Cognitive Capitalism and Verdinglichung: A prismatic exploration in search of a philosophical foundation for a contemporary critique

Janus Hecht

Student thesis: Master thesis


In this thesis, I explore the possibilities of a contemporary philosophical critique of the immaterial modes of production defining increasingly more of contemporary work life. I do this by placing the perspectives of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Martin Heidegger, Georg Lukács, Axel Honneth and Johannes Sløk in the theoretical context of cognitive capitalism, and discuss how their theories can function as a fundament for critique, with the concept of Verdinglichung (English: reification. Danish: tingsliggørelse). In this theoretical combination lies the contribution of this thesis. First, I unfold my research interest and discuss the appropriate methodology in the prologue. My own philosophical meta-foundation – or, the position from where I approach, see and discuss – is inspired by Adorno’s negative dialectics. On this background, I develop a methodological approach for my investigation, which I call the double prism. With this, I seek to meet the rigid demands of Adorno in how I shape the argument and construct the analysis. My analysis is structured in three chapters, which I call INTERFERENCES. Here I the prismatic concepts of Verdinglichung and cognitive capitalism meet and let each other appear in the light of the other. Each INTERFERENCE takes its point of departure from a different philosophical ground offering different versions of the concept of Verdinglichung - able to criticise the conditions of work life under cognitive capitalism from different angles. Rather than arguing for one exclusive position, this thesis thus explores the various possibilities of critique with the concept of Verdinglichung. With this approach, I manage to show how the concept of Verdinglichung - when discussed within the framework of cognitive capitalism - in new ways can articulate some of the problems and challenges associated with modern work-life, especially regarding inter- and intrapersonal relations. It thus concludes, that different processes of Verdinglichung, leading to distorted instrumental comprehensions of the relation to oneself and each other, are deeply entangled in and generated from the modes of immaterial production and consumption, which define work life in cognitive capitalism. Self-management is also bearing the burden of being the unity of a commodity and a salesperson. And management appreciating the whole of the person is also management appreciating the burden of selfmanagement. Since these processes are integrated in the incentive-structure of cognitive capitalism, and since it tends to conceal itself as such, by means of cultural and managerial modes of reproduction, these conditions pose a huge challenge for the participants. My main argument in this thesis is, that the contemporary conditions of cognitive capitalism, makes a philosophical critique with the concept of Verdinglichung as relevant – and perhaps even more relevant - today, as it was in the era of industrialism, where it provided a strong critique of capitalism.

EducationsMSc in Philosophy, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages95