In 1961, Daniel Bell interviewed Paul F. Lazarsfeld about topics ranging from Lazarsfeld’s childhood friendship with Friedrich Adler to his fraught relationship with C. Wright Mills. Lazarsfeld, in the course of defending himself against Mills’ charge that he embodied the “abstract empiricism” characteristic of contemporary American sociology, made a striking claim about the orientation and aims of the postwar social sciences:
Bell: [Mills’ critique was] [t]hat you should be asking questions about the nature and the degree of alienation in American society, and evolving methods for measuring the degree of alienation.
Lazarsfeld: Well it so happens that I have developed methods, what is probably the fraction that I could… Look I don’t want to answer that. In addition[,] there are probably at least a dozen studies on alienation—my guess is, in every other issue of the [American Sociological] Review there is a new alienation scale.
Lazarsfeld’s estimate was quite accurate: between 1950 and 1960, a mere 66 articles on alienation appeared in the Review; between 1960 and 1970, the number rose above 275. Interest in alienation was not restricted to the sociologists. Journals were replete with studies conducted by researchers in fields ranging from political psychology to human relations. Through his refutation of Mills, this is to say, Lazarsfeld inadvertently gestured at a dynamic genre of interdisciplinary social-scientific research: empirical studies of alienation.
This genre—the existence of which Lazarsfeld took for granted—has been largely forgotten. According to the widespread and longstanding understanding, alienation was an eminently theoretical concept—an idea that originated in German philosophy, grew in Western Marxist social theory, and spread through existentialist literature. Although this characterization of alienation is most apparent in histories of European ideas, it originated in the disciplinary memory of the postwar social sciences. Disciplinary luminaries—including Lazarsfeld and Theodor W. Adorno—insisted on the existence of an insuperable gulf between empirical social science and critical social theory. But recovering empirical studies of alienation would challenge this conceptual distinction and complicate the histories it subtends.
This paper initiates this path of recovery and revision. Specifically, it focuses on Alienation and Freedom (1964)—Robert Blauner’s sociological study of industrial laborer and laborers in the United States in the wake of the Second World War. Alienation and Freedom originated as Blauner’s doctoral dissertation at the University of California-Berkeley; it eventually became the book that “made [his] career” as a researcher. Blauner drew on an array of conventional and unorthodox material—including the writings of the young Marx and his own experience as an industrial laborer—to complete the project. Qualitative evidence and quantitative analysis led him to the conclusion that the fragmentation of the labor-process inherent to industrial production engendered four forms of alienation: powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation, and fragmentation. But, Blauner argued, the full implementation of automation could restore four corresponding modes of freedom: control, purposiveness, belonging, and selfhood. The paper concentrates on Blauner’s multifaceted concept of alienation, examining its origins, contents, and implications.
This article reconstructs the Institute for Social Research’s 1944-1945 study of working-class antisemitism in America. Initially, it shows, the Frankfurt School researchers understood antisemitism as an ideology amenable to reason; ultimately, they concluded it was an irrational pathology. This change, the article argues, followed from the Institute’s research method, empirical findings, and analytical concepts. Especially important was the concept of the stereotype, which mediated tensions within the Institute’s understanding of antisemitism and became central to Dialectic of Enlightenment and The Authoritarian Personality. By so arguing, the article reassesses interpretations of the Institute’s empirical research and critical theory in the 1940s.
The Unemployed of Marienthal (1933) has long been esteemed as a classic of twentieth-century social science; its portrait of the effects of joblessness on individual minds and social institutions has inspired generations of researchers. But this reception has largely overlooked the political origins and implications of the study. This essay resituates Marienthal in the context of its creation and dissemination: the distinctive Marxism of interwar Austria. Specifically, it demonstrates that Marienthal introduced social-psychological methods and findings into Marxist debates about the present state and future prospects of the working class. Led by Paul F. Lazarsfeld, the Marienthal researchers adopted the Austro-Marxist goal of creating a model proletariat through a program of “anticipatory socialism.” But by finding that unemployment confounded efforts to reform the working class, Marienthal undermined the very program it aimed to support. In fact, the essay shows, Marienthal authorized arguments that the unemployed were unreliable political actors—“declassed” workers as likely to become reactionaries as revolutionaries. The essay concludes by considering whether Marienthal embodied a distinctively Austro-Marxist “style” of thinking and research.
Theodor Adorno has a reputation for being adamantly opposed to empirical social science; he denounced it as, at best, a methodological fetish and, at worst, a source of reification. For the most part, scholars have implicitly followed Adorno's view, variously explaining away the impetus for or de-emphasizing the importance of his participation in a number of varied studies in the social and human sciences between the late 1930s and mid-1950s. This chapter begins to correct this imbalance by returning attention to three of Adorno's most important empirical studies: “The Essential Value of Radio to All Types of Listeners” (1938–1941), “Anti-Semitism among American Labor” (1944–1945), and “The Function of Anti-Semitism in the Personality” (1944–1950). First, the chapter reconstructs Adorno's penetrating critique of existing research methods. Adorno came to see that empirical studies of individuals' preferences and opinions propagated the illusions of choice, preference, experience, and individuality that were necessary to the ideology of contemporary capitalism. But Adorno did not countenance the abandonment of these empirical techniques. Second, the chapter documents Adorno's revision and implementation of empirical techniques in the study of prejudice and authoritarianism. Adorno, it shows, used techniques ranging from social statistics to behavioral psychology. Adorno did not seek to rescue or to synthesize these approaches but instead insisted on the necessity of pursuing each empirical method until it terminated in contradiction. By so doing, he held, empirical social science could be used to illuminate the incongruities of the capitalist economy and social totality itself.