Reification and the Contradictions of Capital's Life-Process

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Arthur BUENO, Universität Erfurt, Germany
The changing relations between critical theory and political economy are made visible in the historical fate of the concept of reification. While Lukács’ 1923 essay articulated insights from German sociology with Marx’s critique of political economy, this connection has been de-emphasized over time and especially in recent approaches within critical theory. On the other hand, current attempts to make Marx’s political economy relevant for the analysis of capitalism’s crises have largely moved away from the critique of reification. Against this background, the paper proposes a re-actualization of this concept by addressing two major critiques that were raised against History and Class Consciousness. The first holds that Lukács presents a totalising account of modern capitalist society that would fail to adequately consider the latter’s differentiation into a variety of institutionalised domains. Exploring the tensions between the 'pervasiveness-thesis' and the 'differentiation-thesis' in Lukács’ essay, I argue that the critique of capitalism as a differentiated social order is fully compatible with the diagnosis of a wide-ranging, though incomplete, extension of the commodity-form beyond the economic sphere. According to a second reproach often raised against History and Class Consciousness, the critique of reification would rely on an essentialist conception of authentic life. A close examination of the notions of ‘essence’ and ‘life’ deployed in the book demonstrates, however, that this is not the case. The joint consideration of these issues makes room for a concept of reification which is able to grasp the contradictions of capitalist society in their multiple institutional dimensions while drawing its critical potential not from a-historical conceptions of human essence and life, but from these internal contradictions themselves.