Published in 1986
The Psychosocial Consequences of Natural and Alienated Labor offers a new perspective on how the capitalist labor process shapes the character of its participants. Schwalbe argues that with appropriate social-psychological elaboration, Marx’s original analysis of alienated labor can provide a powerful theoretical framework for understanding the psychological consequences of working for capitalism. What is needed, Schwalbe contends, is a social psychology compatible with Marx’s naturalist view of human nature and which specifies more precisely the processes whereby alienated labor produces particular psychological outcomes. This social psychology is found in the work of G. H. Mead. Drawing principally on Mead’s philosophy of the act and theory of aesthetic experience, Schwalbe forges a natural labor perspective that is then used to guide an empirical study of work experiences and their consequences among employees in five capitalist firms.
This study shows how capitalist production limits opportunities for problem solving, role taking, means-ends comprehension, and self-objectification in work, and how the lack of these experiences affects intellectual and moral development. Schwalbe also discusses the directions implied by the natural labor perspective for pursuing a transformation of capitalist society.