become truly free.
Robert Blauner, in the book Alienation and Freedom (1964) empirically tests Marx’s concept of alienation. To do so Blauner divided alienation into the four testable dimensions: powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation, and self-estrangement in the workplace. His study found that in the USA alienation was the greatest in workers that work in mass production, while it was the lowest in craft workers and artisans.
French sociologist Henri Lefebvre studies alienation in modern society in the books Dialectical Materialism (1940), and Critique of Everyday Life (2014, in French 1947, 1961, 1968, 1981). Lefebvre's dialectical materialism emphasizes the problems that arise in the cultural and existential dimensions of the capitalist mode of production. Alienation is the most important consequence of modern capitalism, which makes it impossible to achieve human authentic self-realization. The dialectical perspective emphasizes the constant presence of contradictions in society, but also the possibility of overcoming them through practices aimed at combating the system, and creative and concrete ideas that change collective practice. The goal of philosophy, sociology, and economics should be to find a solution through which the "return of man to himself" would be achieved and thus overcome the problem of alienation. The ultimate goal is the realization of a "total man" who exists in a society in which inequalities and alienations have been eradicated.
Lefebvre also studies everyday life, which is not banal but represents a direct product of a society governed by consumerism and the bureaucratization of life. Everyday life is the best indicator of how the capitalist mode of production has shaped modern society. Bureaucratization and consumerism have impoverished and taken away authenticity from everyday life. Capitalism, marketing, and the liberal-democratic state have created a "bureaucratic society of organized consumption". On the other hand, everyday life contains the seeds of resistance to such a system, because it preserves the collective memory of alternative practices and supports the development of strategies and movements that challenge the existing social order.
In the book The Sane Society (1955), Erich Fromm examines whether modern societies are healthy, following the example of psychoanalysis, which examines whether a person is sick or healthy. The enormous economic development of capitalist democracies in the 19th and 20th centuries and the wealth that development brought did not lead to an improvement in fulfilling human needs. That economic progress is based on exploitation, destruction, alienation, selfishness, competition, and wastefulness. There is a creation of new idols - goods and money. In the twentieth century, there are three answers to the development of capitalism. The first two answers, fascism, and Stalinism, are based on centralized bureaucratic dictatorship and authoritarian idolatry. The third answer is "supercapitalism", a new form of capitalism that uses robots and communication technologies to increase production productivity to the most possible limit. The development of technology increases workers' dependence on the employer, and the work itself becomes boring and monotonous, leading to social atomization and self-isolation of people.
In The Second Shift (1989), Hochschild studied empirical data on domestic work and concluded that there was a "stalled revolution" - women began to work more outside the household, but men did not start working more in the household. This has led to the situation that women spend, in addition to working on a formal job, another working day a week doing household chores, which Hochschild called the "second shift". While women are increasingly subject to the "Taylorization" of domestic work, that is, performing routine and repetitive household chores, they are increasingly exposed to the intensification of work and job insecurity. She believes that the combination of emotional management and gender differences at work leads to special and new forms of alienation within the post-industrial economy.
Blauner, Robert. Alienation and Freedom (1964);
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents (1962);
Fromm. Escape from Freedom (1941);
- Man for Himself (1947);
- The Sane Society (1955)
Hochschild. The Second Shift (1989);
Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment (1972);
Lefebvre. Critique of Everyday Life (2014);
Marcuse. Eros and Civilization (1974);
Marx. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (1988)
- Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (1973);
Mills. White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951);
Ollman, B. Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalism Society (1976).