Contemporary Reification and Second Order Abstractions

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Booth 63
Oral Presentation
Craig BROWNE , University of Sydney, Australia
My paper proposes that contemporary forms of reification are increasingly conditioned by second order abstractions. The distinction between first and second order abstractions is initially analytical; because many of the same mechanisms are involved in the latter’s constitution. However, second order abstractions involve a peculiar kind of reflexivity or doubling. The mechanisms of abstraction are increasingly becoming the objects as well as the means of abstraction; for example, global trade in currencies objectifies monetary exchange. Yet, this objectifying alters aspects of the experience of reification, since the first order processes of abstraction come to operate with reference to these second order developments. Further, second order abstractions do not just affect the relationship that subjects have to their own practices and those of other subjects, they generate new modes of reification in mediating institutions, like that of the state. One result of second order abstractions is greater distortion of the value system of first order commodity exchange. This distortion conditions the contemporary belief that action in relation to major effects of capitalism, like the ecological crisis and the power of global finance, is likely to have unpredictable outcomes and cascading consequences, which may contradict the intentions of agency. My analysis suggests that the implications of the major contemporary conflicts of capitalist society should be understood in terms of second order abstractions and this will be demonstrated in relation to recent instances of contestation, like anti-austerity protests and riots. Although my conception of second order abstraction has significant continuities with the major theories of reification, the sense in which it is necessary to revise other conceptions of reification, like those of Lukacs, Habermas and Honneth, will be explored.