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Mystification, Reification, Naturalization

July 7, 2010

I’ve been thinking about how I use these words, and whether or not my use is similar to or different from how others use them. Let me start with the last, because that one’s the most straightforward.

Naturalization: the process that results in taking human products (whether cultural products, social products, social relations, etc.) as if they were natural. This one seems fairly simple (unless we get into criticisms of the culture/nature dichotomy).

Reification: the process that results in seeing fixity and permanence where there is none (sometimes called misplaced concreteness). Or, this could be the same as hypostatization: to project the real existence of a conceptual entity (like when people start talking about “religion” and “science” as things). Or, this could be a combination of hypostatization and animism: when agency is attributed to a conceptual entity (like when people talk about “religion” battling with “science,” or when people talk about countries doing things as if they were persons).

Mystification: the process that obscures social relations or the extent to which social relations constitute the world. The paradigmatic example here would be commodity fetishism: the “table” is seen as simply a thing with a certain value, and the social relations that went into constituting the thing as such are invisible.

I suppose that on these uses of these terms, naturalization would always be a specific type of mystification.

Is this idiosyncratic? Do you use these words differently? Do you see problems with these definitions?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2010 2:09 pm

    These terms can of course be used differently in other contexts, but for the contests in which you use them, I use them in roughly the same way.

    One of my favorite examples, which touches on all three of these, is “the economy.” It is seen as the natural outcome of natural market relations, which is then reified as an actual thing having mystical agency.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    July 10, 2010 8:51 am

    Yeah, when “economy” and “market” get mystified, it appears to make sense that humans shouldn’t intervene in their “natural” course …

  3. July 11, 2010 6:38 pm

    Thanks for your definitions, and reminder of these concepts, which I employed to great advantage in today’s post. Shout out to Missives from Marx.


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