Commodities as Objects

Posted: January 23, 2012 by nelsonbakshidts403 in Jan 25

In Koptoff’s article, he talks about how objects as a commodity changes from region to region and changes over time. Commodities are developed so that they may be exchanged based on use value for individuals; however, commodities are developed so that they can be exchanged only for money. Koptoff explains that there happens to be a difference in Western society’s view of commodities in comparison to the East and Africa. Koptoff states though that trade between societies are a key aspect in diasporic individuals. The trade of commodities creates an anthropological history of not only an object but also of a culture. Individuals in what Koptoff describes to be part of “small scale” and “complex commercialized” societies are vastly different in which history has allowed to happen without intervention. Complex society individuals have multiple identities in which they are at times conflicting to one another which leads them to no clear loyalty to anything while in comparison to “small scale” society individuals has a single identity in which their connected to a single story.

In Appadurai’s article, he talks about the social life in which commodities are interacted within life. Appardurai argues that the relationship between commodities and value is actually a relationship between commodity and power. Those that have the power within society are capable to regulate the regulations and the process in which commodities move and are able to be purchased. However as society and the greater population that do not possess power attempt to loosen the regulations so that it creates a power shift. The social hierarchy that is in place creates a different value system for each section of the hierarchy. Those that are at the lower level of the hierarchy will view certain commodities as unnecessary and unattainable creating a sense of high-end and valuable, while those in the higher arc of the hierarchy will view it is as an exclusive commodity to them.

What Koptoff’s article was able to do well is that he gave plenty of examples in which readers have a basic knowledge of or would have heard in their local news, such an example of this would be Ontario surrogate mother policy that is in place. He also talked about how prominent issues that have creates lots of controversy when brought up, such as the pro-life vs. pro-choice argument that rises up people’s personal morals. Appadurai’s article though, brings in the historical aspect to the society and how the powerful are able to control the laws and regulations in states to create an increase in demand in commodities and at the same time create exclusiveness. Appaduari creates a positive correlation on how the demand from historical European conquest and the increase in advertisement has led to the current market place and the structure that is in place from it. However though both of these authors have positive aspects to their articles, there are negative aspects to both of them. Koptoff’s article paints a more favourable picture in which commodities are a beneficial attachment to western society and that those in “small scale” societies are worst off but rather they are able to make life without the need for excess. While in Appadurai’s article, it lacks coherent structure in and logical structure and tends to go off in several directions at the same time and is unable to connect back to the original point that he was trying to make.

So from Koptoff’s article, how does the creation of commodities in exchange only for money created an in balance in society where money becomes a ruler of everything? In Appadurai’s article how the powerful and elite influence over the rules and regulation does created a distorted view for necessities and the want for the unattainable?

  1. tupakkat says:

    Nelson, I have to agree with your critique on Appadurai. Despite the fact that this essay is esteemed a groundbreaking milestone and an important point of reference in economic anthropology, the lack of easy comprehensibility and the numerous references to other complex theories, whose detailed knowledge Appadurai presupposes, make the reading quite tedious.

    Regarding Kopytoff, I understood his analysis of small-scale vs. complex societies such that he sees the difference not in a generally more extensive commoditization of complex societies but rather in the large number of conflicting schemes of valuation and singularization.

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