February 11, 2014.
Lecture 6 – Commodities, Commodity Fetishism,
Consumption, and the Social Lives of Things
• Economies are socially organized
• Reflect as well as shape and reinforce the values of a particular society
• Economy is assumed to be all about marketing, demand/supply, quest for profits
o However, Mauss’“Gift” is also a certain kind of economy unlike our stereotypical
understanding of the concept
o Also geopolitical in economic relations
o Economies do not emerge out of some kind of innate/natural human desire for
stuff or accumulation
o E.g., Mauss documented economies based on giving away things rather than
accumulating them; gathering prestige and status through giving things away:
called gift societies
• What do we mean by the term economy?
• Production, distribution, and consumption of objects, services, and knowledge to meet
both needs and desires
• Economy is also about the production, circulation, and consumption of meanings and
values (e.g., what counts as “labour” or the meanings we attach to the act of
consumption), which are culturally variable
o Labour could be defined as working with your hands or body to produce a
o Could also be argued that those who use their minds and bodies to produce
knowledge or innovation could also be work
o What about sex work? Is that work/labour? Many would argue it is not and see it
as pleasure or sin or etc.
Not considered legal work in Papa New Guinea: “Bad women who are
running away from their husbands/children/families/duties and not really
working so why do we pay them for it? Not like building a house or
planting a field.”
• Analysis of sex work and why it’s wrong: Papa New Guinea
o Firstly, the act is morally bad/wrong.
o Secondly, women are supposed to belong to and be under the control of men,
particularly one man.
They are owned by their father’s clan and responsible to them until a
husband pays bride wealth to then own them instead.
When a woman is owned by a man (her husband) other men are not to use
her for anything; sex, work, etc. unless the husband is compensated.
Not really a word for “rape”, but rather a word that implies “stealing a
woman’s genitals”.Also encompasses premarital sex and other… • Implication that women who don’t belong to one man are equally
available toALL men. Therefore, sex work is not legitimate labour
since it is not being done for one man who owns her?
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)
• Humans are not “naturally” profit-seeking beings whose most basic desires are to amass
material wealth. This is a specific form of subjectivity that emerges within capitalist
o Accumulating material wealth is something we learn to value by being a part of
• “Species-being”: It is human nature to transform the natural world around us. Free and
creative human labour is an innate human.
o “Human beings contemplate themselves in the world they create” – Marx
o Not necessarily all dying to go out into the world and work; rather it is human
nature to imagine things, to have ideas, and then to want to manifest those ideas in
the real world.
o Species-being is the creative interchange between humans and their environment.
We act upon nature not only to fulfill basic biological needs, but also to fulfill
expressive and intellectual needs. Labour is symbolic activity made manifest in
the material world. For Marx, free and creative human labour is the universal
human need. – Donald Donham (Marxist anthropologist)
• Class Division
o Capitalism premised on class division
o One class owns the means of production (capitalists); another class does not
o The class who doesn’t cannot enact their “species-being”
o Central to Marx’s definition of a commodity
• Commodity Production
o The production of things to be bought and sold
o The productions of things by a group of people who do not have control over the
means of produ