The concept of alienation in educational psychology: History and perspectives



The paper focuses on the explanatory power and limitations of the concept of alienation in educational research. Psychological studies of the phenomena associated with alienation (burnout, extrinsic motivation, cynicism, etc.) are limited by the context of individual mind, whereas the concept of alienation refers to a set of processes unfolding at both individual and sociocultural levels. The paper demonstrates the heuristic possibilities offered by the cultural-historical activity approach to meaning and meaning regulation in the analysis of alien-ation phenomena. The author reviews the findings of empirical studies of alienation in education, as well as existing theoretical works discussing the genesis of alienation and ways to overcome it. According to these works, the ongoing growth of the body of human knowledge results in increasing alienation in the educational context, but individual activity aimed at finding the meaning of collective action and of one’s place in it may help to overcome the challenge of alienation. Despite being too abstract to serve as a tool for designing psychological studies, the category of alienation may be useful for their interpretation, helping to integrate psychological findings into the interdisciplinary context, in order to review and improve existing educational institutions and practices.

General Information

Keywords: alienation, loss of meaning, learning activity, educational system, extrinsic motivation, burnout

Journal rubric: Problems of Cultural-Historical and Activity Psychology

Article type: scientific article


For citation: Osin E.N. The concept of alienation in educational psychology: History and perspectives. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2015. Vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 79–88. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2015110407. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


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Information About the Authors

Evgeny N. Osin, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Deputy Head of the International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Personality and Motivation, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:



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