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Coursework 1

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Sociology Coursework 2 In the contemporary world, one of the most important concept of sociology of work is alienation. “The sense that our own abilities, as human beings, are taken over by other entities”(Anthony Giddens ,1989:224). The more people transform the world themselves, the more the world becomes strange for them and the more people experience themselves as aliens in that contemporary world. The world faced a rapid technological process. On the contrary, people experience of uneasiness about our technological being in the world. Some sociologists maintain that work technology has an important impact on the level of job satisfaction or dissatisfaction of industrial workers in their workplace behaviour. Many people become alienated by doing their repetitive as well as boring job. An oversimplifying example of alienation is when worker attaches tires onto a car in a auto manufacturing plant. This essay will examine Karl Marx's contribution on alienation as well as contribution of Robert Blauner. Initially, Karl Marx claimed that alienation exists whenever and wherever there is Capitalism(Kennett, 2004). Marx maintains that alienation is interior part of the capitalist labour process, and that is why he considers that alienation is an objective state where all workers find themselves(Noon, 2007). He argues that there are four manifestations of alienation under industrial capitalism. The first manifestation is “product alienation”, it occurs when workers see themselves as a product which is owned by the employer or a worker is alienated from the product of his or her labour. A second manifestation is “activity alienation”, it takes place when the work activity itself is alienating because it is unconscious and worker can not develop his creative potential, in other words it is “forced labour”. A third manifestation is “species alienation” ,it can be result of activity and product alienation, where worker becomes alienated from hers or his essential nature(what makes them human) or where worker is “dehumanised”. Worker becomes like a machine, where low skill is only needed. The main causes of that are lack of control and creativity. A fourth manifestation is “social alienation”, it occurs when workers alienated from each other, which leads to self-estrangement, where worker stops fitting in a community and nobody cares about him. Moreover, Capitalism is closely related to exploitation, and therefore alienation is an unavoidable objective state in which all workers find themselves.(Tony J. Watson, 2011:621). He also believed that a capitalist infrastructure unavoidably produced a high level of alienation, because workers neither own nor have any control over the products and good they produce. However, in conventional Marxist sense of the alienation, the unemployed are not alienated. Alienation is a consequence of “wage labour”, where “wage labour” is the system of slavery. “Wage labour” involves the exploitation of worker as commodities as well(Tony J. Watson, 2011:625).

One of the most notable attempt to describe the alienation has been undertaken by American sociologist Robert Blauner. In comparison with Marx, Blauner did not disagree that alienation exists but he argued that alienation was subjective phenomenon, whereas Marx maintained that it was objective, Blauner stated that alienation varied. Blauner disagreed that alienation was inevitable under capitalism. He also stated that technology influences the meaning of work, whereas Marx claimed that creativity gives the meaning of work( Tony Bilton, Kevin Bonnett, 1987:296). Blauner pointed out four indicators of alienation, there are: powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation and estrangement. Powerlessness occurs when workers have no control over their work, so consequently they become alienated. A second sign of alienation, meaninglessness, takes place when workers have no sense of purpose in doing their current work. The absence of social integration with no other co-workers or concisely isolation can be cause of alienation as well. And the last indicator of alienation is estrangement, where worker is not involved in the work or when he or she stops fitting in a community. All of these signs can lead to bad consequences, such as suicide, alcoholism, drug taking.( Giddens, 1989:227) Furthermore, Blauner intended to investigate empirically the diversity of work environments in an endeavor to prove and to explain that the alienation has been distributed unevenly among factory workers in American industry. He maintained that it depends on the worker's feelings. Besides that, he argued that technology created a need for new skills. Moreover, he carried out research in four types of technology to identify the degree of alienation, so there are: craft technology, machine-tending, assembly line, process technology. He created a questionnaire where workers have been asked the questions in terms of Blauner's four dimensions of alienation.

Firstly, Blauner first examined the printing industry. Questionnaire data from asked workers showed that printers had the highest level of job satisfaction. Thus, Blauner affirmed that printers were non-alienated workers. He stated that they did not feel any of four dimensions of alienation. They had control over their work and they did not experience a sense of powerlessness, since their work was not done by machine. They had relatively high degree of meaning and purpose of their work, as printing industry did not involve a highly specialised division of labour or a standardized product. They were not binded to a machine and this allowed workers to move around and talk to other workers, thus they were not isolated and they were fitting in a community. Due to these findings, printers did not experience self-estrangement from work(Edgell,2013:38)

Secondly, Blauner second investigated the textile industry. Numerous textile workers were machine minders. Questionnaire data showed that textile workers experienced a sense of first dimension of alienation – powerlessness, as they did not have control over their work. If printer workers were not tied to a machine, the textile workers were tied to a machine and that is why they had a little freedom of movement. Textile workers did repetitive and routine tasks, requiring little judgement or initiative. In terms of second dimension of alienation – meaninglessness – textile worker had little opportunity for meaning and purpose in work, since production technology provided it. The textile workers produced product, which was standardized and they performed only a few routine operations(Edgell,2013:38). Data showed that textile workers were not socially isolated, which is third dimension of alienation, since they lived in small communities with strong ties of kinship and religion. Textile workers experienced fourth dimension of alienation – self-estrangement, since they tend to be less well-educated than average American and they therefore have low aspirations. Moreover, they expect work to be monotonous and live adequately in terms of their incentive(J. Fulcher and J. Scott, 2007:438)

Thirdly, Blauner third investigated assembly-line production in the automobile industry. Questionnaire data showed that on every dimension of alienation, the car assembly-line worker scored extremely high, assembly-line is said to be the most dissatisfied place to work in all industry. Furthermore, 95% of manual workers in automobile industry found their work alienating. Workers experienced powerlessness, since machines controlled the pace of work and workers had no control over the speed of the moving assembly-line. This industry maximized meaninglessness, as the tasks workers did were fractionalized to an extreme degree, besides their tasks were mundane and repetitive. In terms of third dimension of alienation – social isolation – assembly-line workers were socially isolated due to a lethal combination of bureaucratization, large-scale factory environment, homogenization of the workforce, and the individualization of the work tasks. Assembly-line workers experienced the last dimension of alienation – self-estrangement, as the work is excessively monotonous, tiring, simple yet requiring attention to detail, resulting dehumanization. In sum, alienation is maximized for the assembly-line workers, as long as worker is relatively powerless, automized, depersonalized, and anonymous. An oversimplifying example is that Henry Ford had to double pay to maintain workers, since worker extremely hated their job(Edgell,2013:39).

Fourthly, Blauner fourth investigated chemical industry. Continuous-process technology, operated by chemical workers, had a sense of control, purpose, social integration, and involvement due not only to the automated technology, but also to the auspicious economic situation of the chemical industry which improves job security and welfare benefits, due to small-scale plant where workers could communicate with each other, even between management and workers. In sum , alienation is minimized for the chemical workers, since the unique combination of technological, economic, and social forces which counteract alienation in the chemical industry(Kennett, 2004).

Theo Nichols and Huw Beynon(1977) claimed about 50 percent of the Blauner' work in the chemical industry in Britain involved virtually no skill. They distinguished between 'scientific' and 'donkey work'. They examined that 40 workers out of 180 in chemical industry did 'scientific work', whereas 140 did 'donkey work'. 'Donkey workers' were unskilled workers who spent their working day loading, packing, sealing, and then humping around the factory heavy bags of fertilizer. Thus automated continuous-process technology does not provide increased job satisfaction. They considered that chemical industry was the same as car in terms of alienation(Noon,2007:245)

Duncan Gallie's findings indicate differences between British and French workers. He pointed out that 90% of British workers are satisfied with their high pay, whereas 34% of French workers are satisfied. Alienation existed in both countries. Moreover, Gaille examinde cultural differences. Firstly, working class sub-cultures in two countries are different. French more egalitarian than the British. Secondly is about management style, French are paternalistic, with direct input into individual wage level, while in Britain formal wage negotiations. Thirdly, French wages set nationally, whereas in Britain at plant level. Lastly, French unions are ideological – committed to overthrow of capitalism. British unions represent workers, concerned with better pay and conditions. Serge Mallet pointed out important observation on workplace co-operation needs to be taken seriously. In comparison of Blauner and Mallet, Blauner thought that automation reduced class conflict, whereas Mallet had the opposite idea:automation is a trigger for open class conflict. Moreover, she maintained that workers are in vanguard of new revolution(Crowther, 2014)

To conclude, the concept of alienation was a major theme in the nineteenth century, especially in the early writing of Marx. Marx stated that alienation was objective, while Blauner denied Marx's view, claiming that alienation was subjective. They key points of Blauner's study are : firstly, Blauner tested Marx's theory that all workers are alienated under industrial capitalism by creating questionnaire data, where four main industries were tested. This data shows that the most dissatisfied workers are car workers, and the most satisfied workers are chemical workers.

Reference List:

Crowther, R.(2014) Alienation-lecture. Stratford-Upon-Avon: Learnzone. Stephen Edgell (2012) The sociology of work. 2nd edition. London: SAGE Publication Ltd. Anthony Giddens(2013) Sociology. 7th edition, Cambridge: Polity Press Fulcher, J. and Scott, J.(2007) Sociology. 3rd editon. New York: Oxford University Press Kennet(2004) Alienation and Technology. Stratford-Upon-Avon: Learnzone Noon, M. and Blyton. P(2007) The realities of work. 3rd edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Watspn, T.J.(2012) Sociology, work and organization, 6th edition. New York: Routledge.

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