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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Political alienation Koerner, Kirk F.


This study attempts to clarify the meaning of the concept of alienation for political science by integrating theoretical discussions and empirical studies of alienation with research on political participation in order to assess the implications of alienation, specifically political alienation, for both political participation and political systems. To this end, the present study reviews the literature on alienation, both theoretical and empirical. This involves appraisal of the use of the concept by social philosophers, analysis of studies considering alienation as a psychological condition as well as empirical studies concerning the social sources and distribution of alienation. These studies are then related to research on political participation. The idea of alienation found expression in eighteenth century social and political criticism and is particularly evident in the writing of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Hegel was the first to give systematic consideration to the problem of estrangement; he had an important influence on Marx, who recognized Hegel’s insight, but rejected his metaphysical explanation of alienation. Hegel and Marx, in turn have had a profound influence on twentieth century discussions of alienation. A review of recent literature on alienation indicated that the most frequent meanings attached to the concept of alienation are powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation, self-estrangement, aloneness, and cynicism. Discussions of personal effectiveness, sense of political efficacy, and political cynicism were found to be related to discussions of alienation. A review of the literature also indicated that most frequently man is said to be alienated from God, nature, himself, other persons, and from society and culture. Politically, alienated man is said to be alienated from political processes. The causes of estrangement include industrialization involving technological advances, the division of labour and ownership, the transition from gemeinschaft to gesellschaft, the size of the modern state, and position in the social structure. Empirical research studies of alienation differ in terms of research objectives, assumptions about alienation and in terms of the measures and scales used. Review of empirical studies reveals serious research gaps including lack of information on the relationship between age, family cycle, residence, religion, race, and alienation. The review also found that evidence concerning the relationship between alienation and political participation tends to be contradictory, although alienation seems to affect the direction of the vote and the level of political information. More research is required on the relationship between alienation and personality. The need for comparative research is evident. The review of empirical research did find a substantial body of research which indicates that alienation decreases as socio-economic status increases, that women tend to be more alienated than men, that within an organizational context, alienation is highly related to satisfaction with the organization and that organizational structure itself affects alienation. Finally, organization members tend to be less politically alienated than non-members. In conclusion, alienation appears to be a promising concept, however, empirical evidence on the question is often lacking or inconclusive, and there is need for further research.

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