1932

Abstract

As American society has become ever more dominated by the market, sociological interest in commodification has paradoxically declined. Marx, among others, noted how a worker can become estranged from his work—the doing of it, the tools of it, and the product resulting from it. Consumers can become estranged from all these, too. As workers and consumers today, we often detach ourselves from what we make and buy, and extreme forms of detachment we can call estrangement or alienation. Marx's iconic worker was () the nineteenth-century male factory worker for whom () estrangement was a static state () about which the victim had no narrative. In today's economy, we can look to the female service worker who does emotional labor to alter her state of estrangement and whose narrative may be that of “free choice.” Is the commercial surrogate I met in a for-profit clinic in India an autonomous agent in a free market, I wondered, or is she the latest version of Marx's “alienated man”? This essay grapples with that question.

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2011-08-11
2024-04-16
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