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  Alienation (from Latin alienus, ‘outsider’), in sociology, refers to the sense that control over one\'s individual abilities has been taken over by outside agents. Originally it had philosophical and religious meanings: Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 - 1872) used the term to refer to the establishment of gods and divine forces as distinct from human beings, and Marx originally used it to refer to the projection of human powers onto the gods. Marx later transformed it into a sociological concept by applying it to the experience of work.

For Marx, work was the most important human activity through which human beings expressed their individuality and creativity. The alienated worker finds work unsatisfying and unrewarding. Work has no creative value. Alienation is, however, far more than boredom at work. Alienation refers to workers\' powerlessness and loss of control over the nature of their work tasks and the products of their labour—thus the term also denotes a specific set of social relations. In traditional societies, it is argued, though work may have been hard and exhausting, the individual worker still had a large measure of control over his or her daily labours. In contrast, the modern industrial worker has little control over his or her work situation. Capitalism, according to Marx, inevitably produces a high level of alienation. This is because in such a society a small number of individuals own the productive forces, individual workers rarely own the tools of their trade and have little control over what they produce. Production is for an abstract market rather than for self or for a specific customer. In these circumstances, alienation is heightened by mechanization and by a highly specialized division of labour (the separation of a job into simple constituent parts). Unlike the craftsmen of preindustrial societies, workers in industrial societies do not each produce a complete product. Rather, each may produce just one element of a fragmented whole. This may involve a routine task only and in this way many skills may be lost.

It is argued that workers in capitalist societies not only become alienated from their work and the products of their labour, but also from themselves and ultimately from each other. An alienated worker, Marx believed, is unable to find self-expression through work and this causes estrangement from self. Further, since work is a social activity, it is argued that alienation from work involves alienation from others and one becomes cut off from fellow workers.

Alienation as used by Marx, like anomie, is a concept which links explanations of individual behaviour to the wider social structure. Since Marx, alienation has been used to describe a wide range of phenomena. The subjective aspects of alienation were given emphasis by American sociologists in the 1950s and 1960s, in studies which, in effect, equated alienation with people\'s subjective feelings of dissatisfaction with life. This takes the meaning a long way from the original use by Marx. More recently some have pointed out that Marx, in his later work, abandoned the concept in favour of that of exploitation, and thus it is argued there is little need to preserve the concept.

In drama, alienation (Verfremdung) is a term used by the playwright , Bertolt Brecht (1898 - 1956) to refer to the desired result of his epic theatrical practices. Generally, theatre characterized by alienation devices is opposed to Naturalism in its various manifestations. Brecht wanted audiences to achieve a critical and reflective distance from the onstage action, rather than be sucked in emotionally by the devices of the illusionistic theatre. His aim was thereby to facilitate the perception of underlying (political) structures and processes, which ideology normally hides in everyday life. Brecht himself wrote that such an ‘alienation effect’ occurred when, for example, someone saw his or her schoolteacher being hounded by bailiffs: that is, when a person normally perceived as being in authority was suddenly seen in a completely different context.

Although some theatre workers mistook Brechtian incidentals (such as visible lighting equipment), designed to achieve distance in the face of a particular set of theatrical conditions, for a Brechtian method applicable in all circumstances, this does not detract from the importance of the general principle of which such incidentals were the original manifestation, that the familiar should be made unfamiliar. The theoretical point was that ‘Alienation means historicizing, means representing persons and actions as historical, and therefore mutable’.

Unfortunately Brecht\'s relatively simple concept has, like so much else in his work, been bedevilled by confusion between aesthetic and political usages, and by issues of translation. Brecht\'s terms Verfremdung and Verfremdungseffekt(e) have been variously translated as Alienation and Alienation Effect(s), but also as Defamiliarization, Estrangement, Distancing, Distanciation and A-effect, E-effect and V-effect. The use of ‘alienation’ as a translation of Verfremdung has led to confusion with the Marxist use of ‘alienation’ (Entfremdung in German). While there are obvious links between the two forms of alienation, in that Brecht\'s theatrical approach is often intended to make clear those factors which lead to social and political alienation, Brecht\'s detractors and those who have confused the two senses of alienation have sometimes interpreted Brecht in such a way as to alienate (in the sense of ‘turn off’) audiences and readers. Brecht\'s use of the term Verfremdung (which he virtually invented) is clearly analogous to Shklovsky\'s ostranenie (‘making strange’ or ‘defamiliarization’), a central concept in Formalism. DA TRG SS

See also bourgeoisie; capital; class; conflict theory; embourgeoisement thesis; labour process; Marxism; occupation; organization; rationalization; social stratification; structure; work.Further reading Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844; , Jan Needle and , Peter Thomson, Brecht; , B. Ollman, Alienation: Marx\'s Critique of Man in Capitalist Society; , John Willett (ed.), Brecht on Theatre.



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