Contemporary scholars have harnessed ‘the social’ to so many theoretical paradigms that the phrase no longer conjures a common set of assumptions about society, culture, representation, or the methods by which we write history. Nevertheless, whether one uses ‘the social’ to invoke an objective infrastructure that underwrites culture, as members of the Annales school did, to suggest a gradual, continuously changing process that establishes threshold conditions for cultural and political events, as Marx and Toqueville did, or to identify one in the series of relatively autonomous domains that compose modern life, as Luhmann tended to do, then to deploy ‘the social’ as a noun automatically mobilizes certain theoretical claims implicit in the term’s grammatical status. It is possible to use ‘the social’ as a noun phrase that designates an abstraction because of a historical process that has made abstractions seem as real as material entities. As a consequence of the rise of modern abstraction, in other words, it has become possible to think about social structures, relationships, and processes as entities, as relatively autonomous, and as sufficiently systematic to warrant scientific descriptions, which are systematic as well. Whatever individual theorists mean by the term, ‘the social’ has become thinkable as part of the long history of reification that we call modernity.