Marx: Alienation & Commodity

Marx: Alienation & Commodity

January 25, 2024

"Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844" - Karl Marx

Facilitation Reading



What is Marx’s definition of alienation and where do we encounter it in our daily life?

Introductions to Pol Econ

Lecture Notes

To Read

Karl Marx - "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844", "Alienated Labor"

  • Summary: In this work, Marx explores the concept of alienation under capitalism. He argues that workers become alienated in four ways: from the product they produce, from the act of production, from their own human potential, and from other workers. This alienation stems from the fact that in a capitalist system, the laborer does not own the product of their labor, leading to a sense of disconnection and disenfranchisement. This idea is crucial for understanding how digital labor in the modern era can lead to similar forms of alienation.
  • Key Vocabulary:
    • Alienation: The process by which workers become estranged from their labor, leading to a sense of disconnection and disenchantment.
    • Commodification of Labor: Treating labor itself as a commodity to be bought and sold in the market.
    • Human Potential: Marx's idea that capitalism limits the ability of individuals to realize their full creative and productive potential.
    • Social Relations: According to Marx, under capitalism, social relations are defined by class conflict between the bourgeoisie (capital owners) and the proletariat (workers).

To Watch

This video provides a concise and accessible overview of the main concepts in Karl Marx's "Capital," particularly focusing on the idea of the commodity. It's a great resource for students to get a quick grasp of Marx's fundamental ideas before delving into the more detailed text.

To Do

Theory visualization

We will break up into about five groups.

Each group will choose a specific aspect of digital media or its production (e.g., gig labor, video production, consuming social media, consuming digital media, etc). Feel free to be creative here.

Your task is to research the process of producing labor and then create a visual sketch or storyboard that captures how alienation manifests in your given context. This could be through illustrated notes, a composed image or picture, diagrams, a collection sticky notes – any visual means that effectively communicates your ideas.

The goal here is not just to understand alienation in theory but to visualize it in the context of our modern, digital-centric world. Answer these questions in a presentation to the class:

  • How do these digital environments impact our work, our creativity, our social interactions, and our sense of self?
  • Which aspects of alienation in digital media were most frequently depicted or most striking?
  • Did you find alienation to still be a valid concept, or has is the theory no longer relevant to us?

We’ll go around the room and you’ll show off your art and answer the questions above.