Commodification: Marx on "Commodity Fetishism" and Mosco "Commodification: Content, Audiences, Labor"

Political Economies of Communication & Culture

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Lucy and Ethel in "The Chocolate Factory"





A Society That Believes in Magic.







Use Value, Exchange Value, Surplus Value









Use Value: "The utility of a thing makes it a use value.... Use-values become a reality only by use or consumption."














Exchange Value: a relation, "as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort," an equation of commensurability... and then some.
















Socially Necessary Labour Time: A key to exchange value, the value that inheres in the commodity of the abstract labour used to produce it. A way of describing average levels of labour productivity in relation to social needs embodied in commodities.











Surplus Value: What is in excess of labour cost that is available for appropriation/exploitation and is the basis for capital accumulation; profit.












Absolute Surplus Value: the extension of the work day for the same wage (Take your Smartphone to work, and your child's ball game, and grocery shopping, and home, and to bed... and... and...)


















Relative Surplus Value: the extension of productivity by extracting more labour out of a given unit of labour by means of measuring and monitoring systems (eg. Taylorism).













Commodity values are not fixed. They are sensitive to changes in productivity, to technology, and to other factors that weigh in to change value.














Capital: Born of the advent of money in the 16th century, capital is the amount of wealth that is used in making profits, for Marx, the variable excess that is pulled out of labour-power to produce surplus value.




















"Thus, an object produced for use by human labour is valued in the market-place, says Marx, in terms of its exchange value. A saucepan, for example, might be worth a hammer in a system of barter but will be valued in more advanced economies in money terms. In capitalist economies, the price of such an object is more than the cost of the labour, or more precisely, what is paid for the labour producing it. The difference between price and wages produces profit, or what Marx calls 'surplus value.' The priorities, or values, of the market therefore replace or repress another set of what are thought to be more human values. Terry Lovell (1980) gives Marx's sense of 'use value' a wider, positive relevance to consumer societies. It defines, she says, 'the ability of the commodity to satisfy some human want."

Peter Brooker, A Glossary of Cultural Theory (2003), pp. 263.





A New Definition of Ideology (Louis Althusser):

Ideology: the practice that transforms an individual's lived relations to the social formation;

  • a "profoundly unconscious" practice that exists to "dispel the contradictions of lived experience";
  • a system of representations through which we live our relationship to the real conditions of existence (not unlike the "realist" approach Mosco takes in which ideas and ideology have real, material consequences).

click here and here















What's in a Fetish? Commodity Fetishism


African Fetish Object
Congo nkisi fetish figure-feathers, belly










A history of the Elevated Foot

"Simultaneously impractical, proper, demure, and daring, high heels have been used to
elevate the status and style of the wearer throughout the history of Western fashion.
Exploring the development and cultural significance of high heels, from the high platforms
of the 16th century chopine to the elegant stilettos created by contemporary shoe designer
Manolo Blahnik, this exhibition reveals how things as varied as politics to pavement have
contributed to the enduring success of the high heel.
On display until February 16, 2003"

Bata Shoe Museum







click here

Commodities seem to be invested with magical properties. Since labour is alienated (who made this Barbie anyhow?), commodities come to take on the social relations that people no longer have. Commodities take on a social life through their exchange to such a degree that, rather than seeing relationships between people, we see relationships between things. Barbie and Ken have the social existence we do not have...















The Double Mystification of Commodity Fetishism (Mosco):

1) Commodities conceal by naturalizing the social relationship between capital and labour


2) Commodites take on a life of their own by becoming reified in a process in which people take on the character of things, become phantom objects in the processes of production.
















The Audience Commodity (Dallas Smythe, 1977):

Mass media are constituted out the process in which audiences, as the primary commodity of mass media, are delivered to advertisers.














Immanent Commodification:

When new commodities are produced by commodities themselves (eg. the ratings commodity or the credit rating commodity), a recursive process.
















Externalizing Commodification: The commodification of things that had been left outside of commodity exchange or were only partially touched by it (water, education, libraries, air).







Capitalism Hits the Fan, Richard Wolff






RSA Animate, David Harvey's "Crises of Capitalism" click here

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