Word of the Day: “Reification”

Today’s word is ‘reification’ — suggested by Sid Arthur of Northern India, via the Marxists’ use of the German word Verdinglichung: ‘thing making.’

This concept is at the hub of Western civilisation, Capitalism, and those mechanisms visible within Capitalist states to repel threats from within the system by subsuming those threats, commercialising them, removing their thorns, and flogging artificially-sweetened, carefully-smoothed, mass-produced versions (cf. Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction).

Naturally — we all do this, all the time, of course: the ability to conceptualise, codify, nominate have for centuries been the measure of both a society, and its individual members.

A reified thing is a thing made at once more of a thing, and less of a thing: it becomes an exemplar of the superset the reification ascribes it, a chain in a link of concepts, a neuron linked to the network of neurons that represent that concept in the brain. In so doing, the uniqueness of the reified thing becomes less relevant — in naming the thing, we use distinct attributes to define it, and inevitably use those attributes to spot further exemplars.

There are thousands of well-written accounts of reification and the materialisation of abstract ideals, usually for the detriment of those ideals, and although many of these reports, investigations, and experiments have themselves been subsumed by the system which they observed, it seems to me that the internet is bringing to the mainstream media the story of those who attempt to avoid reification, partially, temporarily, for a short time each day, or every day as the core of their life.


In a way, the ancient practices and teachings of Judaism are living on through the Vipassana, Mindfulness, Buddhist stuff of the past few years — but that’s just collected reification.

Reification of women by a male-dominated society that perceived the gender difference as a threat to their material, intellectual, and philosophical equilibrium. Viz, The Sex Symbol.

Other favourites, to cf with Focault’s description of ‘reverse discourse’: The Jew, The Homo, The Black, The Paki, The Scotsman, The Taff, The City Gent.

See also: objectification.

My First Facebook Applicaiton

This Timeline Word Cloud is my first Facebook application, written in about 16 hours — most of which were spent dealing with horrendous problems within the Facebook JavaScript SDK.

On the whole, it is a pleasant SDK, with clear documentation and plenty of Stack Overflow examples (some ugly, some neat).

What did bugged me was that WebKit-based browsers get very upset when Facebook’s ‘Login’ button/dialogue inserts an IFRAME with an https scheme when its images are hosted on a server with an http scheme. This would have been less of an issue had OSX Chrome actually reported the issue.

(JPEG Image, 519 × 519 pixels)

After writing my own Facebook log-in routine, everything worked like a charm — up to converting the beautiful d3 word cloud SVG to PNG, when Chrome freaked out that I was manipulating Blob and Object URIs. I updated my use of the word cloud to render directly to a canvas from which I could gather pixels to create a URI for my image.

I would have liked to have written the app to use a Facebook ‘canvas’ — to appear within the Facebook site itself — but my host, Vision Internet, require a modest £50 a year for a usable SSL certificate, which this application really doesn’t justify, yet.

I was pleased enough with the results to use the Graph API to produce word clouds of friend lists activities, too — which took about two hours.

What’s the point?

I’ve learnt how to tie-in with Facebook, which was no big deal. I’ve learnt how tight Chrome is, which was news.

Can it pay? No, I doubt it — but when I was developing the first prototype (an hour’s code), I was using d3 bubble graphs, and it might be interesting to see those bubbles filled with images from a paying agency — particularly if the agency had a friend list of news providers: instant and up-to-date promotional posters for current affairs. That would be fun.