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Talcott Parsons's Analytical Critique of Marxism's Concept of Alienation

David Sciulli
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 90, No. 3 (Nov., 1984), pp. 514-540
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2779294
Page Count: 27
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Talcott Parsons's Analytical Critique of Marxism's Concept of Alienation
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Abstract

Parsons's approach to the problem of alienation is compared with the Marxian use of the concept, as illustrated by C. B. Macpherson's critique of power in liberal-democratic societies. Macpherson shows that disalienation is possible in Marxist theory only if material abundance or undifferentiated access to the means of production is provided. In contrast, Parsons's approach to the study of modern society emphasizes that differentiated responsibility and authority for production and organization are irreversible and increasing. Because of this systemic trend toward functional differentiation, a single normative standard for recognizing either necessity or abundance in absolute terms cannot be assumed. Parsons's analytical approach to the economic subsystem of the social system also moves him to reject economists' notions of consumer sovereignty and utility. Thus, his schema dismisses a anachronisms bothe the "absolutism" of the model of the free market.

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