For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Occupational structure and alienation"

by Kohn, M L (1976)


This paper appraises two related hypotheses suggested by Marx's analysis of the occupational sources of alienation-one emphasizing control over the product of one's labor, the other emphasizing con- trol over the work process. Using data from a sample survey of U.S. males employed in civilian occupations, it concludes that, in this large-scale, capitalist system, control over the product of one's labor (ownership and hierarchical position) has only an indirect effect on alienation, whereas control over work process (closeness of super- vision, routinization, and substantive complexity) has an appreciable direct effect on powerlessness, self-estrangement, and normlessness.

Key Passage

Despite its ambiguity of meaning, alienation is an appealing concept, standing as it does at the intersection of social-structural conditions and psychological orientation. Certainly it has been the subject of a vast litera- ture (see Geyer 1972). On the structural side, there is the fundamental Marxian analysis, focusing on the meaning for the worker of loss of con- trol over his primary work role. On the psychological side, there is the extensive recent literature on all the ways in which estrangement from self and others can be expressed. But rarely are the social-structural and psychological aspects of alienation juxtaposed, and even more rarely in empirical analysis. This paper examines the relationship between social structure-in particular, occupational structure-and the subjective ex- perience of alienation, under the conditions that exist in a large-scale, technological economy. Our starting point is Marx's analysis of occupational structure. Marx emphasized ownership of the means of production and division of labor, both especially salient in the early stages of the industrial revolution (Israel 1971, pp. 30-62; Marx 1964, 1971).  (p.111)


Marx, Alienation, Organisational Structure, Organisational Theory, Hierarchy, Ownership, Psychology, Capitalism


Kohn-Schooler, Alienation

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