Related terms; Alienation-effect; Fetishism - Commodity fetishism; Reification; Historical materialism - Marxism; Lefebvre

In general, alienation refers to the sense of distance from nature, separation from others, and helplessness that is an effect of modern existence since the time of the Industrial Revolution in the West, from approximately 1750 onwards.

In Karl Marx’s writings, alienation is depicted as a condition of human alienation from nature; from other people; and of a person from the products of his/her own labour. The last form of alienation, from the products of one’s own labour, is induced by the exploitation of the worker under capitalism, Marx argues, enforcing an identification of the worker with the commodity value of the products of labour. Ultimately, this is seen by Marx to produce a profound alienation of humans from themselves.

In psychoanalytic theory, alienation refers to the split in subjectivity between the ego cogito and the unconscious, and the recognition that one is not in control of one’s thoughts, actions, and desires because of the existence of unconscious drives brought into play in interaction with one’s social and material environments.


Sturken M. and Cartwright, L. (2018). Practices of Looking: an introduction to visual culture, 3rd ed.. New York: Oxford University Press.