Practice Question: Identify the similarities and differences between Marx’s theory of ‘alienation’ and Durkheim’s theory of ‘anomie’.(20 marks) (UPSC 2014)
Approach: Introduction; Explain Alienation and Anomie, Compare and contrast the two; Conclusion.
ALIENATION – KARL MARX
The general idea of alienation is simple: something is alienating when what is (or should be) familiar and connected comes to seem foreign or disconnected. Because our species-being is our essence as human beings, it should be something that is familiar. To the extent that we are unable to act in accordance with our species-being, we become disconnected from our own nature. So if work in a capitalist society inhibits the realization of our species-being, then work is to that extent alienating. And since we are being alienated from our own nature, alienation is not merely a subjective feeling, but is about an objective reality.
DEHUMANISATION OF LABOUR
Theory of Surplus Value
The wage covers only what is needed to maintain the labourer, his value. But what he produces is more than that. The difference is called the surplus-value. The capitalist appropriates the surplus. The capitalist tries to increase the rate of surplus value, which can be achieved in two ways: absolute and relative surplus value. Absolute surplus value is produced by “prolongation of the working day”. By such prolongation the time of surplus-labor is expanded. This method is especially applied in the earlier stages of capitalism. We find it still in the unorganised sector of industry in India.
THE COMPONENTS AND PROCESS OF ALIENATION
1. First the workers alienation from the object that he produces.
2. Secondly alienation from the process of production.
3. Thirdly alienation from himself.
4. Fourthly alienation from their fellow workers.
For Marx, “the history of mankind is not only the history of class struggle but also the increasing alienation of man”. The notion of alienation is central to Marxian thought. According to Marx, “Alienation appears not merely in the result but also in the process of production; within productive activity itself. If the product of Labour is alienation, production itself must be active alienation. the alienation of the object of Labour merely summarizes the alienation in the work activity itself.” For Marx, the essence of human nature, what singles out humans from other aspects is their capacity to control their own environment by creative activity; they can work out a conception of what they wish to create and then put this into practice. Humans express their humanity in and through work. However says Marx, work can be the expression of human intellect and creative capacity, unless it is alienated by being either concerned with mere survival or organized in such a way that work is debarred and made into a burden. The conditions for true humanity are therefore the conditions which abolish alienated labour. The source of this alienation, Marx finds in the structure and social relations of production under capitalism.
Marx misjudged and even exaggerated the extent of alienation of the average worker. Abraham and Morgan write, “The great depth of alienation and frustration which Marx “witnessed” among the workers of his day is not typical of today’s capitalism or its worker.” Further, the workers tend to identify themselves not entirely and only with their working class group, but also with a number of meaningful groups-religious, ethnic, caste, occupational and local. This does not mean that alienation does not exist in the modern capitalist societies. It could rather be said that alienation results more from the structure of bureaucracy, and of mass society than from economic exploitation.
ANOMIE – EMILE DURKHEIM
Anomie is a social condition in which there is a disintegration or disappearance of the norms and values that were previously common to the society. The concept, thought of as “normlessness,” was developed by the founding sociologist, Émile Durkheim. He discovered, through research, that anomie occurs during and follows periods of drastic and rapid changes to the social, economic, or political structures of society. It is, per Durkheim’s view, a transition phase wherein the values and norms common during one period are no longer valid, but new ones have not yet evolved to take their place.