If any of you are looking into how the Frankfurt School conceptualized reification, or if any of you who have tried to figure it out, the following anecdote is quite telling. It confirms my suspicion that the concept of reification is a pyramid scheme for social theorists to reproduce themselves. When they first find out about it you think it explains everything. Then after using if for awhile and reflecting on they start to suspect that explains nothing. But at this point their theory is invested in it. They can’t admit that it is a vacuous concept and continue to use it. By continuing to use it they get other people to start using it.
The preoccupation with problems of capital-analysis began relatively early. We wanted to know in the first place what ‘reification’ ( Verdinglichung) really was. At that time in the mid-sixties we systematically plagued Horkheimer with these things. We wanted to know how they are interpreted in the framework of the Frankfurt Theory since the Frankfurt Theory built explicitly on them – and discovered after all, that after three sentences long silences set in. and that basically there was very little to learn from these theoreticians. Finally, we decided to think these questions through ourselves and – this can now be said in the present company – had to conclude that the omission of these moments itself had to be conceived as to a certain extent symptomatic with regard to the critique of this ’Critical Theory’. This becomes evident when one pursues it further, if one may extrapolate, with Habermas. One could perhaps put forward the thesis that the Habermasian theory, which after all arose in a close connection with the Frankfurt theory, is to be designated as dialectical theory which can only develop dialectical theory formally, since it falls back to the standpoint of the bourgeois subject. (Helmut Reichelt. From the Frankfurt School to Value Form Analysis.)