The term alienation has been used by philosophers, psychologists and sociologists to refer to a very wide range of psycho-social disorders including: loss of self, anxiety, anomie, despair, depersonalization, rootlessness, apathy, social disorganization, loneliness, atomization, meaninglessness, isolation, pessimism, and the loss of beliefs or values.
Basically, alienation refers to an individual sense of estrangement from society; or to the state of isolation of those people who, because of their customs, allegiances, behaviour, race or other factors, are marked out by those with whom they mix as "different", strange and sometimes unacceptable. Thus, certain people, races, social classes or groups are alien for various reasons from the point of view of the surrounding society. The ensuing sense of estrangement or self-alienation involves the loss of a sense of identity, a feeling of powerlessness to affect social change and of depersonalization in a large and bureaucratic society.
Alienation has become a central notion of contemporary sociology.
Alienation as a social process is inherent in antagonistic class society. Its main characteristic is the transformation of human work into a dominating, independent force that is hostile to the individual. The principal causes of alienation are the antagonistic division of labour and private property.