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In sociology and critical social theory, alienation refers to an individual's estrangement from traditional community and others in general. It is considered by many that the atomism of modern society means that individuals have shallower relations with other people than they would normally. This, it is argued, leads to difficulties in understanding and adapting to each other's uniqueness. It is also sometimes referred to as commodification, emphasizing the compatibility of capitalism with alienation (a common theme of the early work of Marx Karl Marx.

For lessons on the related topic of Isolation, follow this link.

Many sociologists of the late 19th and early 20th century were concerned about alienating effects of modernization. German sociologists Georg Simmel and Ferdinand Tönnies have written rather critical works on individualization and urbanization. Simmel's "Philosophie des Geldes" ("Philosophy of Money") describes how relationships become more and more mediated through money. Tönnies' "Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft" ("Community and Society") is about the loss of primary relationships such as family bonds in favour of goal oriented secondary relationships. The American sociologist C. Wright Mills conducted a major study of alienation in modern society with "White Collar", 1951, describing how modern consumption-capitalism have shaped a society where you have to sell your personality in addition to your work.

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 relations within society, alienation can mean the unresponsiveness of the 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.

In a broader philosophical context, especially in existentialism and phenomenology, alienation describes the inadequacy of human being or mind in relation to the world. The human mind, as the subject of perception, relates to the world as an object of its perception, and so is distanced from the world rather than living within it.

This line of thought can be found, among others, in Søren Kierkegaard, Heidegger Martin Heidegger, Sartre Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus Albert Camus and Adorno Theodor Adorno.

See Also

Solitude for comparison