As many authors and academics have noted, since 1989 contemporary art has claimed a significant shift in its relationship to society and the social. Insofar as this has been made intelligible through the categories of ‘socially engaged art’ or ‘social practice’, the tendency within current discourse has been to read such developments as exclusively concerned with the internal history of artistic practice. By emphasising the artistic elements of this work what these accounts fail to recognise is the necessary importance to ground themselves in a critical account of society and the social. That is, in raising the formulation of the social in art, such discourse occludes the ways in which art may be genuinely social. Taking this as context, this research reconsiders the neglected Durkheimian concept of fait social [social fact] in the work of Theodor W. Adorno particularly as it is referenced in his posthumously published Aesthetic Theory (1970). By recognising fait social as a reference beyond the level of referent, this research proposes to read it as an invitation to think Aesthetic Theory in the context of Adorno’s wider work on the social, society and Western sociology. By doing so, and further treating it within a history that includes the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel and neo-Hegelian challenges of Gillian Rose, it is argued that contemporary artistic developments do not simply pose problems for art-historical frameworks of intelligibility. Rather, the problem here centres on comprehending socially engaged art as bound to the contradictions that formulate a ‘social’ under the increasingly economically mediated conditions of high capitalism. Accordingly, the ultimate proposition that will be advanced is that revisiting certain claims made by Adorno and Hegel enables a distinctive and rigorous philosophy that can think the very problems current discourse cannot.