A Phenomenological take on the Problem of Reification

Wade A Bell Jr


This article attempts to provide a new look at an old idea within Marxist discourse. Reification, as first imagined by Marx and later Lukacs, describes a process by which capitalism transforms human beings and social relations into things. Although the concept has been subjected to much abstraction and reinvention over the years, this article attempts to address a foundational problem that has remained unsolved since its inception: Close analysis reveals that the concept of reification has never been developed to include an example of an alternative or non-reified state of being. To solve this foundational problem, I look beyond Marxism and to the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. For Merleau-Ponty, the body is our primary vehicle for being-in-the-world, but what makes his philosophy unique is his emphasis on embodied subjectivity, as well as his dialectical conception of corporeality and being-in-the-world. From this view, the social and material worlds can best be understood as dynamic realms of intersubjectivity, while sentient beings always exist as subjects prior to the reifying effects of capitalism. Building upon an ongoing dialectic between the ideas of Marx, Lukacs, Merleau-Ponty and others, I will ultimately reframe the concept of reification as a objectifying tendency, precipitating from capitalism’s ability to obscure the lived experience of the phenomenal body.


Reification; Phenomenology; Marxism; Georg Lukacs; Maurice Merleau-Ponty

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