Warren D. TenHouten, Alienation and Affect, London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017, 214 pages[Record]

  • Luca Ciccarese
Reviews Luca Ciccarese Warren D. TenHouten, Alienation and Affect, London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017, 214 pages. In Alienation and Affect, author Warren D. TenHouten tries to identify a synthesis between alienation theory and the sociology of emotions. From his perspective, the concept of alienation lacks specificity, and the fact that it intertwines with emotions tends to be disregarded or taken for granted by most of the scientific literature in the field. TenHouten also contends that the vague nature of the concept of alienation tends to remain implicit in its historical trajectory. In the first section of the book the author retraces the intellectual history of alienation starting from the ancient world and focuses on the development of the concept over time, with particular attention to Rousseau’s conception of alienation, characterized by a marked propensity for the emotional sphere and on the related socio-psychological mechanisms. During the enlightenment/romanticism debate, the thought of Rousseau was valued and expanded by romanticists, who made him their “high priest”. Alienation then became a critical instrument in the hands of romanticists, useful for illustrating the challenges of enlightenment doctrine, such as the separation between matter and mind, man and nature, emotion and reason. In this sense, Romanticism and Sentimentalism were the first movements to use this concept on a regular basis, and TenHouten identifies this phase as a turning point in the historical journey of the concept. Alienation enters into general use in the 18th century, especially after the efforts of Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels, but also Smith and Ferguson. These scholars dealt with the concept in different ways, some, like Hegel for example, emphasized the alienation of self as a necessary evil in order to achieve the full development of mind and society through subsequent dialectical transformations and reconciliations; others underlying the economic nature, and roots, of human alienation and meaninglessness. TenHouten continues to discuss the intellectual trajectory of the concept by following its development in the 19th century. In this phase the concept gradually becomes a more critical instrument in the thought of renowned social scientists like Simmel, Tönnies and Weber. The main focus of these scholars was, indeed, on the alienating conditions of modernity, generating, for Simmel, a threefold shift: 1) from ends to means used to attain them, 2) from emotion to reason, and 3) from the subjective to the objective mind. Weber expands Simmel’s insights, describing the Western crisis, which he explains, is crisis in terms of meaninglessness and coherence due to the incessant progression of bureaucracy, capitalism and science, combined with the process of secularization. Finally, at the end of the first part of the book, TenHouten illustrates the increasing interest in alienation with the advent of the New Left between 1950 and 1960. Nevertheless, TenHouten underlines how the concept gained a certain prominence throughout the years despite the fact that its methodological foundation was uncertain and its ambiguities remained unresolved. For this reason, and from this conceptual and intellectual impasse, TenHouten opens the second part of the book, which aims to give a scientific backbone to the concept of alienation. Towards this end, the second part of the book makes two important contributions: 1) it illustrates the more recent advances in emotion theory, offering to the reader a clear classification of emotions that includes primary, secondary and tertiary emotions, in order of complexity; 2) following Seeman’s five alienation varieties, TenHouten focuses on each one – normlessness, self-estrangement, meaninglessness, cultural estrangement, powerlessness – exploring their connections with different combinations of primary, secondary and tertiary emotions. Through this analytical exercise TenHouten expands Seeman’s original insights ...