Through commodification, the value of objects, services, and concepts is determined by their commercial potential. Within a capitalistic economy, commodification turns goods, services, ideas, nature, and personal information into tradable commodities. Arjun Appadurai explains that at its core level, a commodity is anything that has exchange value. In other words: if it has worth then it can be called a commodity!
This process unifies multiple backgrounds – from economic relations to popular culture and intellectual properties – making it a strong force in determining a cultural perspective on exchangeable goods. Certain aspects of life, such as water and education, are seen by many to be too important for commodification; similarly, data, knowledge, information, human or animal lives, etc should not become objects of trading. The concept of commodification has been highly criticized on this basis.
What is Commodification?
Commodification is the process of turning previously unmonetizable products and services into viable economic opportunities by converting them into goods and services of any economic value or exchange value. Through commodification, items that were once considered to be without any financial worth can become lucrative investments.
Commodification is strictly related to Marxist theory, which emphasizes the commodity as a key cell in a capitalistic-driven society. From an economic point of view, the concept describes the assignment of economic value to a good that previously has not been assessed in economic terms.
The commodification conception is integral to understanding the political economy in our post-capitalist society. Commodification refers to how goods, services, and knowledge are converted into market value, through intellectual property rights.
One of the key components driving the drastic impact on the market system is commodification, which allows goods, services, and even knowledge to be exchanged for money or another form of exchange value. Thus creating an economy where anything can have a commercialized use.
For the past few years, commodification has been a primary subject of debate among scholars of social sciences. The New York University Press, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, etc have amplified these conversations with their publications exploring how our world is being shaped by the global economy. Understanding this concept is essential to comprehending both current affairs as well as future prospects.
Controversial subjects of commercialization span a wide range, including but not limited to patriotism, sportsmanship, local culture, intimacy, nature, language, human commodification, etc
1. Human commodification
From slavery to surrogacy, people have often been objectified as commodities. The case of players’ auctions in the Crickets Leagues, Big Bash League, and other platforms have raised debate on whether humans can be commodified or not.
Self-commodification is further highlighted by virginity auctions which involve a person willing to sell their own body for money.
2. Animal commodification
The commodification of animals is an age-old practice, which began when domesticating animals first started.
This includes the exploitation of creatures for a variety of uses like food and medicine production, fashion items such as cosmetics or clothing, medical research experiments, labor or transportation assistance, entertainment activities as well as trading wildlife or keeping them merely to keep us company. Whatever it may be – animal slavery exists in all its forms.
3. Indigenous cultures
Indigenous cultures are particularly susceptible to being commodified, due in part to their close proximity to powerful centers of authority. Unfortunately, those with control over these hubs may take advantage of the cultural expressions, analyze their monetary value and use them as a source for monetary gains. Bell hooks, a renowned American author and feminist, discussed how the powerful culture “consumes” racial disparity and distinction.
In her words, this is referred to as “eating the other”. Even revolutionary manifestations are sold off into mainstream culture to be experienced by a wider audience. Messages of social reform are not only promoted for their content but also so the powerful can gain a slice of “primitive” culture. All displays or references to history have been significantly altered in order to fit modern-day tastes and standards.
4. Public goods
The commercialization of public goods has a wide-reaching impact that affects us all. When governments start to monetize resources or services that were previously free or with subsidies, it leads to commodification.
This is evident in vital sectors such as education, healthcare, and housing. Air and water, essential public goods, can be subject to commodification.
5. Internet and Online Communities
The monetization of the internet has been an influential force in our lives, allowing us to access knowledge, communicate with people, and shop. The commodification trend extends into online communities as well, where influencers have become considered commodities and are embraced by countless users. Consequently, online celebrities now take center stage when it comes to attention and popularity.
Corporations and businesses are increasingly using the data of unsuspecting online communities to make a profit, an exploitative practice known as digital commodification. The commercialization of information enables a powerful authority to reap financial reward as opposed to an open-minded system that encourages free thought. The likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Amazon appear to have somewhat monopolized the internet; thus intensifying and focusing commodification in online networks.
From goth to biker, tattoo, and witchcraft, it is increasingly evident that several subcultures have been reduced to commodities in modern culture.
Commodification has had a hand in shaping various subcultures, through the manipulation of their image and association with commercial benefit.
Tourists commodify local cultures and heritage, transforming them into sellable products. This is distinct from the commercialization of indigenous ways that have been practiced for centuries. An analysis of this phenomenon can provide an understanding of its implications on the cultural landscape.
Tourism commodifies indigenous cultures and displaces their customs by transforming them into profitable offerings for tourists. This could be in the form of entertainment, souvenirs, food markets, or other experiences. What’s more, individuals may leave these visits with partial ideas or representations of the culture which can lead to further commodification.
On several occasions such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day there has been a discussion of them becoming commodified. This term describes the transformation of holidays into commercialized events that are now focused on obtaining material possessions like presents, fancy decorations, trick-or-treating, and sending cards to each other.
Many of the modern-day festivities for numerous holidays have become more connected with business strategies and moneymaking tactics than their original significance. People love Halloween today, though some claim its current association with commodities has removed it from its roots. This same sort of argument is also brought up in regard to Christmas — many yearn to return back to what made this holiday special before heavy commercialization took over.
Commodification In Marxist theory
Karl Marx had a deep understanding of commodities and how they affected capitalism, which he coined “commodity fetishism” and “alienation.” His criticism of the commodification process still holds significance today. He was immensely vocal about its destructive consequences – something we must continue to contemplate in our society.
Every object has a unique use value before it is transformed into a commodity. After going through commodification, the same item takes on an entirely different value based on its exchangeable worth for another product. As Marx explains, this new appraised worth of the good is dependent upon how much time was taken to manufacture it, disregarding any moral standards or environmental concerns in addition to aesthetic attraction that may be related to the item.
Karl Marx predicted that someday, even intangible concepts such as virtue, love, and conscience would become commodities – no longer freely shared or given but instead bought and sold. He noted that “the things which until then had been communicated, but never exchanged… acquired [but] never bought” were all destined to enter the marketplace.
To conclude, we must take the time to reflect on commodification and its implications in our society. Rethinking commodification would suggest that many of life’s elements have been transformed into commodities for public consumption – a practice that needs to be addressed if social justice is to prevail. Reshaping commodification should be an urgent priority as long as we are striving for social progress and improved quality of social life.
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