Discuss Marxist' Theory of Alienation

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OUTLINE AND ASSESS MARX’S CONCEPT OF ALIENATION

When considering the concept of sociology and its definition, one immediately thinks of trying to understand the world in which we live. However, for Karl Marx we should not only understand the world, but also seek to actively change it (Macintosh, 1997). The concept of alienation differs in terms of its sociological meaning in relation to that of the psychological definition and has been used to describe many other phenomena’s over the last four centuries. The aim of this essay is to assess the concept of alienation according to Karl Marx and explore his theory relating to four differing perspectives assigned to this, whilst also researching its historical roots and any relevance in today’s society. The concept of alienation in relation to sociology was developed by Karl Marx (1818-1883), a German philosopher, political economist, revolutionary and the founding father of Communism. His ideas for this theory originated in the writings of Feuerbach, who along with George W.F Hegel, were major influences on Marx. However, unlike Feuerbach, who believed that religion had a negative impact on human experience and that man was alienated from god, Marx considered man to be alienated from man in a social context. Indeed, Marx criticised Feuerbach’s work entitled ‘The Essence of Christianity’, which was published in 1841 for not developing the concept of alienation further by linking it to economic production strategies. In it, Feuerbach insists that visions of god being similar to their own image allow for them to alienate themselves from this fictionally created character. Therefore, issues regarding low self esteem and other social or personal problems can be diluted by visiting places of worship. He insists that guidance, leadership and solace can be found within the church. Indeed, Feuerbach argued that the church was used by the government as state apparatus to control society (Hughes et al, 1995 pp. 29-30). Marx took these points onboard and rather than relate them to religion, embraced it to include the notion that alienation was an objective condition associated with the social and economic attributes of capitalism, thus leading to alienated labour. For Hegel, human thoughts were continuously developing and advancing throughout history, thus providing a more knowledge and rational understanding of society (Hughes et al, 1995, pp. 25-26). Unlike, Marx, who states materialism and economic power, shapes our thinking, Hegel insists it is the other way round and that mind shapes matter. In other words, our knowledge shapes the need and inventiveness needed to shape future materials. Historically, according to Hegel, by exploring previous economic processes, then the material base on which societies, institutions and ideas are built are in evidence due to rational logic and natural progression. Marx however, disagrees with this theory. He believes that such abstract ideas did not exist and therefore provided limited explanations relating to the social world. The true nature of human experience therefore and life were totally under emphasised. His theory of historical materialism was constructed further in future writings. ‘The first historical act is . . . the production of material life itself. This is indeed a historical act, a fundamental condition of all of history’ (Marx & Engels, 1976). His many writings, which spanned four decades, underpin what has become known as Marxist theory and are used to develop our understanding of many areas relating to social life (Abercrombie et al, 2000). However, Marxist theory is primarily based around the class conflict of the bourgeoisie, i.e. ruling class who own the mode of production and the exploitation of the proletariat, i.e. working class who are forced into selling their labour. The 3 stages relating to the industrial revolution have led to his alienation theory being supported by many sociologists. First came the...
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