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Updated: Oct 3, 2019

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Concepts of Capital: The Commodification of Social Life

Within a capitalist economic system, Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities or objects of trade. A commodity at its most basic, according to Arjun Appadurai, is "anything intended for exchange," or any object of economic value.

Commodification is often criticized on the grounds that some things ought not to be treated as commodities—for example water, education, data, information, knowledge, human life, and animal life.

According to Gøsta Esping-Andersen people are commodified or 'turned into objects' when selling their labor on the market to an employer. Slavery is a form of the commodification of people.

Cultural commodification

American author and feminist bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) refers to cultural commodification as "eating the other". By this she means that cultural expressions revolutionary or post modern, can be sold to the dominant culture. Any messages of social change are not marketed for their messages but used as a mechanism to acquire a piece of the "primitive". Any interests in past historical culture almost always have a modern twist. According to Mariana Torgovnick:

What is clear now is that the West's fascination with the primitive has to do with its own crises in identity, with its own need to clearly demarcate subject and object even while flirting with other ways of experiencing the universe.

Hooks states that marginalized groups are seduced by this concept because of "the promise of recognition and reconciliation".

When the dominant culture demands that the Other be offered as sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be inclusive of difference, it invites a resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism.

Socialist movements are losing their voices on change because members of the "movement" are not promoting the message but participating in a fashion statement. Activists' hard works are marketable to the masses without accountability. An example of commodification is the colors red, black, and green, which are the colors of the African Liberation Army (ALA). For people of African descent these colors represent red (the innocent bloodshed of Africans), black (African people) and green (stolen land of Africa). These colors are marketed worldwide on all types of apparel and clothes.

Digital commodification is when a business or corporation uses information from an online community without their knowledge for profit. The commodification of information allows a higher up authority to make money rather than a collaborative system of free thoughts.

Business and economics

The word commodification, which describes assignment of economic value to something not previously considered in economic terms, is sometimes also used to describe the transformation of the market for a unique, branded product into a market based on undifferentiated products.

These two concepts are fundamentally different and the business community more commonly uses commoditization to describe the transformation of the market to undifferentiated products through increased competition, typically resulting in decreasing prices. While in economic terms, commoditization is closely related to and often follows from the stage when a market changes from one of monopolistic competition to one of perfect competition, a product essentially becomes a commodity when customers perceive little or no value difference between brands or versions.