Social Movements and Comparative Historical Sociology: Alienation at the National Level

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Johannes BAKKER, Brandon University, Canada, University of Guelph, Canada
The conceptualization of alienation in Karl Marx's original work on the topic includes the alienation of the proletarianized worker from the products of his or her labour. But there has not been as much emphasis on the ways in which citizens of nation-states also help to "produce" the nation itself. We tend to see "labour" in terms of manufacturing products ("widgets"). But citizens also "manufacture consent" (Herman and Chomsky 2002 [1988]). To fully grasp that requires taking a long-term historical and comparative perspective. The Frankfurt School implicitly had such a perspective but did not always develop it fully, due in part to the necessity of dealing with the immediate situation in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, and after. A Comparative Historical Sociology (CHS) based on key ideas found in Marx and Max Weber's verstehende Soziologie helps us to grasp the link between key factors. The idea of "self-alienation" should not be restricted to the level of individual psychology or small group social psychology. Work on the concept of the "nation" and the development of the "nation-state" by thinkers like Zygmunt Bauman, Ben Anderson, Charles Tilly and others should also be consulted, even though they are not usually included in the Frankfurt School pantheon. Walter Benjamin's solutions are somewhat different than those put forward by Adorno and Horkheimer. Jurgen Habermas' communicative action is often regarded as too "liberal" rather than Marxist or even Neo-Marxian, but there is much to be said for his defense of Englightenment rationalism. Complete freedom from alienation is a utopian ideal but a transparent representative democracy is more likely to benefit the average person dependent on wages or salary. Global neo-liberalism is not the answer. Social movements must be directed to clear goals. A combination of strategies is required. Good theory is essential.