Amanda’s review

Posted: January 24, 2012 by macdo142 in Jan 25

Throughout Appadurai’s article entitled “Commodities and the Culture of Value” he looks primarily at the social life of commodities and the cultural value placed on them. In his article he stresses the importance of the different cultural standards certain objects hold within certain communities that would make them more or less desirable. How often the object can be obtained and how easily it is acquired in a given community also adds to the commodity of the object. The social life of an object begins to fully emerge when the value becomes apparent to the consumer and the merchant. The economic and monetary amount that the buyer is willing to place on the object, corresponding with the amount the seller is willing to negotiate with determines how important the life of this object is in relation to the society that it is selling in. Appadurai expresses the idea that certain goods show the status of a society and of an individual who holds said goods in there possession. The lives of certain objects can therefore outline the lives of the holders as being economically wealthy, or economically poor. It is through this social process that these objects hold more meanings than just a regular exchange, their value as a commodity is used to express a status and a social hierarchy within the community at large.
In Igor Koptoff “The Cultural Biography of Things” article, he opens up the discussion of a commodity by defining people as a commodity and the exchanges that occur through the labour in which they produce and for whom it is being produced for. He, like Appadurai, also notes that within different communities the value of a commodity is interpreted differently.  This value he concludes can be as simple as the name and the function of the same object and how practical the object is within the society.  If the object is entirely foreign than the worth of it can he of a higher value. A prime example would be the use of the fork within the Disney movie The Little Mermaid.  Within one society the fork is an overproduced object that holds little value but huge function within their community and culture, yet for the mermaid world she places it as an object of value because of its alien like appearance and ambiguous functionality. Hence the culture that she lives in has not imposed any sort of meaning to this object or the desire to own such a foreign object just yet, should she have decided to sell it would have meant a profitable exchange because of the lack of knowledge and the fascination with its alien appearance.
The value of a commodity can and does change as time passes, something can become “antique” and the value of it rises. The craftsmanship of an object can be come unique and authentic to that era or maker making it more or less valuable than the same object of another maker. All of these factors are taken into consideration when determining the lives on an object. The objects life is only as long or as short as its economic life because of this. When the object is no longer desirable or can no longer be considered collectable, unique or authentic than its life; through commodity and desirability is cut short. Appadurai places importance on the social context in which the object is being bought and sold, historically has the objects popularity peeked or has it recently become a want or need for the community?  Has this increased popularity of an object over-killed the initial commodity of it through the mass productions and robbed the object of its longevity?
Within North American society our perception and value of high end commodities is tainted by the everyday use of such objects. For example within North America, at the library people leave equipment worth thousands of dollars unattended. Should we move the same equipment to a different location, lets say in south America and said objects lives with the initial owner would be very quickly interrupted. Does the un-commonality of an object make it less of a commodity despite the financial and economic value of it within a society that is particularly wealthy?

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