Social alienation
The term social alienation has many discipline-specific uses; Roberts (1987: 346) notes how even within the social sciences, it “is used to refer both to a personal psychological state and to a type of social relationship”. Kalekin-Fishman (1996: 97) believes “The term alienation refers to objective conditions, to subjective feelings, and to orientations that discourage participation” and remarks that, “In modern sociology [...] alienation is a term which refers to the distancing of people from experiencing a crystallized totality both in the social world and in the self” (Kalekin-Fishman, 1998: 6).

In sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 and critical social theory, "alienation" refers to an individual's estrangement from traditional community or others in general (social isolation
Social isolation
Social isolation refers to a lack of contact with society for members of social species. There may be many causes and individuals in numerous generally social species are isolated at times, it need not be a pathological condition. In human society, in those cases where it is viewed as a pathology,...

), the dominant values of society (normlessness
Émile Durkheim described anomie which is a state of relative normlessness or a state in which norms have been eroded. A norm is an expectation of how people will behave, and it takes the form of a rule that is socially rather than formally enforced...

) or themselves (self-estrangement
Self-estrangement is an idea spoken about by Karl Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 as well as in Das Kapital and it comprises a part of Marx's theory of alienation. This is where a person is first alienated from the products of labour...

); in general, the term implies a lack of identification between a person (or what he considers himself to be) and another entity. The writings of Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 in the 19th century and, later, the works of Melvin Seeman which popularized the concept in sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 (along with Emile Durkheim
Émile Durkheim
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

's concept of anomie
Anomie is a term meaning "without Law" to describe a lack of social norms; "normlessness". It describes the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community ties, with fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. It was popularized by French...

). During the late 20th and early 21st centuries the works of Felix Geyer, Lauren Langman and Devorah Kalekin-Fishman address alienation in the contemporary western world, while Burgert Senekal has studied its manifestations in literature and popular music.

Marx's theory of alienation

Marx articulated his theory of alienation most clearly in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844) and The German Ideology (1846). Marx identifies three aspects of alienation: private property, the commodity character of labour and the division of labour in society (Ekerwald, 1998: 17). In the concept's most prominent use, it refers to the alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature" (Gattungswesen, usually translated as "species-essence" or "species-being"). Marx believed that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism. His theory relies on Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity
The Essence of Christianity
The Essence of Christianity is a book written by Ludwig Feuerbach and first published in 1841. It explains Feuerbach's philosophy and critique of religion. Feuerbach's theory of alienation would later be used by Karl Marx.- Influence :...

 (1841), which argues that the idea of God has alienated the characteristics of the human being. Stirner
Max Stirner
Johann Kaspar Schmidt , better known as Max Stirner , was a German philosopher, who ranks as one of the literary fathers of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism and anarchism, especially of individualist anarchism...

 would take the analysis further in The Ego and Its Own
The Ego and Its Own
The Ego and Its Own is a philosophical work by German philosopher Max Stirner . This work was first published in 1845, although with a stated publication date of "1844" to confuse the Prussian censors.-Content:...

 (1844), declaring that even "humanity" is an alienating ideal for the individual, to which Marx and Engels responded in The German Ideology
The German Ideology
The German Ideology is a book written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels around April or early May 1846. Marx and Engels did not find a publisher. However, the work was later retrieved and published for the first time in 1932 by David Riazanov through the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow...


Marx's theory of alienation is based upon his observation that in emerging industrial production under capitalism, workers inevitably lose control of their lives and selves by not having any control of their work. Workers never become autonomous, self-realized human beings in any significant sense, except in the way the bourgeoisie wants the worker to be realized. Alienation in capitalist
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 societies occurs because in work each contributes to the common wealth; they can only express this fundamentally-social aspect of individuality through a production system that is not publicly-social but privately-owned—for which each individual functions as an instrument, not as a social being.

There is a commonly-noted problem of translation in grappling with ideas of alienation derived from German-language philosophical texts: the word "alienation" (and similar words, such as "estrangement") are often used to translate two distinct German words (Entfremdung and Entäußerung) interchangeably.

Late 1800s-1900s

Many sociologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were concerned about alienating effects of modernization. German sociologists Georg Simmel
Georg Simmel
Georg Simmel was a major German sociologist, philosopher, and critic.Simmel was one of the first generation of German sociologists: his neo-Kantian approach laid the foundations for sociological antipositivism, asking 'What is society?' in a direct allusion to Kant's question 'What is nature?',...

 and Ferdinand Tönnies
Ferdinand Tönnies
Ferdinand Tönnies was a German sociologist. He was a major contributor to sociological theory and field studies, best known for his distinction between two types of social groups, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft...

 wrote critical works on individualization
Individualization may refer to*discrimination or perception of the individual within a group or species**identification in forensics and intelligence*the development of individual traits...

 and urbanization
Urbanization, urbanisation or urban drift is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of global change. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008....

. Simmel's Philosophie des Geldes (Philosophy of Money) describes how relationships become more and more mediated by money. Tönnies' Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are sociological categories introduced by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies for two normal types of human association...

 (Community and Society) is about the loss of primary relationships such as familial
In human context, a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence. In most societies it is the principal institution for the socialization of children...

 bonds in favour of goal-oriented, secondary relationships
Interpersonal relationship
An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people that may range from fleeting to enduring. This association may be based on limerence, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships are formed in the...

. This idea of alienation can be observed in some other contexts, although the term may not be as frequently used. In the context of an individual's relationships within society, alienation can mean the unresponsiveness of society as a whole to the individuality of each member of the society. When collective decisions are made, it is usually impossible for the unique needs of each person to be taken into account. This form of alienation was criticized by many of the Young Hegelians
Young Hegelians
The Young Hegelians, or Left Hegelians, were a group of Prussian intellectuals who in the decade or so after the death of Hegel in 1831, wrote and responded to his ambiguous legacy...


In a broader philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 context (especially in existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

 and phenomenology), alienation describes the inadequacy of the human being
Being , is an English word used for conceptualizing subjective and objective aspects of reality, including those fundamental to the self —related to and somewhat interchangeable with terms like "existence" and "living".In its objective usage —as in "a being," or "[a] human being" —it...

 (or the mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

) in relation to the world. The human mind (as the subject
Subject (philosophy)
In philosophy, a subject is a being that has subjective experiences, subjective consciousness or a relationship with another entity . A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed...

 of perception) relates to the world as an object of its perception and is distanced from the world, rather than living within it. This line of thought can be found in the works of Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

, who examined the emotion
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

s and feeling
Feeling is the nominalization of the verb to feel. The word was first used in the English language to describe the physical sensation of touch through either experience or perception. The word is also used to describe experiences, other than the physical sensation of touch, such as "a feeling of...

s of individuals when faced with life choices. Many 20th-century philosophers
20th-century philosophy
20th-century philosophy saw the development of a number of new philosophical schools including logical positivism, analytic philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism and poststructuralism...

 (both theistic and atheistic) and theologians were influenced by Kierkegaard's notions of angst, despair and the importance of the individual. Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

's concepts of anxiety (angst) and mortality drew from Kierkegaard; he is indebted to the way Kierkegaard lays out the importance of our subjective relation to truth, our existence in the face of death, the temporality of existence and the importance of passionately affirming one's being-in-the-world.

Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

 described the "thing-in-itself" which is infinite and overflowing, and claimed that any attempt to describe or understand the thing-in-itself is "reflective consciousness". Since there is no way for the reflective consciousness to subsume the pre-reflective, Sartre argued that all reflection is fated to a form of anxiety (i.e. the human condition
Human condition
The human condition encompasses the experiences of being human in a social, cultural, and personal context. It can be described as the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not connected to gender, race, class, etc. — a search for purpose, sense of curiosity, the inevitability of...

). As well, Sartre argued that when a person tries to gain knowledge of the "Other" (meaning beings or objects that are not the self), their self-consciousness has a "masochistic desire" to be limited. This is expressed metaphorically in the line from the play No Exit
No Exit
No Exit is a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original French title is Huis Clos, the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors; English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out...

, "Hell is other people".


Melvin Seeman was part of the surge in alienation research during the mid-20th century when he published his paper, "On the Meaning of Alienation", in the American Sociological Review
American Sociological Review
The American Sociological Review is a bimonthly, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all aspects of sociology, including new theoretical developments, results of research that advance the understanding of fundamental social processes, and methodological innovations. It is published by SAGE...

 in 1959 (Senekal, 2010b: 7-8). Seeman used the insights of Marx, Durkheim and others to construct what is often considered a model of alienation consisting of five aspects: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, social isolation and self-estrangement. Seeman later added a sixth element (cultural estrangement), although this element does not feature prominently in later discussions of his work.


Powerlessness refers to “the expectancy or probability held by the individual that his own behaviour cannot determine the occurrence of the outcomes, or reinforcements, he seeks” (Seeman, 1959: 784). Seeman argues that this is “the notion of alienation as it originated in the Marxian view of the worker’s condition in capitalist society: the worker is alienated to the extent that the prerogative and means of decision are expropriated by the ruling entrepreneurs" (Ibid.). Put more succinctly, Kalekin-Fishman (1996: 97) says, “A person suffers from alienation in the form of 'powerlessness' when she is conscious of the gap between what she would like to do and what she feels capable of doing”. In discussing powerlessness, Seeman also incorporated the insights of the psychologist Julian Rotter
Julian Rotter
Julian Rotter is an American psychologist who is known for developing influential theories, including social learning theory and locus of control.-Background:...

. Rotter distinguishes between internal control and external control, which “points to differences (among persons or situations) in the degree to which success or failure is attributable to external factors (e.g. luck, chance, or powerful others), as against success or failure that is seen as the outcome of one’s personal skills or characteristics” (Seeman, 1966: 355). Powerlessness, therefore, is the perception that the individual does not have the means to achieve his goals.


Meaninglessness refers to “the individual’s sense of understanding events in which he is engaged” (Seeman, 1959: 786). Seeman (1959: 786) writes that meaninglessness “is characterized by a low expectancy that satisfactory predictions about the future outcomes of behaviour can be made. Put more simply, where the first meaning of alienation refers to the sensed ability to control outcomes, this second meaning refers essentially to the sensed ability to predict behavioural outcomes.” In this respect, meaninglessness is closely tied to powerlessness; Seeman (Ibid.) argues, “the view that one lives in an intelligible world might be a prerequisite to expectancies for control; and the unintelligibility of complex affairs is presumably conducive to the development of high expectancies for external control (that is, high powerlessness)”.


Normlessness (or what Durkheim referred to as anomie
Anomie is a term meaning "without Law" to describe a lack of social norms; "normlessness". It describes the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community ties, with fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. It was popularized by French...

) “denotes the situation in which the social norms regulating individual conduct have broken down or are no longer effective as rules for behaviour” (Seeman, 1959: 787). This aspect refers to the inability to identify with the dominant values of society or rather, with what are perceived to be the dominant values of society. Seeman (1959: 788) adds that this aspect can manifest in a particularly negative manner, “The anomic situation [...] may be defined as one in which there is a high expectancy that socially unapproved behaviours are required to achieve given goals”. This negative manifestation is dealt with in detail by Catherine Ross and John Mirowski in a series of publications on mistrust, powerlessness, normlessness and crime. See also Senekal's (2010b: 102-123) chapter on alienation in London Fields by Martin Amis
Martin Amis
Martin Louis Amis is a British novelist, the author of many novels including Money and London Fields . He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester, but will step down at the end of the 2010/11 academic year...


Social isolation

Social isolation refers to “The feeling of being segregated from one’s community” (Kalekin-Fishman, 1996: 97). Neal and Collas (2000: 114) emphasize the centrality of social isolation in the modern world: “While social isolation is typically experienced as a form of personal stress, its sources are deeply embedded in the social organization of the modern world. With increased isolation and atomization , much of our daily interactions are with those who are strangers to us and with whom we lack any ongoing social relationships.”


Self-estrangement is “the psychological state of denying one’s own interests – of seeking out extrinsically satisfying, rather than intrinsically satisfying, activities[...]”(Kalekin-Fishman, 1996: 97). The following section discusses self-estrangement in more detail.

After Seeman

After the boom in alienation research that characterized the 1950s and 1960s interest in alienation research subsided (Geyer, 1996: xii), although it was maintained by the Research Committee on Alienation of the International Sociological Association (ISA) (a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific study in the field of sociology and social sciences). In the 1990s, there was again an upsurge of interest in alienation prompted by the fall of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

, the information explosion, increasing awareness of ethnic conflicts and post-modernism (see Geyer, 1996). Geyer believes the growing complexity of the contemporary world and post-modernism prompted a reinterpretation of alienation that suits the contemporary living environment, as illustrated in the following reinterpretations of Seeman's original five aspects of alienation:

Post-modern powerlessness

Geyer (1996: xxiii) remarks, “a new type of powerlessness has emerged, where the core problem is no longer being unfree but rather being unable to select from among an overchoice of alternatives for action, whose consequences one often cannot even fathom”. Geyer adapts cybernetics
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

 to alienation theory, and writes (1996: xxiv) that powerlessness is the result of delayed feedback
Feedback describes the situation when output from an event or phenomenon in the past will influence an occurrence or occurrences of the same Feedback describes the situation when output from (or information about the result of) an event or phenomenon in the past will influence an occurrence or...

: “The more complex one’s environment, the later one is confronted with the latent, and often unintended, consequences of one’s actions. Consequently, in view of this causality-obscuring time lag, both the ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments’ for one’s actions increasingly tend to be viewed as random, often with apathy and alienation as a result”.

Post-modern meaninglessness

Geyer (1996: xxiii) believes meaninglessness should be reinterpreted as well: "With the accelerating throughput of information [...] meaningless is not a matter anymore of whether one can assign meaning to incoming information, but of whether one can develop adequate new scanning mechanisms to gather the goal-relevant information one needs, as well as more efficient selection procedures to prevent being overburdened by the information one does not need, but is bombarded with on a regular basis." "Information overload" or the so-called "data tsunami" are well-known information problems confronting contemporary man, and Geyer thus argues that meaninglessness is turned on its head.

Post-modern normlessness

Neal & Collas (2000: 122) write, “Normlessness derives partly from conditions of complexity and conflict in which individuals become unclear about the composition and enforcement of social norms. Sudden and abrupt changes occur in life conditions, and the norms that usually operate may no longer seem adequate as guidelines for conduct”. This is a particular issue after the fall of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, mass migrations from developing to developed countries, and the general sense of disillusionment that characterized the 1990s (Senekal, 2011). Traditional values that had already been questioned (especially during the 1960s) were met with further scepticism in the 1990s, resulting in a situation where individuals rely more often on their own judgement than on institutions of authority: "The individual not only has become more independent of the churches, but from other social institutions as well. The individual can make more personal choices in far more life situations than before” (Halman, 1998: 100). These choices are not necessarily "negative": Halman's study found that Europeans remain relatively-conservative morally, even though the authority of the Church and other institutions has eroded. See especially Langman's study of punk, porn, and resistance (2008) and Senekal's (2011) study of Afrikaans
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

 extreme metal
Extreme metal
Extreme metal is a loosely defined umbrella term for a number of related heavy metal music subgenres that have developed since the early 1980s. The term usually refers to a more abrasive, harsher, underground, non-commercialized style or sound nearly always associated with genres like black metal,...


Post-modern social isolation

Since the fall of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, migrants from Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 and the developing countries have flocked to developed countries in search of a better living standard. This has led to entire communities becoming uprooted: no longer fully part of their homelands, but neither integrated into their adopted communities. Diaspora literature depicts the plights of these migrants, such as Hafid Bouazza
Hafid Bouazza
Hafid Bouazza is a Moroccan-Dutch writer. Bouazza came to the Netherlands in October 1977 as a seven-year-old boy. He lived with his parents in the village Arkel, near Gorinchem, until he went to study Arabic language and literature at the University of Amsterdam. He received the E...

 in Paravion. Senekal (2010b: 41) argues, "Low-income communities or religious minorities may feel separated from mainstream society, leading to backlashes such as the civil unrest that occurred in French cities in October 2005. The fact that the riots subsequently spread to Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, and Switzerland, illustrates that not only did these communities feel segregated from mainstream society, but also that they found a community in their isolation; they regarded themselves as kindred spirits".

Post-modern self-estrangement

Seeman (1959) recognized the problems inherent in constructing a definition of the "self" but post-modernism, in particular, emphasized the difficulty of pin-pointing what precisely "self" constitutes. Gergen (1996: 125) argues that the very concept of alienation should therefore be rethought: “the traditional view of self versus society is deeply problematic and should be replaced by a conception of the self as always already immersed in relatedness. On this account, the individual’s lament of ‘not belonging’ is partially a by-product of traditional discourses themselves”. If the self is relationally constituted, does it make sense to speak of "self-estrangement" rather than "social isolation"? Senekal (2010b) opted for an omission of self-estrangement in his discussion of alienation in contemporary British fiction for this very reason. However, Costas and Fleming (2009: 354) note that although the concept of self-estrangement “has not weathered postmodern criticisms of essentialism and economic determinism well”, the concept still has value if a Lacanian reading of the self is adopted.

Social alienation and psychology

Since the 1960s a number of psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists have taken an interest in the concept of alienation, including Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon was a Martiniquo-Algerian psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose work is influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory and Marxism...

, R.D. Laing, Ian Parker
Ian Parker
Ian Parker is a Scottish keyboard player.He showed a natural ability to play the piano from a very early age. He started piano lessons when he was seven. His early influences were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Stax and Atlantic Soul...

, and Slavoj Zizek
Slavoj Žižek
Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher, critical theorist working in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory, and theoretical psychoanalysis....

. Fanon studied the conditions of objectification and violent oppression (lack of autonomy) that led to mental disorders among the colonized in the Third World (in particular Africans). For Laing, alienation is characterized by neglect and distance from an individual's self-experience and self-identity and by a lack of autonomy in interpersonal relations (see heteronomy
Heteronomy refers to action that is influenced by a force outside the individual. Immanuel Kant, drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, considered such an action nonmoral.It is the counter-opposite of autonomy....

). He argues that people who are diagnosed with disorders such as ADHD and schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests itself as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social...

 are often suffering from a more sociological condition – ontological insecurity
Ontological security
Ontological security is a stable mental state derived from a sense of continuity in regard to the events in one's life. Giddens refers to ontological security as a sense of order and continuity in regard to an individual’s experiences. He argues that this is reliant on people’s ability to give...

. Ontological insecurity has four elements: "engulfment" (the fear that others are trying to take away or absorb one's identity), "implosion" (the feeling of emptiness the correlates with the feeling that concrete reality itself is a threat to one's identity), "petrification" (terror leading to and dread of turning into a thing or object, see reification
Reification (Marxism)
Reification or Versachlichung, literally "objectification" or regarding something as a separate business matter) is the consideration of an abstraction, relation or object as if they had human or living existence and abilities, when in reality they do not...

), and "depersonalization" (lack of responsiveness to others, as to oneself). All of these can result in the development of mental and behavioural disorders which may be healthy responses to unhealthy circumstances. For Parker, psychology itself normalizes conditions of social alienation. While it could help groups of individuals emancipate themselves, it serves the role of reproducing existing conditions. Slavoj Zizek (drawing on Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse was a German Jewish philosopher, sociologist and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory...

, Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

, and Jacques Lacan's
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

 psychoanalysis) argues that in today's capitalist society, the individual is estranged from their self through the repressive injunction to "enjoy!" Such an injunction does not allow room for the recognition of alienation and, indeed, is itself an expression of alienation.

"Social Alienation and Peer Identification: A Study of the Social Construction of Deafness"

While almost all scholars of the deaf community acknowledge the role of shared experience in the development of that community, few have made it a focus of study. This paper is about the experiences which lead deaf people to seek interaction with each other, and the difficulties they have encountered with the "hearing world" (including family, friends and fellow employees).

Data were collected through in-depth interviews with 25 deaf adults. Interviews followed a life-history approach which included descriptions of family relationships, school and employment experiences and community participation. Data were analyzed and coded for recurring themes. One theme emerged as dominant and consistent across all categories of life experience: social rejection by (and alienation from) the larger hearing community. Only when informants described interactions with deaf people did the theme of isolation give way to comments about participation and meaningful interaction. Further analysis suggested that informants turned to other deaf people in order to meet specific needs which were not met through interactions with hearing people. These include the need for "real" conversation, the search for information, the opportunity to develop close friendships and a sense of "family".

It is suggested that through interaction, deaf and hearing people create the social meaning of deafness. Historically, the dominant hearing culture has assigned deaf people to outside social roles, and in response deaf people developed a shared understanding of these roles. Sometimes this understanding led them to challenge these interpretations. It also led them to create alternatives for themselves and other deaf people; the deaf community is one such alternative.

See also

  • Anomie
    Anomie is a term meaning "without Law" to describe a lack of social norms; "normlessness". It describes the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community ties, with fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. It was popularized by French...

  • Marx's theory of alienation
    Marx's theory of alienation
    Marx's theory of alienation , as expressed in the writings of the young Karl Marx , refers to the separation of things that naturally belong together, or to put antagonism between things that are properly in harmony...

  • Political alienation
    Political alienation
    Political alienation refers to an individual citizen's relatively enduring sense of estrangement from or rejection of the prevailing political system....

  • Social comparison theory
    Social comparison theory
    Social comparison theory is a theory initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. It explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and desires by comparing themselves to others.- Basic framework :...


  • Costas, J. and Fleming, P. (2009) 'Beyond dis-identification: A discursive approach to self-alienation in contemporary organizations', Human Relations, vol. 62, no. 3, p. 353–378.
  • Ekerwald, H. (1998) 'Reflections on culture', in Kalekin-Fishman, D. (ed.) Designs for alienation: Exploring diverse realities, Finland: University of Jyväskylä.
  • Gergen, K.G. (1996) 'Postmodern Culture and the Revisioning of Alienation', in Geyer, F. (ed.) Alienation, ethnicity, and postmodernism, London: Greenwood.
  • Geyer, F. (1996) Alienation, ethnicity, and postmodernism, London: Greenwood Press.
  • Geyer, F. (1996) 'Introduction', in Geyer, F. (ed.) Alienation, ethnicity, and postmodernism, London: Greenwood.
  • Geyer, F. (2002) 'The march of self-reference', Kybernetes, vol. 31, no. 7/8, pp. 1021–1042.
  • Halman, L. (1998) 'Family Patterns in Contemporary Europe: Results from the European Values Study 1990', in Kalekin-Fishman, D. (ed.) Designs for Alienation: Exploring Diverse Realities, Finland: University of Jyväskylä.
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