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Beyond Reification: Reclaiming Marx’s Concept of the Fetish Character of the Commodity

Nicole Pepperell (University of Waikato)

Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought II, no. 2 (2018): 33–55

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Keywords: Marx, Lukács, Hegel, Capital, commodity fetishism, critical social theory, reification

György Lukács’s influential interpretation of commodity fetishism as “reification” shapes many contemporary critiques of the apparently objective and impersonal form taken by capitalist social relations. Such critiques seek to debunk the false veil of objectivity that results from fetishism, revealing the real character of the social relations underneath. This line of criticism, however, often attributes totalising power to capitalism, which undermines its own critical standpoint. I argue that the solution to this dilemma lies in understanding the fetish not as an ideological veil that needs to be debunked, but instead as a novel form of social interdependence that is genuinely – not illusorily – impersonal. This impersonal form is generated by a diverse array of disparate social practices whose interaction yields this unanticipated and unintended result. Within this framework, the diversity of the underlying social practices offers a practical potential basis for constituting new forms of social interdependence that lack not only the semblance, but also the reality of capitalism’s oppressive objectivity.

doi: 10.46957/con.2018.2.3

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