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iron cage

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Iron Cage: The "iron cage" is an idea presented by Max Weber as a description of the affect of modernization processes on individuals and social relationships. The idea is that rationalization and specialization forces in the work place (factory, office, bureaucracy) alienate people from their labor and make them feel they are trapped in an "iron cage" of rationalized production in which the goal of efficiency replaces other, more human characteristics such as creative expression, pride in one's labor, or personal connections with other workers.

Additionally, Weber argued that these same forces would eventually expand from the production process and spill over into other, more personal aspects of daily life. In the end, Weber felt that modernization would turn humans into "automatons." He famously wrote that these social changes would make modern humans, "Hedonists without heart, specialists without spirit."

Since Weber wrote in German, there are different translations of his idea. I don't speak German (sorry) but the original Parsons translations provides the term "iron cage." More recent translations use the term "shell as hard as steel" to emphasize the organic origins of these processes. According to this view, these modernization forces are like a kind of Frankenstein's monster, we create them, but then they grow up and recreate us.

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