Chapter 4: Social Interaction in Everyday Life
Applying Sociology


Table of Contents

Alienation and Industrial Capitalism

These excerpts from the book "Working by Studs" (Terkel) illustrate how dull, repetitive jobs can alienate men and women.

Phil Stallings is a twenty-seven-year-old auto worker in a Ford assembly plant in Chicago:

I start the automobile, the first welds. From there it goes to another line, where the floor's put on, the roof, the trunk, the hood, the doors. Then it's put on a frame. There is hundreds of lines. . . . I stand in one spot, about two- or three-feet area, all night. The only time a person stops is when the line stops. We do about thirty-two jobs per car, per unit. Forty-eight units an hour, eight hours a day. Thirty-two times forty-eight times eight. Figure it out. That's how many times I push that button.

The noise, oh it's tremendous. You open your mouth and you're liable to get a mouthful of sparks. [Shows his arms.] That's a burn, these are burns. You don't compete against the noise. You go to yell and at the same time you're straining to maneuver the gun to where you have to weld.

You got some guys that are uptight, and they're not sociable. It's too rough. You pretty much stay to yourself. You get involved with yourself. You dream, you think of things you've done. I drift back continuously to when I was a kid and what me and my brothers did. The things you love most are what you drift back into.

It don't stop. It just goes and goes and goes. I bet there's men who have lived and died out there, never seen the end of the line. And they never will-because it's endless. It's like a serpent. It's just all body, no tail. It can do things to you. . . .

Twenty-four-year-old Sharon Atkins is a college graduate working as a telephone receptionist for a large midwestern business:

I don't have much contact with people. You can't see them. You don't know if they're laughing, if they're being satirical or being kind. So your conversations become very abrupt. I notice that in talking to people. My conversation would be very short and clipped, in short sentences, the way I talk to people all day on the telephone. . . .

You try to fill up your time with trying to think about other things: what you're going to do on the weekend or about your family. You have to use your imagination. If you don't have a very good one and you bore easily, you're in trouble. Just to fill in time, I write real bad poetry or letters to myself and to other people and never mail them. The letters are fantasies, sort of rambling, how I feel, how depressed I am.

. . . I never answer the phone at home.

Source: Terkel (1974).

István Mészáros on Marx’s Theory of Alienation site provides information on the concept and links to information on the topic.

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The Information Revolution: What Would Durkheim (and Others) Have Thought?

New technology is rapidly reshaping our society. Were they alive today, the founding sociologists discussed in this chapter would be eager observers of the current scene. Let's imagine for a moment the kinds of questions Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx might ask about the effects of computer technology on society.

Emile Durkheim, who emphasized the increasing division of labor in modern society, probably would wonder if new information technology is pushing specialization even further. There is good reason to think that it is. Because electronic communication (say, a website home page) gives anyone a vast market (already, some 200 million individuals access the Internet), people can specialize far more than if they were confined to a limited geographic area. For example, while most small-town lawyers have a general practice, an information-age attorney (living anywhere) could become a specialist in, say, prenuptial agreements or electronic copyright law. Indeed, as we move into the electronic age, the number of highly specialized micro-businesses in all fields-some of which end up becoming very large-is rapidly increasing.

Max Weber believed that modern societies are distinctive because their members share a rational worldview, and, of course, nothing illustrates this better than bureaucracy. But will bureaucracy continue to dominate the social scene in the new century? Here is one reason to think it may not: While it may make sense for organizations to regulate workers performing the kinds of routine tasks that were common in the industrial era, much work in the postindustrial era involves imagination. Think, for instance, of such "new age" work as designing homes, composing music, and writing software. The creativity involved cannot be regulated in the same way as, say, assembling automobiles on an assembly line. Perhaps this is why many high-technology companies have done away with dress codes and time clocks.

Finally, what might Karl Marx make of the Information Revolution? Since Marx considered the earlier Industrial Revolution a class revolution that allowed the owners of industry to dominate society, he might wonder whether a new symbolic elite is gaining power over us. Some analysts point out, for example, that film and television writers, producers, and performers now enjoy vast wealth, international prestige, and power (Lichter, Rothman, & Lichter, 1990). Similarly, just as people without industrial skills stayed at the bottom of the class system in past decades, so people without symbolic skills are likely to become the "underclass" of the new century.

Durkheim, Weber, and Marx greatly improved our understanding of industrial societies. As we continue into the postindustrial age, there is plenty of room for new generations of sociologists to carry on.

For more information on this topic, please visit this website....

The Information Technology Revolution: What About the Developing Countries?

Adam Smith and the division of labor provides information on his views of the organization of work and capitalism.

Article on Max Weber's view on work.

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