Reification (Marxism)

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Reification (German: Verdinglichung, literally: "making into a thing" (cf. Latin "res" meaning "thing") or Versachlichung, literally "objectification"; regarding something impersonally) In Marxism reification is the thingification of social relations or of those involved in them, to the extent that the nature of social relationships is expressed by the relationships between traded objects (see commodity fetishism and value-form).

Marx argues that reification is an inherent and necessary characteristic of economic value such as it manifests itself in market trade, i.e. the inversion in thought between object and subject, or between means and ends, reflects a real practice where attributes (properties, characteristics, features, powers) which exist only by virtue of a social relationship between people are treated as if they are the inherent, natural characteristics of things, or vice versa, attributes of inanimate things are treated as if they are attributes of human subjects.[citation needed]

This implies that objects are transformed into subjects and subjects are turned into objects, with the result that subjects are rendered passive or determined, while objects are rendered as the active, determining factor. Hypostatization refers to an effect of reification which results from supposing that whatever can be named, or conceived abstractly, must actually exist, an ontological and epistemological fallacy.

The concept is related to, but is distinct from, Marx's theories of alienation and commodity fetishism. Alienation is the general condition of human estrangement. Reification is a specific form of alienation. Commodity fetishism is a specific form of reification.

Development and significance of the concept[edit]

After Marx, the concept was developed extensively by Georg Lukács in "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat", part of his book History and Class Consciousness. The concept of reification has also been present in the works of the philosophers of the Frankfurt School, for example in Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment, and in the works of Herbert Marcuse. Others who have written about this point include Gajo Petrović, Raya Dunayevskaya, Raymond Williams, Timothy Bewes, Axel Honneth, John Zerzan, and Slavoj Žižek.

Petrović, in A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, defines reification as:

The act (or result of the act) of transforming human properties, relations and actions into properties, relations and actions of man‑produced things which have become independent (and which are imagined as originally independent) of man and govern his life. Also transformation of human beings into thing‑like beings which do not behave in a human way but according to the laws of the thing‑world. Reification is a ‘special’ case of ALIENATION, its most radical and widespread form characteristic of modern capitalist society.[1]

Reification occurs when specifically human creations are misconceived as "facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will".[2]

Criticism[edit]

French philosopher Louis Althusser criticized what he called the "ideology of reification" that sees 'things' everywhere in human relations".[3] Althusser's critique derives from his theory of the epistemological break, which finds that Marx underwent significant theoretical and methodological change between his early and his mature work.

Though the concept of reification is used in Das Kapital by Marx; Althusser finds in it an important influence from the similar concept of alienation developed in the early The German Ideology and in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

Frankfurt School philosopher Axel Honneth reformulates this key "Western Marxist" concept in terms of intersubjective relations of recognition and power in his recent work Reification (Oxford, 2008). Instead of being an effect of the structural character of social systems such as capitalism, as Karl Marx and György Lukács argued, Honneth contends that all forms of reification are due to pathologies of intersubjectively based struggles for recognition.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gajo Petrović, A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, Laurence Harris, V.G. Kiernan, Ralph Miliband (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 411-413; [1]
  2. ^ Berger, Peter, & Luckmann, Thomas. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. New York: Anchor/Doubleday.
  3. ^ Althusser, Louis; "Marxism and Humanism" in For Marx, p. 230 - endnote 7, [2]

Further reading[edit]

  • Althusser, Louis: "Humanism and Marxism" in For Marx, The Penguin Press, 1969.
  • Arato, Andrew: Lukács’s Theory of Reification, Telos, 1972.
  • Bewes, Timothy 2002: Reification, or The Anxiety of Late Capitalism, Verso, 2002, ISBN 1-85984-685-8.
  • Burris, Val: "Reification: A marxist perspective", California Sociologist, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1988, pp. 22–43.
  • Dahms, Harry: "Beyond the Carousel of Reification: Critical Social Theory after Lukács, Adorno, and Habermas." Current Perspectives in Social Theory 18 (1998): 3-62. (See Harry Dahms)
  • Dunayevskaya, Raya: "Reification of People and the Fetishism of Commodities", in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 167–191.
  • Floyd, Kevin: "Introduction: On Capital, Sexuality, and the Situations of Knowledge," in The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism. Minneapolis, MN.: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
  • Gabel, Joseph : False consciousness : an essay on reification. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
  • Goldmann, Lucien 1959: "Réification", in Recherches dialectiques, Gallimard, 1959, Paris.
  • Honneth, Axel: "Reification: A Recognition-Theoretical View", The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at University of California-Berkeley, March 14–16, 2005.
  • Honneth, Axel. Reification: A New Look. Oxford University Press, 2008. Honneth on reification with responses by Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, and Jonathan Lear.
  • Kangrga, Milan 1968: ‘Was ist Verdinglichung?’
  • Larsen, Neil: "Lukács sans Proletariat, or Can History and Class Consciousness be Rehistoricized?". Timothy Bewes and Timothy Hall, eds., Georg Lukács: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence, Continuum, 2011: 81-100.
  • Löwith, Karl 1932 (1982): Max Weber and Karl Marx.
  • Lukács, Georg 1923: "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat" in History & Class Consciousness, Merlin Press, 1967.
  • Petrović, Gajo:"Reification" in A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore, Laurence Harris, V.G. Kiernan, Ralph Miliband (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 411–413.
  • Rubin, I. I. 1928 (1972): Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value.
  • Schaff, Adam 1980: Alienation as a Social Phenomenon.
  • Tadić, Ljubomir 1969: ‘Bureaucracy—Reified Organization’. In M. Marković and G. Petrović eds. Praxis.
  • Vandenberghe, Frederic: A Philosophical History of German Sociology. London: Routledge, 2009.