Journal of Social Psychology, 1987, 127 (2), 219-220.



School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, Australia

THE CONCEPT OF ALIENATION has been elaborated in various ways by different writers with estrangement, powerlessness, and normlessness commonly mentioned as components. Because these and other elements of alienation have been shown, however, to be intercorrelated to some degree (Dean, 1961; Neal & Rettig, 1967; Ray, 1974, 1982), there is some justification for treating alienation as a concept in its own right and for using a single scale to measure general social alienation (Ray, 1982). Alienation in Western-type societies seems generally to be seen as characteristic of the political left, although most of the research has been done with students (e.g., Ray & Sutton, 1972). Loye (1977) showed leftism and alienation to be associated among a general population sample. Unfortunately, his scale to measure alienation was extracted from the Christie "New Left" scale. Therefore some artifact has to be suspected. Better general population data is needed.

A commercial general population survey carried out in 1973 offered promise in this direction. The survey included scales of general social conservatism, economic conservatism, behavioral conservatism (sample item: "I try to do something different every day"), and alienation. Intended vote at the next federal election was also ascertained. The alienation scale was a short form of the Ray (1982) instrument and the conservatism scales were similar to those used in Ray and Wilson (1976). The sample consisted of 4,554 randomly chosen individuals from throughout Australia, of whom 49% were males. Mean age was 36 years and mean education fell between junior and senior school. Further methodological details of this poll are found in Ray and Wilson (1976).

With political party preference scored from left to right, intended vote correlated - .01 with alienation. General social conservatism, economic conservatism, and behavioral conservatism correlated, respectively, .02, -. 13, and .09 with alienation. The reliabilities (alpha) of the scales were: alienation, .73; social conservatism, .84; economic conservatism, .82; and behavioral conservatism, .53. By virtue of the large sample size, almost any correlation would be statistically significant although by any substantive criterion it is clear that alienation was negligibly related to political polarization. The present results, therefore, represent a replication of the finding by Ray (1974) that general social conservatism does not predict alienation in a general population sample. Although alienation may produce radicalism among students, it may instead produce political apathy in the general population. The fact that the present results are more than 10 years old and come from Australia should also be taken into account. Alienated people in present-day America might well be more radical.


Christie, R., Friedman, L., & Ross, A. (1969). New Left Scale. In J. P. Robinson & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Measures of social psychological attitudes. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

Dean, D. G. (1961). Alienation: Its meaning and measurement. American Sociological Review, 26, 753-777.

Loye, D. (1977). The leadership passion. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Neal, A. G., & Rettig, S. (1967). On the multidimensionality of alienation. American Sociological Review, 32, 54-63.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Who are the alienated? Ch. 52 in Ray, J.J. (Ed.) Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

Ray, J.J. (1982) Towards a definitive alienation scale. J. Psychology, 112, 67-70.

Ray, J.J. & Sutton, A.J. (1972) Alienation in an Australian University. Journal of Social Psychology, 86, 319-320.

Ray, J.J. & Wilson, R.S. (1976) Social conservatism in Australia. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Sociology 12(3), 255-257.

Received November 6, 1986.

I am indebted to Rick Wilson and the Roy Morgan organization for making the survey data available to me.

Requests for reprints should be sent to John J. Ray, School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, PO Box 1, Kensington, NSW Australia 2033.

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