For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

References for Theme: Alienation

  • Kain, Philip J
    • "Marx, Housework, and Alienation" (1993)
      (p.122) For Marx, there is a crucial distinction that must be made between the concept of alienation and the related (but not identical) concepts of domination and oppression. Although all forms of alienation involve oppression or domination, it is not the case that all forms of domination or oppression involve alienation. One can be dominated and oppressed without being alienated. But if one is alienated, one is certainly dominated and oppressed. Thus, to say that the family, housework, and child care can be free of alienation is not to say that there cannot at the same time be domination or oppression...
    • "Marx, Housework, and Alienation" (1993)
      (p.127) Difficult as they may be, cleaning and washing can still be satisfying. Sewing, quilting, cooking, decorating, and building can be not only satisfying but also creative and can develop one’s powers and capacities. Child care can also be emotionally rewarding. The point is that difficulty, repetition, and even drudgery by themselves do not produce alienation; they do not even produce oppression. Something else is required to produce alienation or oppression. The most unalienated work, the most satisfying work, can involve certain aspects that are simply dull, repetitious drudgery. Even artistic work, the production of films, or scholarship can all involve...
    • "Marx, Housework, and Alienation" (1993)
  • Kohn, M L
    • "Occupational structure and alienation" (1976)
      (p.111) 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...
    • "Occupational structure and alienation" (1976)
      (p.112) 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).
    • "Occupational structure and alienation" (1976)
      (p.113) The intent of this analysis, then, is to appraise two related hypotheses suggested by Marx's analysis of the occupational sources of alienation. One hypothesis, emphasizing loss of control over the products of one's labor, posits that ownership and hierarchical position are of crucial im- portance with respect to alienation (and also ascribes an important, if secondary, role to division of labor). The other hypothesis, emphasizing loss of control over the process of labor, suggests that (at least within an industrialized, capitalist society) such determinants of occupational self- direction as closeness of supervision, routinization, and substantive com- plexity overshadow ownership, hierarchical...
    • "Occupational structure and alienation" (1976)
      (p.114) 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...
    • "Occupational structure and alienation" (1976)
      (p.120)  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...
    • "Occupational structure and alienation" (1976)
  • Soffia, Magdalena; Wood, Alex J; Burchell, Brendan
    • "Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs" (2021)
      (p.2) The BS jobs theory suggests that many workers experience their jobs as being comprised of meaningless tasks in which they have to appear productive. As a result some academics writing on the future of work, and the post-work and anti-work traditions, have suggested that if, as Graeber claims, 30–60% of work is ‘bullshit’, radical reductions in the length of the working week could be easily achieved (e.g. Frayne, 2019; Susskind, 2020). It is important to recognise that Graeber is not simply stating that some people have useless jobs but is instead proposing a theory that seeks to explain why these...
    • "Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs" (2021)
      (p.20) ... the empirical data do not support any of Graeber’s hypotheses. Therefore, the BS jobs theory must be rejected. Not only do our findings offer no support to this theory, they are often the exact opposite of what Graeber predicts. In particular, the proportion of workers who believe their paid work is not useful is declining rather than growing rapidly, and workers in professions connected to finance and with university degrees are less likely to feel their work is useless than many manual workers.
    • "Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs" (2021)
      (p.21) BS jobs are a rare phenomenon. Therefore, this article debunks Graeber’s (2018) claim that millions of workers are engaged in BS jobs of no social value and that the solution is that they be set free by a universal basic income. Instead, it suggests the need for unions that are willing and able to engage in what Umney and Coderre-LaPalme (2017) term ‘meaning of work conflicts’ so as to overturn those social relations in which people’s work is devalued by toxic workplace cultures that leave workers feeling their labour is pointless and of no use.
    • "Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs" (2021)
      (p.3) Our findings demonstrate that while Graeber’s (2018) specific account of BS jobs and managerial feudalism cannot be empirically sustained, his work has uncovered an important and largely unresearched social ill. The scale of the problem is far from that predicted by Graeber’s theory. Nevertheless, millions of European workers suffer from work which they feel is not useful. Moreover, this experience is strongly associated with poor wellbeing. We, therefore, finish our analyses with our own tentative explanation, inspired by Marx’s writings on alienation, for why people think their job is useless.
    • "Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs" (2021)
      (p.6) Graeber (2018) believes that when individuals report their jobs as being useless, this is an accurate appraisal by the individual of their job’s social value. This, Graeber goes on to argue, is harmful to an individuals’ wellbeing as it provides little identity or purpose and, moreover, requires workers to pretend this is not the case. Graeber states this is a source of ‘spiritual violence’ that ‘makes clear the degree to which you are entirely under another person’s power’. This is held to be a psychologically damaging experience, because humans need to conceive of ‘themselves as capable of acting on the...
    • "Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs" (2021)
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