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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Commodification

ALEXANDRA NUTTER SMITH

University of Washington-Tacoma, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs045

Commodification refers to the process by which goods or services that were previously valued for their use are assigned an economic value and become exchangeable items (commodities). In capitalist societies, things like human labor, natural resources, and even cultural expression become tradable entities; frequently, relationships also take on commercial meaning. This exchange value is not something that is intrinsic to these goods and services, but is rather the result of the neoliberal drive to expand the circulation of capital. With origins in Marxist political economy, commodification has become an important concept in various scholarly applications of critical theory (including areas of inquiry such as sociology, feminist theory, environmental studies, and media studies). In social science and cultural studies, “commodification” is generally used interchangeably with “commoditization,” although other areas may separate the two by defining “commoditization” as the process by which formerly distinct goods become homogenized in the eyes of consumers.

One effect of commodification has been an increasing focus on consumer activity rather than on production-side concerns, a phenomenon that Marx called commodity fetishism. In consumer culture, the conditions of producers and their labor are obscured in the exchange of goods and services, so that the meaning of goods and ...

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