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Not to be confused with commoditization.

Commodification is the transformation of goods and services, as well as ideas or other entities that normally may not be considered goods,[1] into a commodity (in the Marxist sense of the word).

The Marxist understanding of commodity is distinct from the meaning of commodity in mainstream business theory. One way to summarize the difference is that commoditization is about proprietary things becoming generic, whereas commodification is about unsalable things becoming salable.

Commodity played a key role throughout Marx's work, he considered it a cell-form of capitalism and a key starting point for an analysis of this politico-economic system.[2]

The earliest use of the word "commodification" in English attested in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1975.[3]

Use of the concept of commodification became common with the rise of critical discourse analysis in semiotics.[4]

Marxist theory[edit]

Human beings can be considered subject to commodification in contexts such as genetic engineering, social engineering, cloning, eugenics, social Darwinism, Fascism, mass marketing and employment. An extreme case of commodification is slavery, where human beings themselves become a commodity to be sold and bought. Similarly, the use of non-human animals for food, clothing, entertainment, or testing represents the commodification of other living beings.[citation needed]


Karl Marx extensively criticized the social impact of commodification under the name commodity fetishism and alienation.[5]

Commodification is often criticised on the grounds that some things ought not to be for sale and ought not to be treated as if they were a tradeable commodity—for example education, data, knowledge in the digital age.[6]

Business and economics[edit]

See also: commodity

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Commoditization can be the desired outcome of an entity in the market, or it can be an unintentional outcome that no party actively sought to achieve. (For example, see Xerox#Trademark.)

Consumers can benefit from commoditization, since perfect competition usually leads to lower prices. Branded producers often suffer under commoditization, since the value of the brand (and ability to command price premiums) can be weakened.[citation needed]

However, false commoditization can create substantial risk when premier products do have substantial value to offer, particularly in health, safety and security. Examples are counterfeit drugs and generic network services (loss of 911).[citation needed]

Commodification and commoditization[edit]

The terms commodification and commoditization are sometimes used synonymously,[7] particularly in the sense of this article, to describe the process of making commodities out of anything that was not used to be available for trade previously; compare anthropology usage.[8][9]

However, other authors distinguish them (as done in this article), with commodification used in social contexts to mean that a non-commercial good has become commercial, typically with connotations of "corrupted by commerce", while commoditization is used in business contexts to mean when the market for an existing product has become a commodity market, where products are interchangeable and there is heavy price competition. In a quip: "Microprocessors are commoditized. Love is commodified."[10]

The difference between the terms of commodification (Marxist political theory) and commoditization (business theory) has been drawn by James Surowiecki (1998)[10] and Douglas Rushkoff (2005).[11] In particular, Rushkoff argued that the words commodification and commoditization were used to describe the two different processes of the assignment of value to a social good, and the movement towards undifferentiated competition, respectively:

Commodification (1975, origins Marxist political theory) is used to describe the process by which something which does not have an economic value is assigned a value and hence how market values can replace other social values. It describes a modification of relationships, formerly untainted by commerce, into commercial relationships in everyday use.

Commoditization (early 1990s in business theory) is the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers. It is the movement of a market from differentiated to undifferentiated price competition and from monopolistic to perfect competition.

Cultural commodification[edit]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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 shoes. The colors do not carry the message of the resistance any longer; they are now merely a fashion statement.

Given this cultural context, Black Nationalism is more a gesture of powerlessness than a sign of critical resistance. Who can take seriously Public Enemy's insistence that the dominated and their allies 'fight the power' when that declaration is in no way linked to the collective organized struggle. When young black people mouth 1960s' black nationalist rhetoric, don Kente cloth, gold medallions, dread their hair, and diss the white folks they hang out with, they expose the way meaningless commodification strips these signs of political integrity and meaning, denying the possibility that they can serve as a catalyst for concrete political action. As signs, their power to ignite critical consciousness is diffused when they are commodified. Communities of resistance are replaced by communities of consumption.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This includes money itself, human beings, and the natural environment, which are not goods or services, let alone commodities. See Karl Polanyi, "The Self-Regulating Market", page 40 in Economics as a Social Science, 2nd edn, 2004.
  2. ^ Prodnik, Jernej (2012). "A Note on the Ongoing Processes of Commodification: From the Audience Commodity to the Social Factory". triple-C: Cognition, Communication, Co-operation (Vol. 10, No. 2) - special issue "Marx is Back" (edited by Christian Fuchs and Vincent Mosco). pp. 274–301. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  3. ^ commodification, n. Second edition, 1989; online version November 2010. <>; accessed 6 January 2011.
  4. ^ "Critical Discourse Analysis and Stylistics" (PDF). Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  5. ^ Marx, Karl (1867). "Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, Chapter 1, Section 3 The Form of Value or Exchange-Value, Part 4 The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof". Progress Press, Moscow. 
  6. ^ Rigi, Jakob (2012). "Peer to Peer Production as the Alternative to Capitalism: A New Communist Horizon". Journal of Peer Production. 
  7. ^ Robert Hartwell Fiske’s Dictionary of Unendurable English: A Compendium of Mistakes in Grammar, Usage, and Spelling with commentary on lexicographers and linguists, Robert Hartwell Fiske, p. 99
  8. ^ Appadurai, Arjun, ed. (1986). The Social Life of Things: Commodities in a Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. , also cited in Rethinking commodification, Martha M. Ertman, Joan C. Williams, 2005, in Afterword by Carol Rose, pp. 402–403, which cites various uses of commodification to mean "become a commodity market", and considers the use of commodification (Peggy Radin, 1987) and commoditization (Appadurai, 1986) as equivalent.
  9. ^ Greenwood, D.J. (1977). V. L. Smith, ed., ed. "Culture by the Pound: An Anthropological Perspective on Tourism as Cultural Commoditization". Hosts and Guests (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press). pp. 129–139. 
  10. ^ a b Surowiecki, James (1998-01-30). "The Commoditization Conundrum". Slate. Retrieved 2015-08-16. What corporations fear is the phenomenon now known, rather inelegantly, as “commoditization.” What the term means is simply the conversion of the market for a given product into a commodity market, which is characterized by declining prices and profit margins, increasing competition, and lowered barriers to entry. (“Commoditization” is therefore different from “commodification,” the word cultural critics use to decry the corruption of higher goods by commercial values. Microprocessors are commoditized. Love is commodified. 
  11. ^ Rushkoff, Douglas (2005-09-04). "Commodified vs. Commoditized". Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  12. ^ hooks, bell 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation (South End Press)
  13. ^ Torgovnick, Marianna 1991. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago)


  • Farah, Paolo Davide, Tremolada Riccardo, Desirability of Commodification of Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Unsatisfying Role of IPRs, in TRANSNATIONAL DISPUTE MANAGEMENT, Special Issues "The New Frontiers of Cultural Law: Intangible Heritage Disputes", Volume 11, Issue 2, March 2014, ISSN 1875-4120 Available at
  • Farah, Paolo Davide, Tremolada Riccardo, Intellectual Property Rights, Human Rights and Intangible Cultural Heritage, Journal of Intellectual Property Law, Issue 2, Part I, June 2014, ISSN: 0035-614X, Giuffre, pp. 21–47. Available at
  • Schimank, Uwe and Volkmann, Ute (ed.): The Marketization of Society: Economizing the Non-Economic. Bremen: Research Cluster "Welfare Societies", 2012.
  • Prodnik, Jernej (2012). "A Note on the Ongoing Processes of Commodification: From the Audience Commodity to the Social Factory". triple-C: Cognition, Communication, Co-operation (Vol. 10, No. 2) - special issue "Marx is Back" (edited by Christian Fuchs and Vincent Mosco). pp. 274–301. Retrieved 30 March 2013.