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

Work that is "external" to the worker, in which he cannot "fulfill him- self," comes close to being the opposite pole of what Schooler and I have called "self-directed" work-that is, work involving initiative, thought, and independent judgment (Kohn 1969, pp. 139-40; Kohn and Schooler 1973). (p.112)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Alienation

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