Last Updated 12 May 2020

The product of modern society

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Evaluate the argument that alienation is inevitable in the modern work environment, just as anomie is the product of modern society. When looking at what alienation and anomie are, we can see that they are comparable psychological states. The theory of alienation was one used regularly by Karl Marx and Robert Blauner. Anomie is a concept that was used in both the studies of Emile Durkheim and Robert K. Merton. Whilst both concepts are moderately unique, they are also very similar and interrelated to one another as sociological and psychological states of mind.

Alienation (a term used by Karl Marx to signify a lack of creative and affirming relationships) is the consequence of people who are trained to work like robots, without thought or feeling, whether a factory worker whose task is to push buttons on a conveyor line or a skilled person who carries out repetitive high-tech jobs. Alienation is defined as "a process, in which people become separated from their fellows, the products of their work and their own life processes" (Calhoun, C. et al 2002).

Modern jobs which do not help people to develop good power relationships are seen as alienating and destructive of human health. In an anonymous world there is a tendency for us to disregard others, unless immediately useful to us, and this is reflected in huge workforces in industrial cultures. It is further increased by giving people small insignificant tasks, which is the opposite of craftsmanship, when we take great pride in our creativity and work. An example of where alienation may occur can be seen, for example, in the fast food industry.

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"An exploratory study conducted among 595 U. S. quick service restaurant hourly employees and managers for the purpose of measuring their level of work alienation finds that a significant proportion of the respondents expressed feelings of work alienation. " (http://jht. sagepub. com/cgi/content/abstract/32/1/22) "It is claimed that Neo-Taylorism is common in the financial sector, fast food outlets and even in the public sector, increasing job dissatisfaction and levels of alienation. " (Lecture slide, 2008) Workers report boredom, disinterest and disengagement carrying out repetitive and menial tasks.

To cope with these issues people/employees develop survival strategies such as; joking, messing about and sabotage. Other views on alienation are that of Karl Marx and Robert Blauner. Marx uses a concept of human nature to understand human behavior and is sometimes referred to as economic determinism. Marx illustrious 4 aspects of alienated labor, the relationship of employee to the product of labor; product dominates him, the relationship of employment to the act of production which is external and compulsory and the alienation of man from himself as a 'species-being' alienated from his human life. (Marx, K [1844], 2002)

On the other hand Blauner was accused of trivializing Marx's notion of alienation: Blauner believed that alienation was subjective and concerned with 'state of mind'. He ignores the political/economic context. "His technological determinism ignores the fact that the technologies which he perceives as dictating levels of alienation are merely methods of achieving increased control. " (Lecture slide, 2008) Anomie (a term used by sociologist Emile Durkheim to refer to a lack of rules or norms in everyday life) is the consequence of people not having responsibility in their lives and often passing the blame to others.

Anomie is defined as "A state in which there are no clear shared rules or norms of behaviour. " (Calhoun, C. et al 2002). In a society where general norms or accepted values are eroded people do not relate so well to others around them. There is less caring for vulnerable people, less sympathy and charity for the weak, no sense of sharing or justice for the 'underdog'. Human beings out of touch with the Earth and with each other will tend to form self-protective groups, eventually ending up in suspicion of and even the persecution of outsiders or those who are different.

The Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis is an extreme example of this, but intolerance and disrespect for cultural diversity takes many shapes (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc... ) Anomie is particularly provoked in more individualistic societies. Where personal happiness is seen as an ultimate goal, many people are less concerned with their relationships. This is further reinforced by an excessive enfaces on competition and competitiveness. Therefore norms frequently refer to individual gain rather than communal bonding.

Furthermore, in a 'throw away' culture, relationships, which would normally determine social cohesion, are seen as disposable and short term. This can result in shared values such as, collaboration and mutual respect being replaced by individual drive and gain. Durkheim believed that; "A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; everyway of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations" (Durkheim, 2002)

"Man is the more vulnerable to self-destruction the more he is detached from any collectivity, that is to say, the more he lives as an egoist. " (http://durkheim. itgo. com/anomie. html) Whereas Merton suggested that anomie exists when cultural goals are well defined but the means for achieving these goals are restricted. Merton also outlines five possible responses; conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. (Lecture Notes, 2008) "Merton's approach shows how anomie can be a source of social change as well as a locus of social problems".

(Jary ; Jary). (Lecture Notes, 2008) To say that alienation is 'inevitable' in the modern working environment would be an overstatement. Although it can be seen to be 'inevitable' when, for example; if a business neglects the needs of its workforce, if the business focus is purely financial or if the business de-humanizes the employees by means of poor pay, bad conditions, job dissatisfaction etc. According to British author Antony Jay (in his book 'The Corporation Man') humans are most effective when working in group of five to fifteen people.

Throughout history the ideal size is a 'ten group', for example; hunters and farmers for hundreds of generations. "He found the most efficient to be organized in groups of eight to fourteen people which he came to call 'ten-groups', each group free to find its own way towards a target set for it within the general objects of the corporation... " (www. 37signals. com) It is because of this and other reasons that both alienation and anomie can be avoided and therefore not 'inevitable'.

In evaluation, it can be argued that anomie is the product of how a modern society is structured and organised. As with alienation, it is neither inevitable nor unavoidable. Examples of other cultures in modern society can be cited which do not produce these consequences. For instance, black people have for many generations felt like 2nd class citizens. The recent election of the new president of the United States of America (Barak Obama) is already demonstrating how the alienation of black people in the modern working community can be challenged.

Another example would be in European and Mediterranean countries where traditional family values continue to counteract the modern industrial society. Where there is a strong emphasis on working together purposefully with a common goal, there is much less alienation and the work itself binds people with shared values. Arguably it is fragmentation in a very driven, competitive and functional society that prompts people to behave in ways that lead to alienation and anomie.

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