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  To be estranged from oneself, others or the product of one\'s labour. Originally used in philosophical and theological discourse, the sociological origins of the term date back to Rousseau (1712-78) and Hegel (1770-1831). Rousseau believed that individuals give up (alienate) their individual liberty in order to participate in civil society. Hegel deployed the term differently, asserting that human consciousness is naturally estranged from the physical world surrounding it, and that this alienation can be overcome only when people recognize that external reality is a projection of human consciousness. Resonances of both definitions can be found in the early work of Marx (which many characterize as humanist rather than materialist), and it is his use of the term that motivates much contemporary thought on the subject (cf. Marxist geography).

For Marx, alienation is not an intrinsic aspect of the human condition but is a specific result of capitalist social relations. In notes in which he first outlined his approach to the study of capitalism, Marx (1844) began with the assumption that humans \'objectify\' their creativity through human labour as they transform the natural world into valued products. Within most social systems this process is straightforward, and one can discern connections between workers and the objects they produce (e.g. artisans produce goods that incorporate their individual character and talent). Under capitalism, however, workers are disconnected, or alienated, from the products of their labour, for two reasons. First, workers in a capitalist system do not choose when to work, what to produce, how to organize production, or what to do with the products of their labour — these decisions are made by capitalists. Second, workers are paid only a portion of the value they add to the goods they produce. Workers therefore cannot recognize themselves in the objects they make. For capitalists, the distinction between worker and product is blurred: workers are seen as \'input costs\' in precisely the same way as raw materials, and both are viewed as interchangeable elements in the rational calculus of commodity prices and profit rates. Moreover, the worth of individual workers is determined by the output they are capable of producing, not by their personal characteristics or non-work-related achievements. To obtain and retain employment, workers must demonstrate their \'value\' through productivity, and relations between individual workers become competitive rather than cooperative. Using this logic, Marx concluded that workers, not the products of their labour, are \'objectified\' under capitalism. In so doing he attempted to show the relationship between the structural features of capitalism and the subjective feelings of exploited workers.

Since Marx, the concept of alienation has taken on a host of different meanings as it has been redefined by other authors, notably Durkheim (see anomie), Simmel, Luk´cs, Sartre, Marcuse and Habermas. Increasingly, with some exceptions, the subjective aspects of alienation have been emphasized. In North America, the radical political content of the term was largely purged as it entered the mainstream of American sociology. Blauner (1964), for example, sought to quantify the degree of alienation experienced by workers in different jobs in an effort to formulate new shop-floor policies and ease capital-labour conflict. Obviously, such research was far removed from Marx\'s ideas.

Human geographers began to incorporate a Marxist definition of alienation into their work in the 1970s (cf. Harvey, 1973), and the concept was particularly engaged during the late 1970s and early 1980s when geographers following humanistic and Marxist traditions attempted to discover common ground. However, the term is now rarely used, indicating the profound shift in the terrain of debate in recent years as various issues raised within feminism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism and cultural theory have come to the fore. In particular, the turn towards seeing individual subjects as decentred, as situated within a web of multiple and overlapping relations of power (Smith, 1988; Gregory, 1994), renders the concept of alienation (arising from a single source — the workplace) problematic. (DH)

References Blauner, B. 1964: Alienation and freedom: the factory worker and his industry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Marx, K. 1844: Economic and philosophical manuscripts. In Karl Marx: Early writings. New York: Vantage Books. Smith, P. 1988: Discerning the subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Suggested Reading Giddens, A. 1971: Capitalism and modern social theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ollman, B. 1971: Alienation: Marx\'s conception of man in capitalist society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rinehart, J.W. 1987: The tyranny of work: alienation and the labour process, 2nd edn. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.



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