The Value of Commodities

Posted: January 23, 2012 by aresjoseph in Jan 25

Igor Koptoff’s examines two perspectives about commodities. He uses the economist perspective to define commodities as things that are exchanged for money. In the cultural perspective, “the production of commodities is also a cultural and cognitive process” (Koptoff 64). Commodities are subject to different cultural markers that define them. They have cultural inscribed values that differ from commoditization perspective. In Western Societies, he states that objects are universally seen as commodities while people represent singularization. Koptoff  states that historically people have been marked with economic value as commodities. He uses slavery as an example. Moreover, the social life of a commodity or its value changes in the exchange sphere; from place to place and person to person.

In “Commodities and the Politics of Value,” Appadurai states that; “economic exchange creates values” (1986:3). Appadurai focuses on the economic value of an object. He states that politics connect values and exchange. That would mean that people with access to political power can define the status or value of an object in an exchange system. Appadurai states that an object’s value can change based on social interaction (exchange sphere). Therefore, the social life of an object is not fluid or clearly defined. He calls commodities a “socialized thing” (6). He subdivides his essay into different parts. One section focuses on the “the spirit of commodities,” the next on diversions and paths,  desire and demand, lastly he discusses the relationship between knowledge and commodities (Appadurai 6). His conclusion, is that the status of an object, or the value of a commodity can change over time.

Koptoff and Appadurai essay focuses on similar points; that commodities have social lives and gain status in the exchange sphere. Their research shows that an object’s value is not static. Koptoff provides examples of different types social and cultural commodities and objects that are valued by individuals, while Appadurai essay explores the social construction and organization of value in more depth. The authors did not distinguish value between authetic and non-authetic objects. They also did not mention the way Affect influences a commodity’s status or value. However, Georg Simmel in Appadurai’s essay mention that a person’s desire and enjoyment over a commodity or object  influences its value in the economic system of exchange. If the value of an object never changes over time, does that mean that it has a limited social life? Does an object’s value change over time if it goes through different exchange spheres, and returns to its original owner or home?


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