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Routinizing Youth and Workers Alienation

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Routinizing Youth and Workers Alienation

The concept of alienation was a tenant of early sociological study. Its founder was Karl Marx and then, soon after him, Max Weber continued to build upon the idea of alienation. Now, decades after this concept emerged, the concept of alienation sparks debates in numerous areas of academia from Economics to Sociology. Before we can move forward, we must first define the concept of alienation. Kai Erikson (1990) offers his interpretation of Marx's definition: "Alienation, then, is disconnection, separation-the process by which human beings are cut adrift from their natural moorings in the world as the result of unnatural, alien work arrangements" (p21). Jim Coverdill, in Sociology of Work, elaborated further on the concept of alienation. Alienation is not the process in the definition that we are using, but rather it is the result of a process. It is a feeling of estrangement, separation, and often hopelessness. Sticking with Marx's definitions there are both "estranging processes" and "states of estrangement" (Erikson 1990). Alienation itself is a state of estrangement or in other words it is the psychological and physical effects caused by the estranging processes. While this idea of alienation is quite old, I believe our society has not shifted in such a way that changes the validity or credibility of Marx's original idea. Its basis lies in the belief that "humankind is shaped by work" (Erikson 1990:20). Marx believed this when he first crafted the concept of alienation; today this concept still holds true, humans identify themselves and others by the work they do. Marx believed that what one does for a living is a more powerful symbol to define someone than even race, sex, nationality, or creed; and today this belief does not seem to far off the mark.

If alienation is a state of estrangement, then what are the estranging processes that create it? First, we will go back again to Marx's original work. There were three main events that Marx saw as creating this condition of alienation: the appearance and growth of private property, the growing division of labor, and labor becoming a commodity (Erikson 1990). Through these shifts Marx saw the emergence of varying traits or parts of the state of alienation. First, from the creation of a complex division of labor, workers became separated from the products of their labor; the product that they created was taken from them and stored in a warehouse to be sold. Next, from the emergence of a complex division of labor many alienating effects occurred. The worker became estranged from fellow humans, since they were often isolated to a specific work area. Also workers would lose the concept of the bigger picture and most importantly a high level of boredom would surface because the tasks were splintered into so many specialties that only a fraction of intelligence and skill was required for its completion. Lastly with labor becoming a commodity the worker himself became reduced to nothing more than a "cog in the machine", just another natural resource that had a specified worth.

While I believe Marx's original concept of alienation still holds much credence today, his estranging processes don't seem to be valid causes of alienation in modern society. Robin Leidner's article "Working on People" offers a more up to date view of the estranging processes that cause alienation. She focuses on the concept of routinization. This idea of routinization goes along with the division of labor that Marx had originally theorized; where the managers script all the routines and procedures that the average worker must follow. Leidner goes beyond the factory work that Marx analyzed and looks at interactive service work, such as sales and other areas where the raw materials of production are the workers themselves. By scripting out sales pitches, from what to say to how to use body language, the worker loses their own personal identity; they are not allowed to use their creative potential, and even lose authenticity in their everyday interactions. It is in this way, through routinization of behavior, that Leidner believes people reach a state of alienation.

In my work at the Department of Juvenile Justice I have witnessed many examples of this type of scripting. Since the DJJ is a sector of the American government,

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