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Alienation and consciousness: Towards a dual-aspect approach to issues of social justice

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
A great portion of people's lives are spent in the workplace. I argue that many Western workplaces are neither sites of democratic practices or equality but are based on modes of exploitation that benefit the few. Consequently, workers experience alienation, a term used by Karl Marx to describe the separation of the worker from their work, from others, and from themselves. This separation manifests in the various mental health issues we see today in all arenas and walks of life, and these issues are being addressed in a variety of helping professions, including education and counselling. In recognizing that our society has not taken up an adequate degree of foundational analysis, this thesis proposes a Marxist analysis of alienation and its impact on citizens' wellbeing. I use the counselling profession as an example at-hand to make the argument as to why the profession must offer critiques of capitalism if it is to properly address social justice issues and to effectively respond to a predominant source of mental distress within our current society. However, helping professions themselves are a product of, and a co-creator of, the capitalist system. Despite their concerns for social justice, I argue that they perpetuate injustice by supporting the status quo and by operating from individualistic, decontextualized, and ahistorical models. The prevalence of world-views that promote a materialistic individualism must be therefore challenged. Hence, it is proposed that consciousness, the original subject matter of psychology itself, must be accounted for within our world-view. An argument is put forth that panpsychism is a promising philosophical position from which to generate new understandings and appreciations for the world and our place in it. A panpsychic dual-aspect monism invites novel ways to consider the ways in which helping professions function at both the micro-level of the individual person, but also, simultaneously, at the macro-level of system change. I call upon Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a good example of a micro-level approach that can be utilized within many helping professions that centers the experience of consciousness as a vital component to personal and societal change. The implications of addressing individual and systemic change in relation to education, especially within the context of our current climate crisis, are discussed.
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Thesis advisor: Bai, Heesoon
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