Alienation: Past, Present and Future

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Seminar 34 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Lauren LANGMAN, Loyola University Chicago, USA, Loyola University, USA
Devorah KALEKIN-FISHMAN, Univeristy of Haifa, Israel
Societies in general and modernity in particular are typically compromises between their positive and negative consequences. Traditional gemeinschaft societies provided people with a cohesive community, stable identity, and more or less comprehensive meaning systems typically based on God(s) and strict rules. But life was short, nasty and brutish, there was very little individuality, freedom or avenues for self-fulfillment. With the rise of modernity, typically its capitalist forms, there was indeed greater freedom and individuality, but as a Marxist perspective would also point out, the foundation for social society was the production of commodities which enabled the owners of capital to accumulate wealth, power and status, while the majority of people who produced that wealth face alienation understood in terms of powerlessness, social fragmentation, thwarted self-fulfillment, etc. The concept of alienation has faced a number of critiques not the least of which has been its sanitization in which the critical moments of a social – political critique have been cleansed and all that remains is an apolitical notion of dehumanization qua entrapment within an “iron cage” or a transitional phase of anomie in which old meanings are lost while new ones await. Furthermore, well for Marx alienation was based primarily on the capitalist production of commodities, we’ve seen the utility of the concept in understanding such areas as service work, political domination, consumerism and the nature of subjectivity (identity and emotions).  Thus we would argue that alienation, in its many contemporary iterations remains a rich and vital concept. But what of the future? Given the unpleasant affects that are consequences of alienation, we see the concept as intrinsic to various expressions that might provide either escapes from alienation through the many fandoms and audiences of popular culture as well as impel transformative social movements.