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Revision Exercises authored by Will Keenan (to accompany Fulcher & Scott, Sociology


Short Essay Questions: Model Answers t/a Fulcher & Scott: Sociology
[Ch.2: Theories and Theorizing]

Q.1 Distinguish between alienation and anomie.


For Karl Marx, alienation was a ‘normal’ condition of an oppressive mode of capitalism.
For Emile Durkheim, ‘anomie’ was a characteristic of a ‘pathological’ or ‘deviant’ form
of the division of labour in society. Where Marx put his emphasis on the economic and
political structures that generate alienation, Durkheim’s stress is upon the moral
implications of faulty forms of social organization.
Marx employed the concept of alienation in his critique of industrial capitalism. In his
view, the exploitative nature of work under conditions of social class-based inequalities
creates dehumanized life. ‘Profit over people’ reduces work to dull, mechanistic
routines. Workers feel no real sense of emotional, intellectual, creative or spiritual
involvement. Alienation is the state in which human beings are converted into
commodities and ‘things’ by unbridled capitalist exploitation.
Powerless to control the work environment and the end uses of labour, workers by
hand and brain within the capitalist economy are reduced to ‘wage slave’ conditions. In
time, this meaningless, soul-destroying disengagement from the means of producing a
livelihood produces social isolation and low self-esteem. Marxist thinkers today,
commenting on the ‘post-industrial’ global economy, are divided as to whether
alienation is conducive to a revolutionary spirit or to apathy.
With his emphasis on social integration and solidarity, Durkheim regarded any
weakening of the ‘social glue’ produced by rampant individualism or ‘egoism’ as
destructive of community life. ‘Anomie’, meaning ‘without norms’, describes the social
condition in which the norms that inform a shared way of life are undermined by
unrestrained self-interest. If everyone is doing their own thing without regard to the
good or interests of others, then ‘anomie’ ensues. For Durkheim, the ‘natural’ ‘organic
solidarity’ of a morally regulated society is threatened by the growth under modern
conditions of untrammelled choice and constant social change. Durkheim argued that
‘anomic’ forms of suicidal behaviour could follow from lack of effective social and moral
control. R. K. Merton developed this insight into ways in which ‘anomic’ forms of social
deviance emerge from the pursuit of ‘alternative’ success routes.
Marx’s insights on alienation and Durkheim’s ideas on anomie, though emanating
from radical and conservative standpoints respectively, have at this point a certain
similarity. They both stimulate a critical sociological perspective on modern market
capitalist societies unrestrained by shared moral traditions, universal welfare principles
and effective democratic institutions.

*[Key Reference: See Fulcher & Scott: Sociology 3rd edition (OUP 2007), especially
Chapter 2: Sections on Marx and Durkheim; see also Chapter 3, p. 97; Chapter 11, p. 416
Theory and Methods: Anomie; and Chapter 17, p. 673, and pp. 679-80. Consult INDEX
p. 893 under ‘alienation’ and ‘anomie’; p. 894 under ‘Blauner, R.’; p. 902 under ‘Marcuse,
H.’ and ‘Marx, K. on alienation’; and p. 909 under ‘work, meaning of’ and ‘work

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