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

Before assessing the occupational sources of alienation, one must face the fact that in social-psychological usage, "alienation" is an extraordinarily vague and imprecise term. It refers to people's conceptions of the external world and of self, in other words, to their orientations. Most definitions agree that alienation involves estrangement from (or disillusionment with, or lack of faith in) the larger social world or oneself. But there is little agreement on how large a segment of the orientational domain "aliena- tion" should encompass. Lacking an adequate general definition, I follow Seeman's (1959) example, in his classic analysis of the historical uses of the concept, and use the term to refer generally to the five distinguishable facets of orientation that the term has come to imply: powerlessness, self- estrangement, normlessness, isolation (or cultural estrangement), and meaninglessness. (p.114)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Alienation

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