Sunday, April 24, 2005


Val Burris writes in the California Sociologist about reification from a Marxist perspective.


The concept of reification is used by Marx to describe a form of social consciousness in which human relations come to be identified with the physical properties of things, thereby acquiring an appearance of naturalness and inevitability.

This essay presents a systematic reconstruction of Marx's theory of reification, with an emphasis on the social-structural dimensions of the concept. This reconstruction differs both from the conceptions of reification that are found in non-Marxist sociology and from the interpretations of some of Marx's followers. Marx's concept of reification is then taken as the model for a more general theory ideology.

In the final section of the essay, I show how this theory can be used to analyze the emergence of new forms of reification in capitalist society, including those that are based on the growth of technology, the spread of bureaucracy, and the rationalization of occupational selection.

Val Burris begins his discussion noting what this blog has rhapsodized quite a bit about the "twin distortions of Marx's theory of positivistic psychologism on the one hand and moralistic polemicizing on the other." Burris finds this "tendency" to be "quite common" in modern work conceptualizing alienation, and it carries over in work done on reification as well.

Val Burris contends that "for Marx, reification is not merely an illusion foisted upon consciousness from the outside, but derives from the objective nature of social institutions; hence the critique of reified theories is never more than a preliminary to the analysis of the social relations which produce such reifications."

Burris begins his reformulation of Marx's theory from the objective characteristics of capitalist society found in Capital chapeter 1. Burris relates how for Marx , the real relationship between social humans becomes mediated by the relationship found between individually produced commodities.

"Since individuals do not enter into productive relations with one another directly as social beings, but only as owners of particular things, the possession of things becomes a condition for and determines the nature of each individual's participation in the productive relations of society."

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