Elyssa Response Jan 23

Posted: January 23, 2012 by elyssamayer in Uncategorized

KOPTOFF: “The Cultural Biography of Things”

The author Koptoff in “The Cultural Biography of Things” discusses the definition of commodities as being entrenched in notions of exchange value.  The saleability or non-saleability of an object or item determines that objects status and worth. Contradictorily the author also suggests that the worth, purpose and meaning of an object is culturally imposed.

This culturally imposition onto an object can and does change over time and space and quite possibly holds a completely different meaning to various individuals. The commodity is not a commodity unless someone somewhere has labelled it as a desired or needed item.  As the author suggests, the cultural definition and redefinition of objects is what is most significant.

Most goods are created to be consumed, to become “terminal”, and yet, the importance and the wealth that is attached to a hunk of cheese in an old trunk or a can of peas in the midst of wartime food shortages, morphs our understanding of objects and commodities.

The different spheres of commoditization are fluid and always shifting by what pressures of focus we allow an object to endure. To singularize objects, is to uncommodify these objects and make them revered. This process speaks to the argument that value is assigned and more culturally fabricated then economically assigned. As Koptoff suggests, “culture ensures that some things remain unambiguously singular” and resists the commoditization of the world by keeping things sacred. The sanctification of these singular commodities allows them to be removed from their usual commodity sphere.

Increasing individual singularizing is random, almost ad hoc that now encompasses various items, whose value as a commodity is limited, and is based solely on its antiquity and reference to the passage of time.

APPADURAI: “Commodities and the Culture of Value”

Value is a judgement made about objects by specific subjects. It is what political, social or cultural value we assign to these objects that make them valuable or invaluable. This value is reciprocal and accepted by those who partake in the exchange of value assigned objects. Therefore, exchange inevitably creates value, and thus commodities have social lives.

Commodities are things with a specific social potential. As the author Appadurai discusses, some may view commodities as a purely commercialized, market-oriented, capitalist item. This perception disregards the evolution and fluctuation of commodities, how they may and do change over time and space.

Commodities not only function as present day consumer goods that have a purpose, but they also provide a view into both our historical and present day cultural practices and values. Since the values of commodities are always changing, it allows us to understand the fabricated significance that is placed on an item at a given time and place.

Both authors heavily place importance on both the economic conditions of the time and the cultural realm of a commodity. However, a definitive approach to understanding commodities is ambiguous. As Koptoff discusses, the paradox is, one attaches market value through increased sentimentality allowing something of no value to increase value. Does the assigned value of an object always have to be calculated monetarily? Which comes first, the economic importance or the cultural assignment of value?

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