I’m Sick to death of re-writing and trying to polish my thesis. So I thought I would take the time to outline my conclusion. Its up next and I need to think about it and outline it some more. This will also counteract this blog’s incremental slide from its intended purpose–to discuss my thesis–to its purpose of late–showering y’all with chunks of Lefebvre and hyping music.
I’ll begin by situating my thesis, which examines the role of fetishism in Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre’s theories of social domination, with an eye to constructing a critical social theory that explains the constitution of social domination and tries to differentiate this interpretation of fetishism from commentary that treats fetishism as false consciousness, alienation or reification.
I find this commentary problematic because: (1) fetishism is not conceived of as a false consciousness by Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre, particularly in the sense of false consciousness as subjective epistemological illusions. (2) the theory of alienation either (a) tends to codify several paragraphs from The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts into the theory of alienation, transforming this theory into the underlying explanation for everything, ignoring rather significant advancements in the explication of social domination and discontinuities in theories of human nature/essence or (b) treats these social theories in terms of characteristic similarities–such as capital as an alien power–without bothering to consider how their constitution is explained (3) reification is used in a multitude of different problematic ways such as (a) conflating Lukacs’ interpretation of fetishism as reification with other interpretations of fetishism (b) treating theories of social domination that include reification as theories of reification etc. All of which leave me entirely confused as to what reification actually means–if it means anything—and how thingification provides a sufficient account of social domination.
In the main part of the thesis my individual chapters on Marx, Lukas, Adorno and Lefebvre focus on: (1) how each of these thinkers conceive of fetishism in manner that (a) differs from popular accounts and (b) differ from each other (2) how this conception fits into their theories of social domination and (3) what is problematic about these conceptions of fetishism and theories of social domination.
This brings me to my conclusion which I anticipate will occur in three parts.
In the first I will recap what I have argued by drawing it together in a comparative fashion, drawing out the similarities and differences between Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre’s: (1) conceptions of fetishism (2) roles of fetishism in their theories of domination and (3) theories of social domination. This will allow me to say I have provided an original contribution by (1) demonstrated a different interpretation of each thinker’s conception of fetishism and its role in their theory of social domination in (2) a way and grouping that hasn’t been done before.
This part will be the most substantial part of my conclusion and it will be followed two shorter, speculative parts.
In the first of these speculative parts I recap my criticism of Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre’s theories of social domination and consider what ramifications my studies of Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre have for fetishism as a critical theory of the constitution of social domination. My general conclusion will be that their uses of fetishism accurately describe our current situation in which society, particularly in a time of social crisis, functions like an alien, autonomous entity that inverts to dominate individuals. However, a theory of why and how society does this is lacking. For while Marx provides the most sophisticated explication his theory is still problematic in that is marked by instances of ambiguity, contradiction and incompleteness. Furthermore, it does not account for important social phenomena such as the state or provide much of an account of how domination is socially and culturally embodied. On the other hand, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre’s attempts to fill these gaps via different accounts of social domination that rely on methods of the analogical generalization of fetishism to Hegelian Marxian conceptions of society as dialectical totalities do not provide coherent accounts of how these social phenomena are derived or related to fetishism. As a consequence it seems that despite its descriptive accuracy fetishism is not coherently based on a theory that provides an explication for how these fetishistic forms are socially constituted. This means that using the term fetishism in a critical capacity does little more than designate that social forms are socially constructed. However, the profundity of this criticism in the context of theories of social construction and the egregious use of fetishism in many different fatuous ways is questionable.
This leads me to toss out a few speculative considerations as to how this might be remedied to revitalize critical theory. I’ll begin by using someone like Gerstenberger to say that such a theory should be more modest, socially specific and allow more room for social complexity. I’ll say that many of the elements of Adorno and Lefebvre’s theories reflect an era of affluence, social stability and integration that is long gone and should be discarded. However, ill also point that many of the social forms Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre theorized in analogy with the commodity have become commodified. This raises the possibility of integrating these phenomena into an account of social domination through Marx’s monetary theory of value by using a method that resembles the trinity formula. Doing so could integrate some of Adorno’s insights into social domination qua exchange, while Lefebvre’s conception of abstract space could be used as a basis for studying how these forms are embodied in society with some degree of social complexity. Finally, it could point to a revitalized critical theory that is superior to: (1) Postone’s account because it goes beyond the ambiguous category of abstract labour to money and social reproduction (2) Honneth’s interpretation of reification because it returns to considering domination in relation to social constitution rather than psychologism.
I imagine I’ll be told to tone these speculative bits down. But a boy can dream.