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Sociology, World Languages and Cultures

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The Social Ontology of Capitalism

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“The Constellation of Social Ontology” says that Walter Benjamin, best known among scholars for his work on “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility,” in which he argues that all visual art, including its modern emanations like film, has always been constituted through modes not just of production, but also of reproduction. Relatively unknown, however, is that these claims about art and reproduction took shape as part of a larger set of arguments about the nature of historical knowledge and the ways that knowledge emerges and derives from embodied, corporeal practices. Benjamin made these arguments in his essay on “Eduard Fuchs: Collector and Historian” (1937). This essay and its history further show that Benjamin’s thought belongs at the center of the Frankfurt School’s emergent Critical Theory in the mid-1930s, and reveals significant institutional and methodological links between Fuchs, Benjamin, and the major figures of the Frankfurt School like Max Horkheimer. More broadly, Benjamin’s work on Fuchs can be seen as a methodological attempt to demonstrate how critical methods that do justice to the material of history by attending successfully to the forgotten remnants of social, political, and economic life can create the possibility of concrete social ontology in the present.


The Social Ontology of Capitalism Krier, Daniel and Worrell, Mark P. (eds.) (2016), Palgrave Macmillan US reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan'. 'This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here:

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