The Postmodern Proletariat

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THE POSTMODERN PROLETARIAT:

THE EFFECTS OF CAPITALISM ON THE SOCIAL STATUS AND ALIENATION OF MINORITIES

Jason R. Lambert

Ph.D. Student of Management

College of Business Administration

Department of Management

University of Texas at Arlington

ABSTRACT

Although the landscape of the business world has changed dramatically, there is disagreement among scholars as to whether Marx’s theory of alienation still applies to the current workplace environment. Although the advent of unions and teamsters groups, employee stock options and ownership sharing plans, and job benefits seem to ameliorate working conditions thereby minimizing the existence of alienation, some scholars believe that other inventions from capitalism such as globalization and information technology communications offset the balance gained from these improvements in labor relations thereby further promulgating its effects. Using historical observation from the early years of capitalism in America, social identity theory, and literature on information technology and corporate cultural diversity, a disparity emerges regarding how the social alienation of minorities differs from that of non-minority members. A dialectical inquiry is made to determine how the history of capital labor in America is related to social alienation based on a worker’s racial or cultural heritage.

INTRODUCTION

Some scholars suggest that Marxian theory is antiquated and that due to advances in technology, the evolution of industry and the change in the way business is conducted, individuals in the workplace may experience less alienation than before. The evolution of organizational and employee developments such as the unions and teamsters groups, employee stock options and ownership sharing plans, and job benefits may offer explanations as to why symptoms of alienation have yet to birth a proletariat revolution as theorized by Marx. Additionally, socio-economic “safety nets” established by legislation to save capitalism such as the creation of the “living wage”, welfare, child labor laws, equal employment opportunity and affirmative action programs, and social security have also assisted in the maintenance of capitalism thereby minimizing the impact alienation has on individuals in the workplace. However, for most minorities and women these developments that have occurred throughout American history have done little to ameliorate alienation because until approximately the last 30 – 40 years few labor laws were designed with minorities in mind. As a matter of fact, even legislation designed to protect minorities and women is often challenging to enforce, allowing alienation to exist from factors including unequal employment opportunities, a lack of diversity in the workplace, and unequal pay between men and women or based on race. Research suggests that women and minorities on average still make as little as between 75% - 80% of white men’s wages in paid labor. Marx has been criticized for overlooking this stratum of alienation based on race and gender that illuminates a different face of capitalism. Marx proposed four dimensions of alienation that can be classified as self, social, product, and means of production. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how alienation occurs in different ways overlooked in the literature by redefining the worker through the lens of social identity theory which may explain how alienation is a relative concept. Questions will be addressed such as which workers may experience relative alienation? What other forms of alienation exist and to whom may it apply? And how can the new proletariat be effectively managed in efforts to reduce anxiety as a result of social or cultural dissonance?

Following a brief literature review of Marxian theory, social identity theory, and literature on information technology, I will examine how the...
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