Alienation. Recuperating the Classical Discussion of Marx et al.


After years of neglect, alienation has again reached the agenda of critical thought. In my case, I recognize alienation as a challenge for education in contemporary societies. To obtain conceptual resources to overcome this challenge, I have revisited the comprehensive 20 th century discussion of alienation. Today, alienation is naturally discussed as an existential condition of human being, but still in the 1980s, there was a strong Marxist current that claimed alienation to be implied by capitalism, in particular by the institution of private property and the social division of labor, and that alienation therefore should be criticized as part of the critique of capitalism and political economy and possibly overcome. Today, under the hegemony of neo-liberal capitalism, this critical and processual concept of alienation is more relevant than ever. Hence, in the present work I argue that the basic logic of Marx's idea of alienation still has critical potential. The argument forms a long engagement with mainly 20 th century literature, departing from the very idea of capitalism, considering the ideas of history, education and democracy, discussing how to distinguish and translate key terms, considering why alienation became an object of controversy among Marxists, offering an interpretation of Marx's critique relevant for contemporary society, thus considering alienation a consequence of working under conditions of private property, i.e. being a human being in a capitalist society, and finally presenting Marx's idea of communism as relevant to the contemporary educational agenda.

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Asger Sørensen
Aarhus University


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