Alienation in Clubs

Don’s Diary – “Alienation in Clubs”

I still enjoy my longstanding membership of my car clubs, the Citroen Owners Club for my quaint, very basic French 2cv, and the Vintage Sports Car Club.

I did belong to a third club for a prestigious British marque, (a British term for classic make), but when the nouveau riche elite took control of the committee it was all too much for me and I voted with my feet: that is what people do in volunteer organisations when they become estranged and alienated. There are some who think that too many who are voting with their feet in Craft Lodges is our major problem. It really is the symptom of our problem.

The theoretical concept of alienation in the workplace was developed by Karl Marx (German philosopher, economist, radical, etc. 1818-1883.) that describes the isolating, dehumanising, and disenchanting effects of working within a capitalist system of production.

Social alienation is a broader concept used by sociologists to describe the experience of individuals or groups that feel disconnected from the values, norms, practices, and social relations of their community or society, and it would apply to a society who is club members. In 1959 Melvin Seeman (American social psychologist. Born 1918.) identified the five features he attributed to social alienation, not dissimilar to causes identified by Marx:

Powerlessness: When individuals are socially alienated they believe that what happens in their lives is outside of their control and that what they do ultimately does not matter. They believe they are powerless to shape their life course.

Meaninglessness: When an individual does not derive meaning from the things in which he or she is engaged, or at least not the same common or normative meaning that others derive from it.

Social Isolation: When a person feels that they are not meaningfully connected to their community through shared values, beliefs, and practices, and/or when they do not have meaningful social relationships with other people.

Self-Estrangement: When a person experiences social alienation they may deny their own personal interests and desires in order to satisfy demands placed by others and/or by social norms.

Normlessness: This was identified earlier by Émile Durkheim (French sociologist 1858-1917.), a reason for social alienation resulting from moving from one country to another or from one region within a country to a very different region within it can also destabilize a person's norms, practices, and social relations in such a way as to cause social alienation. It can also result from demographic changes within a population and can cause social isolation for some who find themselves no longer in the majority in terms of race, religion, values, and worldviews. It also results from the experience of living at the lower rungs of social hierarchies of race and class, unable to participate in society in a way that is considered normal and some members could think this way.

Clubs are normally happy and harmonious fraternities and the clubs in which I remain are great. However those in other clubs may feel estranged, if in a practical sense they are not enfranchised therefore giving a feeling of powerlessness, and if there are limited means of communication and input giving a feeling of meaningless. They can have a feeling of social isolation if they are not included in functions and events, and self-estrangement and social alienation when they find themselves on the bottom of the pile if there is elitism. They could feel normlessness on initially joining and adopting the norms of their new society, especially if they see the organisation badly manages and wasting money, particularly if the committee spends it on themselves. They do not like dues raised to cover all these excesses. They could have an alienating feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it under the rules of the club and the way that they are applied, they may be alienated by a feeling that as ordinary club members they are meaningless within the larger club fraternity, socially isolated from the committee, and not sharing its norms. If they vote with their feet it will be because they don’t, and do not want to belong anymore.

Increasing transparency in club affairs will reduce the potential for social isolation and possibly normlessness. A changed voting system to enfranchise fully all club members should reduce the potential for a feeling of powerlessness and meaninglessness and this should be a priority action. However if there is poor retention in a club resulting from social alienation, the starting point is likely to be a radical change to the club constitutions to make it a more “bottom up” organisation and to eliminate the obvious causes of social alienation, which is the essence and the cause of the problem. Sadly, in recent times and with more I know, I have been getting a more than a bit alienated myself.

Yours fraternally,