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

 This pattern of relationships between occupational conditions and feelings of powerlessness is essentially repeated for self-estrangement and normlessness: Ownership per se is of minor importance at most, position in the supervisory hierarchy is of greater importance, division of labor (as inferred from bureaucratization) is negatively related to alienation, and the three conditions that impede the exercise of occupational self- direction are consistently related to feelings of alienation. In each instance, the conditions determinative of occupational self-direction are more strongly related to alienation than are ownership and hierarchical position. (Similar analyses, limited to the profit-making sector of the economy, yield identical conclusions.) (p.120)


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


Kohn-Schooler, Alienation

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