Marx's Theory of Alienation

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Sociology Essay – Assessment 1

Q. Outline and assess Marx’s concept of Alienation
Alienation, a concept that became widely known during the 19th and 20th century has been looked at extensively by a number of leading theorists. Theorists such as Georg Hegel first used the idea of alienation as a philosophic idea, but his work was later grasped upon by theorists known as Ludwig Feuerbach and more importantly Karl Marx. The world till now has been witness to a change in different social structures and forms in which society operates. We as human beings must ask, what purpose do we serve within society? What means do we have to sustain an effective or prosperous way of living? Marx believed we have been through different economic stages and ownership of the things we need to live, beginning with the times of the ancient to feudalism (land granted from the crown) to now where we have arrived at capitalism (private ownership). He saw this as historical stages of development where each stage has the characteristics of a system of production and division of labour, forms of property ownership and a system of class relations (Morrison,K.1995:40). This brought forward Marx’s idea of historical materialism which centred on how to interpret the history of mankind and the development of one stage of society to the next. In turn it looks for reasons for changes in human society and how humans together produced the necessary requirements to live. In relation to historical materialism there was another idea of dialectal materialism. This was a term used by Marx to study natural phenomena, the evolution of society and human thought itself as a process of development which rests upon motion and contradiction (Clapp,R: Acc 10/11/2012). Marx further explains historical and dialectical materialism which will be looked at further in the essay. By understanding how humans produce the necessities to live (historical materialism) and how a way of reasoning helps us to see the growth in efficiency of economic orders where in turn they develop contradictions and weaknesses (dialectical materialism), we can begin to look at the idea of alienation and how it exists through expanding economic orders according to Marx. Alienation can be described as an idea where humans are dominated by forces of their own creation, which pose as ‘alien powers’ (Coser: 1977 Acc. 10/11/2012). It is seen that we are subject to psychological or emotional separation from the things we produce and the surplus value that is gained, all be it in the control of private owners in a capitalist climate. There are different ways in which we are separated from these factors. They are the worker from the product of labour, the actual activity of labour, members of society and from our ‘species being’. However both the worker and capitalist suffer forms of alienation which will be discussed further. The purpose of this essay is to outline and assess Marx’s theory of alienation where many forms of separation occur and how different members of society suffer from it, as well as taking into account how historical and dialectical ideas help to give a background to it.

Karl Marx who was born in 1818 in Germany was considered as an unconventional theorist. His reputation for being a political economist, philosopher, revolutionary and founder of Communism did not bring people to the typical image of a sociologist. Marx was a strong believer in the materialistic understanding of factors such as social change, class conflict, labour and the organisation of production. He put forward some notions that would help him identify the materialist perspective. So what does historical materialism tell us about history? When using this idea to analyse society we are always looking at the economic base or structure of it. In order for society to live in this sense, we must be able to produce the necessities like food, shelter and clothing in order to do so. The act of production is one of the...
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