Reification and the Duty to Work Through the Past: On Critical Theory and Temporality

M.A. Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article focuses on the role that the notion of temporality can and should play in the tradition of Critical Theory. Following an overview of the critical analyses of time found in the works of Marx, Lukács, Weber, Adorno, Fromm, and Marcuse, the article analyzes Hartmut Rosa’s critique of social acceleration and argues that this critique lacks a firm normative basis. This basis is required, however, for one to claim why certain processes of social acceleration are wrong. It is shown that Rosa’s analyses of acceleration contain two suggestions for such a basis: autonomy understood as a narrative identity, and autonomy as defended by Honneth’s theory of recognition. After an exploration of both suggestions, in which the ideas of MacIntyre and Ricoeur are briefly discussed as well, it is argued that a combination of both may result in a specific, normative understanding of reification, which is defended against Honneth’s definition of this concept. Based on an interpretation of passages in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Adorno’s notion of “working through the past,” the article claims that reification should be understood as a forgetting of the narratives that have shaped the self and the social structures under which this self is formed, and therefore as the inability to recognize the temporal dimensions of the autonomous self.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-138
Number of pages32
JournalNew German Critique
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • autonomy
  • acceleration
  • Axel Honneth
  • Hartmut Rosa
  • Theodor Adorno


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