Sociology – G.H.Mead – Self and Identity



Along with Max Weber, the American social behaviourist George Herbert Mead is credited as laying the foundations for a general approach to sociology called Interactionism. Symbolic Interactionism focuses on micro-level interaction and the way in which meanings are constructed and transmitted across the members of society. G. H. Mead argued that the individual’s self is a social self, produced in the process of interaction rather than being biologically given. Mead’s theory traces the emergence and development of the self through a series of stages in childhood and his ideas on the social-self underpins much interactionist research.


In Mead’s view, human thought, experience and conduct are essentially social. They owe their nature to the fact that human beings interact in terms of symbols, the most important of which are contained in language. A symbol does not simply stand for an object or event: it defines them in a particular way and indicates a response to them. Without symbols there would be no human interaction and no human society. Symbolic interactionism is necessary since man has no instincts to direct his behaviour. He is not genetically programmed to react automatically to particular stimuli. In order to survive he must therefore construct and live within a world of meaning. Thus, symbols provide the means whereby man can interact meaningfully with his natural; and social environment.

Social life can be only proceeded if the meanings of symbols are largely shared by members of society. If this were not the case meaningful communication would be impossible. In order for interaction to proceed each person involved must interpret the meanings and intentions of others. This is made possible by the existence of common symbols, but actually accomplished by means of a process which mead terms role taking’. The process of role taking involves the individual taking on the role of another by imaginatively placing himself in the position of the person with whom he is interacting. On the basis of this interpretation he will make his response to the action of the other.


Mead argues that through the process of role taking the individual develops a concept of ‘self’. By placing himself in the position of others he is able to look back upon himself. Mead claims that the idea of a self can only develop if the individual can get outside (experimentally) in such a way as to become an object to himself. To do this he must observe himself from the standpoint of others. Therefore the origin and development of a concept of self lies in the ability to take the role of another.

The notion of self is not inborn, it is learned during childhood. Mead sees two main stages in its development;

  1. PLAY STAGE: It involves the child playing roles which are not his own. For example, the child may play at being mother or father, a doctor or a nurse. In doing so he becomes aware that there is a difference between himself and the role that he is playing. Thus, the idea of a self is developed as the child takes the role of a make-believe other.
  2. GAME STAGE: In playing a game, the child comes to see himself from the perspective of various other participants. In order to play a game, the child must become aware of his relationship to the other players. He must place himself in their roles in order to appreciate his particular role in the game. In doing so he sees himself in terms of the collective viewpoint of the other players. In Mead’s terminology he sees himself from the perspective of the generalized other.

Generalized Others

The game stage yields one of Mead’s best known concepts, the Generalized Other. The generalized other is the attitude of the entire community. The ability to take the role of the generalized other is essential to the self: “only in so far as he takes the attitude of the organized social group to which he belongs toward the organized, co-operative social activity or set of such activities in which that group is engaged, does he develop a complete self”.

In other words, to have a self, one must be a member of a community and be directed by the attitudes common to the community. While play requires only pieces of selves, the game requires a coherent self.   Not only is taking the role of the generalized other essential to the self, it also is crucial for the development of organized group activities. A group requires that individuals direct their activities in accord with the attitudes of the generalized other. The generalized other also represents Mead’s familiar propensity to give priority to the social, because it is through the generalized other that the group influences the behaviour of individuals.


Mead also looks at the self from a pragmatic point of view. At the individual level, the self allows the individual to be a more efficient member of the larger society. Because of the self, people are more likely to do what is expected of them in a given situation. Because people often try to live up to group expectations, they are more likely to avoid the inefficiencies that come from failing to do what the group expects. Furthermore, the self allows for greater coordination in society as a whole. Because individuals can be counted on to do what is expected of them, the group can operate more effectively

The preceding, as well as the overall discussion of the self, might lead us to believe that Mead’s actors are little more than conformists and that there is little individuality, since everyone is busy conforming to the expectations of the generalized other. But Mead is clear that each self is different from all the others. Selves share a common structure, but each self receives unique biographical articulation. In addition, it is clear that there is not simply one grand generalized other but that there are many generalized others in society, because there are many groups in society. People therefore have multiple generalized others and, as a result, multiple selves. Each person’s unique set of selves makes him or her different from everyone else. Furthermore, people need not accept the community as it is; they can reform things and seek to make them better. We are able to change the community because of our capacity to think.

I & ME:

Mead identifies two aspects, or phases, of the self, which he labels the “I” and the “me”. As Mead puts it, “The self is essentially a social process going on with these two distinguishable phases”. It is important to bear in mind that the “I” and the “me” are processes within the larger process of the self; they are not “things.”

The “I” is the immediate response of an individual to others. It is the incalculable, unpredictable, and creative aspect of the self. People do not know in advance what the action of the “I” will be. We are never totally aware of the “I,” and through it we surprise ourselves with our actions. We know the “I” only after the act has been carried out. Thus, we know the “I” only in our memories. Mead lays great stress on the “I” for four reasons;

  • First, it is a key source of novelty in the social process.
  • Second, Mead believes that it is in the “I” that our most important values are located.
  • Third, the “I” constitutes something that we all seek—the realization of the self.
  • Fourth, it is the “I” that permits us to develop a “definite personality.”

The “I” gives Mead’s theoretical system some much-needed dynamism and creativity. Without it, Mead’s actors would be totally dominated by external and internal controls. With it, Mead is able to deal with the changes brought about not only by the great figures in history (like Gandhi or Einstein), but also by individuals on a day-to-day basis. It is the “I” that makes these changes possible.

Since every personality is a mix of “I” and “me,” the great historical figures are seen as having a larger proportion of “I” than most others have. But in day-to-day situations, anyone’s “I” may assert itself and lead to change in the social situation. Uniqueness is also brought into Mead’s system through the biographical articulation of each individual’s “I” and “me.” That is, the specific exigencies of each person’s life give him or her a unique mix of “I” and “me.”

The “I” reacts against the “me,” which is the “organized set of attitudes of others which one him-self assumes”. In other words, the “me” is the adoption of the generalized other. In contrast to the “I,” people are conscious of the “me”; the “me” involves conscious responsibility. As Mead says, “The ‘me’ is a conventional, habitual individual”. Conformists are dominated by the “me,” although everyone—whatever his or her degree of conformity—has, and must have, a substantial “me.” It is through the “me” that society dominates the individual. Indeed, Mead defines the idea of social control as the dominance of the expression of the “me” over the expression of the “I”.

Mead also looks at the “I” and the “me” in pragmatic terms. The “me” allows the individual to live comfortably in the social world, while the “I” makes change in society possible. Society gets enough conformity to allow it to function, and it gets a steady infusion of new developments to prevent it from stagnating. The “I” and the “me” are thus part of the whole social process and allow both individuals and society to function more effectively.


Mead’s view of human interaction sees man as both actively creating the social environment and being shaped by it. The individual initiates and directs his own action while at the same time being influenced by the attitudes and expectations of others in the form of the generalized others. The individual and society are regarded as inseparable for the individual can only become human in a social context. In this context he develops a sense of self which is a prerequisite for thought. He learns to take roles of others which is essential both for the development of self and for the cooperative action. Without communication in terms of symbols whose meanings are shared, these processes would not be possible. Man therefore lives in a world of symbols which give meaning and significance to life and provide the basis for human interaction.





Latent functions: Functional consequences that are not intended or recognized by the members of a social system in which they occur.

Manifest functions: The functions of a type of social activity that are known to and intended by the individuals involved in the activity.


Until the 1960s, functionalist thought was probably the leading theoretical tradition in sociology, particularly in the United States. Talcott Parsons (1902- 79) and Robert K. Merton (1910-2003), who each drew extensively on Durkheim, were two of its most prominent adherents. Merton’s version of functionalism has been particularly influential.

Robert Merton, pursued a version of Parsons’s functionalism, but did so in a much more critical way. Merton saw that while many sociological studies focused on either the macro-level of society as a whole or the micro-level of social interactions, this polarization had failed to ‘fill in the gaps’ between macro- and micro-levels. To rectify this, Merton argued for middle range theories in particular areas or on specific subjects. Merton criticized some of the more extreme and indefensible aspects of structural functionalism. But equally important, his new conceptual insights helped give structural functionalism a continuing usefulness.

Although both Merton and Parsons are associated with structural functionalism, there are important differences between them.

  • While Parsons advocated the creation of grand, overarching theories, Merton favoured more limited, middle range theories.
  • Merton was more favourable toward Marxian theories than Parsons was.



Merton criticized what he saw as the three basic postulates of functional analysis as it was developed by anthropologists such as Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown.

The first is the postulate of the functional unity of society. This postulate holds that all standardized social and cultural beliefs and practices are functional for society as a whole as well as for individuals in society. This view implies that the various parts of a social system must show a high level of integration. However, Merton maintained that although it may be true of small, primitive societies, this generalization cannot be extended to larger, more complex societies. Merton argues that functional unity is a matter of degree. Its extent must be determined by investigation rather than simply beginning with the assumption that it exists.

The second postulate is the universal functionalism. That is, it is argued that all standardized social and cultural forms and structures have positive functions. Merton argued that this contradicts what we find in the real world. It is clear that not every structure, custom, idea, belief, and so forth, has positive functions. He suggests that functionalist analysis should proceed from assumption that any part of society may be functional, dysfunctional or non-functional. For example, poverty may be seen as dysfunctional for the poor but functional for the non-poor and for society as a whole.

The third is the postulate of indispensability. The argument here is that all standardized aspects of society not only have positive functions but also represent indispensable parts of the working whole. This postulate leads to the idea that all structures and functions are functionally necessary for society. Functionalists have often seen religion in this light. For example, Davis and Moore claim that religion plays a unique and indispensable part in the society. Merton questions this assumption of indispensability and argues that the same functional prerequisites may be met by a range of alternative institutions. For example a political ideology like communism can provide a functional alternative to religion.

Merton’s position was that all these functional postulates rely on no empirical assertions based on abstract, theoretical systems. At a minimum, it is the responsibility of the sociologist to examine each empirically. Merton’s belief that empirical tests, not theoretical assertions, are crucial to functional analysis led him to develop his “paradigm” of functional analysis as a guide to the integration of theory and research.


Functions, according to Merton, are defined as “those observed consequences which make for the adaptation or adjustment of a given system”.


However, there is a clear ideological bias when one focuses only on adaptation or adjustment, for they are always positive consequences. It is important to note that one social fact can have negative consequences for another social fact. To rectify this serious omission in early structural functionalism, Merton developed the idea of a dysfunction.  Just as structures or institutions could contribute to the maintenance of other parts of the social system, they also could have negative consequences for them.


Merton also posited the idea of non-functions, which he defined as consequences that are simply irrelevant to the system under consideration. Included here might be social forms that are “survivals” from earlier historical times. Although they may have had positive or negative consequences in the past, they have no significant effect on contemporary society.

Merton added the idea that there must be levels of functional analysis.  Functionalists had generally restricted themselves to analysis of the society as a whole, but Merton made it clear that analysis also could be done on an organization, institution, or group.


Merton also introduced the concepts of manifest and latent functions. These two terms have also been important additions to functional analysis. In simple terms, manifest functions are those that are intended, whereas latent functions are unintended. The manifest function of slavery, for example, was to increase the economic productivity of the South America, but it had the latent function of providing a vast underclass that served to increase the social status of southern whites, both rich and poor.

This idea is related to another of Merton’s concepts— unanticipated consequences.  Actions have both intended and unintended consequences. Although everyone is aware of the intended consequences, sociological analysis is required to uncover the unintended consequences; indeed, to some this is the very essence of sociology.

Peter Berger has called this “debunking”, or looking beyond stated intentions to real effects.   Merton made it clear that unanticipated consequences and latent functions are not the same. A latent function is one type of unanticipated consequence, one that is functional for the designated system. But there are two other types of unanticipated consequences: “those that are dysfunctional for a designated system, and these comprise the latent dysfunctions”, and “those which are irrelevant to the system which they affect neither functionally nor dysfunctionally“.


As further clarification of functional theory, Merton pointed out that a structure may be dysfunctional for the system as a whole yet may continue to exist. One might make a good case that discrimination against blacks, females, and other minority groups is dysfunctional for society, yet it continues to exist because it is functional for a part of the social system; for example, discrimination against females is generally functional for males. However, these forms of discrimination are not without some dysfunctions, even for the group for which they are functional. Males do suffer from their discrimination against females. One could argue that these forms of discrimination adversely affect those who discriminate by keeping vast numbers of people underproductive and by increasing the likelihood of social conflict.

Merton contended that not all structures are indispensable to the workings of the social system. Some parts of our social system can be eliminated. This helps functional theory overcome another of its conservative biases. By recognizing that some structures are expendable, functionalism opens the way for meaningful social change. Our society, for example, could continue to exist (and even be improved) by the elimination of discrimination against various minority groups.

Thus, Merton’s clarifications are of great utility to sociologists who wish to perform structural-functional analyses.





DEFINITION: Pattern variable is a framework through which Parsons tries to understand how the actor negotiates with the action situation and manifest a particular kind of behaviour.


Parsons speaks about pattern variable in his book ‘the structure of social action’.  Man is a bundle of impulses but is bound by compulsions i.e. he wants to do something but culture and norms bind him to do something else. Parsons talks about the interconnectivity between

  • Actor
  • Social structure
  • Cultural structure

Pattern variables talks about the successful negotiation between the above three. Parsons had sought to identify the choices between alternatives that an actor confronts in a given situation and the relative premises assigned to such choices


Prior to Parsons, the study of modernity had been the centrality to sociological inquiry. In his study of modernity. Parsons is influenced by the work of Ferdinand Tonnies (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft), Durkheim and Weber.

Parsons as defender of modernity indicated that modernity is not just the production of culture, social structure or social action, rather the negation between the personality, social and cultural system and its outcomes sufficiently explain the possibility of modernity in a given society. He develops the theory of pattern variables to explain modernity, recognizing the fact that modernity

  • Is a product of actor understanding the demands of action situation
  • Negotiating with other actors, confirming to the normative and value system differently
  • Realizing the dilemma in an action situation
  • Making attempts to neutralize this dilemma
  • The outcomes of all these discourses manifest the possibility, degree, form and content of modernity in a given society.

Hence, pattern variable is a mega theoretical framework where parsons defines, how in an action situation

  • An actor identifies the counter actors
  • The degree of emotional relationship appropriate in an action situation
  • Range of obligation of actor towards counter actors
  • Form of attachment between the actor and counter actor
  • Benefits/results coming out of interaction


Parsons develops two sets of pattern variables

  • It is a product of expressive orientation demanding the gratification of needs.
  • Emphasizing on aesthetic and emotive criteria.
  • It is the essence of traditional society
  • Demands objective, rational, goal oriented actions driven by instrumental mode of orientation.
  • It is a reflection of a modern society.


To explain this further, he develops 5 different pairs of Pattern Variables. Through this he explains the mode of orientation of actor, demands of action situation, dilemma in action situation, how it is resolved and what the outcomes of it.

Therefore his pattern variable theory is designed to explain microscopic, mesoscopic and macroscopic situation to explain the negotiation between social actor and the influence of cultural and social system on his behaviour in different social situations and its outcomes.


This pattern is affective when an organized action system emphasizes gratification i.e. when an actor tries to avoid pain and to maximize pleasure. This relates to the degree of emotion appropriate to social relationship in a given situation. The pattern is affectively neutral when it imposes discipline, and renouncement or deferment of some gratification in favour of others interests.


This classification was first used by Ralph Linton. He says ascription is the most important value in traditional society as it gives rises to persistence without the element of change. Achievement is a modern trait. Parsons says through assumption and achievement we talk of identity of the actor.

Ascription– who the actor is

Achievement– what the actor is capable of doing


The former refers to standards determined by an actor’s particular relations with a particular object, the later refers to value standards that are highly generalized. It talks about the benefits of action and interaction in meant for a particular community or all the members of a society.


Range of obligation appropriate in a relationship i.e. what should our range of obligation be towards the counter actors. This is the dilemma of defining the relation borne by object to actor as indefinitely wide in scope, infinitely broad in involvement, morally obliging and significant in pluralistic situations (diffuseness) and; or specifically limited in scope and involvement (specificity).


This dichotomy depends on social norms or shared expectations which define as legitimate the pursuit of the actor’s private interests or obligate him to act in the interests of the group.

Self-orientation– Utilitarianism and Egoism

Collective orientation– Altruism


Based on the above discussion we may say that every action situation has the following steps



Sociology/Max Weber – Authority (1)



Weber’s sociological interest in the structures of authority was motivated, at least in part, by his political interests. Weber was no political radical; in fact, he was often called the “bourgeois Marx” to reflect the similarities in the intellectual interests of Marx and Weber as well as their very different political orientations.

Although Weber was almost as critical of modern capitalism as Marx was, he did not advocate revolution. He wanted to change society gradually, not overthrow it. He had little faith in the ability of the masses to create a “better” society.

Weber was critical of authoritarian political leaders like Bismarck. Nevertheless, for Weber the hope—if indeed he had any hope—lay with the great political leaders rather than with the masses or the bureaucrats. Along with his faith in political leaders went his unswerving nationalism. He placed the nation above all else.

Weber preferred democracy as a political form not because he believed in the masses but because it offered maximum dynamism and the best milieu to generate political leaders.

Weber began his analysis of authority structures in a way that was consistent with his assumptions about the nature of action. He defined domination as the “probability that certain specific commands (or all commands) will be obeyed by a given group of persons”. Domination can have a variety of bases, legitimate as well as illegitimate, but what mainly interested Weber were the legitimate forms of domination, or what he called authority.

What concerned Weber, and what played a central role in much of his sociology, were the three bases on which authority is made legitimate to followers—rational/legal, traditional, and charismatic

Authority legitimized on rational grounds rests “on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands”. Authority legitimized on traditional grounds is based on “an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them”. Finally, authority legitimized by charisma rests on the devotion of followers to the exceptional sanctity, exemplary character, heroism, or special powers (for example, the ability to work miracles) of leaders, as well as on the normative order sanctioned by them.

All these modes of legitimizing authority clearly imply individual actors, thought processes (beliefs), and actions. But from this point, Weber, in his thinking about authority, did move quite far from an individual action base, as we will see when we discuss the authority structures erected on the basis of these types of legitimacy.


It is a system of domination driven by rules and laws. The universal laws that govern the system of legal authority are competition, strict discipline, impersonal character, defined hierarchy etc. according to weber the purest type of exercise of legal authority is Bureaucracy.



  • Value time
  • Goal orientation
  • Rule bound behaviour
  • Decision making without prejudice and emotions
  • Long working hours


  • Associated with position and not person
  • Clearly defined hierarchy
  • Unequal distribution of power
  • Authority defined by rules and laws
  • No discretionary power but bureaucratic immunity
  • Complete knowledge about “file”.


  • Fixed tenure of service
  • Fixed salary
  • Promotions on basis of efficiency
  • Diversified positions
  • No absolute authority
  • Occupational mobility.


  • Most efficient system of administration
  • Deliberated justice
  • Decisions universally applicable
  • Mistakes by bureaucracy easily rectified
  • Subjected to collective well being.

To Be Continued !

Sociology / Marx- Mode of production.



The Mode of Production is the unity of the productive forces and the relations of production. Production begins with the development of its determinative aspect – the productive forces – which, once they have reached a certain level, come into conflict with the relations of production within which they have been developing. This leads to an inevitable change in the relations of production, since in the obsolete form they cease to be indispensable condition of the production process. Therefore, the change in the Mode of Production comes about not through people’s choice, but by virtue of the correspondence between the productive relations to the character and level of development of the productive forces.


According to Marx –“The first historical act is the production of material life”. Mode of production theory of Marx makes some attempts to determine the direction of the history of mankind. It advocated that all human societies necessarily pass through successive stages of development. In Marx’s writings, the stages of social history are differentiated not by what human beings produce but by how, or by what means, they produce the material goods for subsistence. In this way, we can say that historical periods are founded and differentiated on the basis of the modes of material production. Marx has given four different modes of production, namely;


  • Primitive society
  • No classes
  • Structured around kinship
  • Very low division of labour
  • No private property
  • All worked together for common good.


  • Aristocracy and slaves
  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Salves did most of the work
  • Concept of private property started to develop.


  • Dark ages of European society
  • Feudal lords and vessels came to forefront
  • Exploitation of peasant class
  • Changing technology
  • Renaissance came into being.


  •   Discussed in detail below

In his communist manifesto, Marx believes that history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle. Thus class conflict is determined by peoples association with a given mode of production and its necessary consequence. While discussing mode of production Marx advocates that any historical mode of production is an integral unity between the;

  • FORCES OF PRODUCTION: include means of production and labour power. The forces of production express the degree to which human being control nature. The more advanced the productive forces are, greater is their control over the natural and vice versa. We can say the forces of production are the ways in which material goods are produced. They include the technological knowhow, the types of equipment in use and goods being produced, for example; tools, machinery, labour, and levels of technology are all considered to be the forces of production.
  • RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION: are the social relations of production. As such, they include both, the relations between the direct producers or workers and their employers or those who control their labour, and the relations between the direct producers themselves. Relations of production is not merely the ownership of means of production. The employer’s relation to the workers is one of domination and the workers relation with co-worker is one of cooperation. Thus the relations of production can influence the momentum and direction of the development of the productive forces.

Therefore ‘forces’ and ‘relations’ of production are strongly interrelated. The development of one leads to a growing incompatibility or contradiction with the other. In fact, the contradictions between the two aspects of production ‘act as the motor of history’. The forces of production determine the super structure.


Marx tried to project the movement of mankind through history of dialectical materialism. He shows the evolution of society from primitive communism to modern socialism. The disintegration of feudalism and the early development of capitalism is bound with the growth of towns, administrative autonomy, use of money, commodity exchange etc.

The transition phase witnessed heterogeneous classes like land owners, petty bourgeoisie, lumpen proletariat which was classified into two homogenous classes

  1. PROLETARIAT: working class people/sold their labour
  2. BOURGEOISIE: the capitalist class who own most of society’s wealth and means of production.

The essence of capitalism is the pursuit of PROFIT. Capitalism denotes a sum of money to be invested in order to secure a rate of return or an investment itself. Capitalism is an asset which produces a series of variables. This investment or capital may be divided into;

CONSTANT CAPITAL: it corresponds to the capital outlay in the productive process. It entails everything necessary for the production i.e. machinery, raw materials, factory etc.

VARIABLE CAPITAL: It is the capital spent on wages of labour.

The ratio of constant to variable capital constitutes the organic composition of capital. It varies from industry to industry. One may say that profit is the surface manifestation of the surplus value that belongs to the labour but it never comes back to him. So,


During the capitalist mode of production a process is carried out where the money is transformed into capital. This is often known as the MARXIAN VALUE THEORY– which applies to the simple commodity production;

The producer sells the product to satisfy one’s own needs. He comes to the market with commodity C, turns it into money M and then again reconverts it into commodity C. this market transaction can be represented as



On the other hand the capitalist comes to the market with money M, buys labour and materials C and returns to the market with a product which he converts to money M1. this capitalist transaction can be represented as:



These two processes are called the CIRCUIT OF CAPITAL. Capital is a value which undergoes a series of transformation. In C-M-C, the two Cs are equal in terms pf exchange value, while they are unequal in terms of their use value. In M-C-M1 the two Ms are homogenous but Marx indicates that M1 is greater than M. thus the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself.

Capitalist mode of production is characterised by COMMODITY FETESHISM, which as Marx indicated is an obsession to produce more and more commodity and where everything is reduced to a commodity. Man also sells his labour as a commodity. Hence there is COMMODIFICATION OF LABOUR. The price of every commodity is determined by competition which is three sided;

  1. Competition among sellers
  2. Competition among buyers
  3. Competition between buyers and sellers.

Fluidity of capital and mobility of labour are the two conditions which facilitate the process of buying and selling commodities.

According to Marx, every commodity has two fold aspect

  1. USE VALUE: refers to the value of the commodity which has some consumption value. Refers to the inherent properties of an object
  2. EXCHANGE VALUE: is the value of a product which has been exchanged for another product. It pre supposes a definite economic relation and has meaning in reference to commodities.

Thus, a commodity can have value only when human value is expanded on it. This is the core proposition of the labour theory of value given by Marx. Labour is unique for Marx because it is the only commodity which in the production process produces a value which is equal to his labour power and then produces an additional value which is the surplus value.




Sociology / Marx-Theory of Alienation.


BASIC DEFINITION: Alienation as a concept was developed by several classical and contemporary theorists, it is “a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment”.


The development of the notion of alienation may be traced to Hegelian idealism. But it was Marx who first made use of the concept as a powerful diagnostic tool for sociological inquiry. For Marx, the history of mankind is not only a history of class struggle but also of the increasing alienation of man. 

The introduction of modern manufacturing technology results in the accumulation of surplus/profit by the capitalist through exploitation of labour. Though they produce the surplus, yet they do not benefit from it. Accumulation means increase in demand of labour, therefore one may think that increase in demand of labour may result in the increase of wages. But the contradiction is that wages go down due to high unemployment created by technology.

This is where Marx talks about the unemployed reserved army. And when there is so much unemployment it creates a condition called pauperization. Till the time there is chronic pauperization in society it leads to polarization i.e. convergence of wealth on one end of the pole an accumulation of poverty on the other.

In his early works Marx called the distortions of human nature that are caused by the domination of the worker by the “alien will” of the capitalist alienation. Although it is the worker who feels alienated in capitalist society, Marx’s basic analytical concern was with the structures of capitalism that cause alienation. Marx offers a theory of alienation rooted in social structure.


While alienation is commonplace in capitalistic society and dominates every institutional sphere such as religion, economy and polity, its predominance in the work place assumes an overriding importance for Marx. The estranged or alienated labour involves four aspects;

Alienation from the ACT OF PRODUCTION: Such that the work becomes a meaningless activity, offering little or no intrinsic satisfaction. The workers do not work for themselves in order to satisfy their own needs. Instead they work for capitalists, who pay them a subsistence wage in return for the right to use the workers in any way they see fit.

Alienation from the PRODUCT ITSELF: The product of their labour does not belong to the workers, to be used by them in order to satisfy basic needs. Instead, the product, like the process that resulted in its production, belongs to the capitalists, who may use it in any way they wish. Thus the workers are alienated not only from the productive activities but also from the objects of those activities.

Alienation from their FELLOW WORKERS: Since capitalism reduces labour to a commodity to be traded on the market rather than a social relationship, workers, often strangers are forced to work side by side. Even if workers on the assembly line a close friends, the nature of the technology makes for a great deal of isolation. The workers are often forced into outright competition with each other in order to extract maximum profit and to prevent development of any social relationship.

Alienation from their own HUMAN POTENTIAL: Individuals perform less and less like human beings as they are reduced in their work to animals, beasts of burden, or inhuman machines.



  1. Structure of manufacturing turns workers into crippled monstrosities by forcing them to work on minute details rather than allowing them to use all their capabilities.
  2. Natural relationship with head and hand broken in capitalism so that only few do headwork most do handwork.
  3. The monotony of doing the same specialized task over and over again.
  4. Human beings no longer creative but are oriented solely toward owning and possessing objects.

According to Marx alienation can be seen as the opposite of what people can potentially be. Marx argued that capitalism is an inverted world, in which those who should be on the top are relegated to the bottom. The reality of life in capitalism is hidden while illusion is seen as a fact.

As a result of alienation;

  • Work is reduced to mere labour
  • Individual does not affirm himself but denies himself
  • Worker doesn’t feel content, but unhappy
  • Does not develop his mental and physical energy
  • Mortifies his body and ruins his mind

Thus, labour in capitalism is very different from genuine human activity.

Therefore, we can say that the worker is the victim of exploitation at the hands of the bourgeois. The works sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities. The more the works spends himself, the less he has of himself. The worker puts his life into the object he creates but the very object becomes an instrument of alien purpose and strengthens the hand of his exploiters. In short the worker spends his life and produces everything not for himself but for the powers that manipulate him. While labour may produce beauty, luxury and intelligence, for the worker it produces only the opposite-deformity, misery and uncertainty.







Components Of Alienation !



More to Come !