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Reification, Dereification and STS

Fri, August 22, 8:30 to 10:30am, Intercontinental Hotel, Borges

Abstract

Lukács developed the theory of reification in his 1923 book History and Class Consciousness. By “reification” he intended not simply treating a concept or relationship as a thing but, more specifically, treating institutions constituted by human activity as quasi-natural objects governed by laws similar to the natural laws discovered by the sciences. Lukács argued that such reified institutions could be dereified when the subjects whose activity constituted them became aware of their own role. Then the apparent naturalness of the institutions and the laws governing them would dissolve and transformation in accordance with collective conscious intent would become possible. This argument was developed in the context of a theory of socialist revolution which had more plausibility in Lukács’s central Europe in 1923 than today anywhere we choose to look. However, the concepts of reification and dereification are still useful. They underlie the Frankfurt School Critical Theory of advanced industrial societies and, surprisingly, they clarify aspects of current Science and Technology Studies. In fact STS can be seen as an empirical realization the program of Critical Theory. STS has shown that the reified form of technology can be dissolved into the processes of human relations that constitute technical objects and systems. Furthermore, this approach clarifies much of the what is occurring in contemporary political struggles over technology in movements such as the environmental movement and the movement for social technology.

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