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

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Commodity Fetishism

MATTHEW P. MCALLISTER

Pennsylvania State University, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs048

“Commodity fetishism,” a term coined by Karl Marx in Capital, has been expanded beyond the commodity itself in consumer culture studies to apply to issues of branding, advertising, and media economics. The concept has arguably become more relevant in an era of integrated marketing, licensing, and digital media.

For Marx, commodity fetishism referred to how the social relations and production processes of a thing, including the dynamics of labor, were masked by commodification, thus decontextualizing the commodity and making it seem autonomous from its means of production. In commodification, relations between people are hidden, while relations between things become naturalized. Describing this process as “transcendent,” “metaphysical,” “mysterious,” “fantastic,” “magic,” and “necromancy,” Marx borrowed the fetishism metaphor from religion. He saw a fetish as analogous to a totem, which becomes infused with supposed magical qualities, a construction that denies its human origins (Marx 1967/1867, 76–81). The masking of production contexts and the resulting perception of the commodity's autonomy and agency may be viewed as a “double mystification” (Mosco 2009, 131). In this sense, the concept has an intrinsic ideological component.

As Jhally (1987) notes, Marx wrote of this process before the development of image-based advertising and advanced consumerism. However, with ...

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