karl marx s concept of alienation

Assignment Instructions

Background Description:

Karl Marx (1818-1883) is one of the most prominent social theorists in human history. His analysis and theories examining capitalism and class structure remain applicable today. His work continues to be widely read and discussed despite the misnomers associated with Marxism and Communism. This homework assignment introduces the concept of Alienation, which refers to the fundamental essence of humanness as well as our connection or lack thereof to work, people, and society. Fundamentally Marx investigated the prevailing economic structure (i.e. capitalism), history, and the impact social and political forces on workers and society. Read the following quote from Marx on alienation in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844:

“In what, then, consists the alienation of labor? First, in the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., that it does not belong to his nature, that therefore he does not realize himself in his work, that he denies himself in it, that he does not feel at ease in it, but rather unhappy, that he does not develop any free physical or mental energy, but rather mortifies his flesh and ruins his spirit. The worker, therefore, is only himself when he does not work, and in his work he feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor, therefore, is not voluntary, but forced–forced labor. It is not the gratification of a need, but only a means to gratify needs outside itself. Its alien nature shows itself clearly by the fact that work is shunned like the plague as soon as no physical or other kind of coercion exists.”

Marx wrote additional insights on alienation, as articulated in the image above “ABC’s of Marxism.”

Critical Questions:

  • (a) How can we use Karl Marx’s concept of alienation to better understand our capitalistic class system today?
  • (b) How is alienation manifested in our economic system currently?
  • (c) What role does alienation play in your life? And, what does that mean for you now and your future earnings?
  • (c) How does alienation effect your work, family, and personal life?

Task: This is a two (2) part assignment designed to introduce you to the idea of alienation. Each part is worth five (5) points each for a total of ten (10) points. You are to write a minimum of a 1/2 to 1 page for each section by (1) providing an example of alienation and (2) your reflection of alienation.

In the first part, provide a real-life example (personal or impersonal) of alienation in today’s workforce (refer to question b).

In the second part, relate alienation to everyday life by reflecting on the impact of capitalism on your reality (refer to both c questions).

Short Youtube Video

Youtube clip: “Karl Marx on Alienation” (1:57)


Refer to our textbook section 12.2 “Sociological Perspectives on Work and the Economy” for further discussion on alienation. Textbook and other sources (ex. Youtube videos) must be cited in MLA format.


Minimum half-1 full page for both parts, 12-point font, Times New Roman, and double spaced with 1 inch margins.


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