Ahmer’s Review

Posted: January 25, 2012 by macdo142 in Uncategorized

A gentle critique of Kopytoff:

Kopytoff article “Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as process” has shown that there is a clash between commodity and singularity. There is the process of commoditization which is the process of placing, or inventing, value (monetarily) of a good for the purpose of trade. This good can be ranging from precious heirlooms to human slavery. The construction of this value is moulded by a number of forces: political, social, economical, private and public spheres. Singularity is the cultural phenomena that is placed on an object. That object is subject to history, longing, metaphorical significance and, most importantly, tradition. Tradition is the holding of a cultural values such as the ones mentioned above. It is therefore fair to say that the commoditization and singularity are not contradictory to each other but rather they are in contestation. One force pulling and one force pushing. It is most certainly not a contradiction but rather a constantly negotiated process of dialogue. Indeed, Kopytoff mentions in the economic model that we participate today, everything is commodity based. However, the value of the object in question is constructed and therefore is not a constant. It can change over time, over place and over ownership. It is the same for human slavery. One can look at the comparison for diamonds and water. Water is truly the most essential aspect of our daily lives yet we place diamonds as the representation of a bond between two people in a marriage. Before the 1920’s, the diamond was not as valuable as it is today. Put it this way: If the Earth’s water supply could be bought with diamonds and diamonds only, we would all be digging. And in that mad crisis, if any one of us found a significant other, that other would receive water as a token of marriage. How much water? Well that depends of course on how much you love your significant other…

My thoughts on Appadurai’s thoughts of value:

Appadurai’s article “Commodities and the Politics of Value” argues that the value of an object increases as it is exchanged. This value is shaped by political means, specifically power relations. It is based on the elite and it is the elite’s responsibility to retain the status of being elite. However, when coming across societies that do not want to trade, as Appadurai puts it “closed societies”, there becomes a clash. If the closed society decides to trade, it is no longer a closed society and thus many of it’s goods are up for trade. Furthermore, the trade of those goods will be disputed because what the closed society perceives as value will most likely deviate from what the elite view as value. Therein becomes a contestation of value and power relations. How and who decides the price of the object in question is the result of the contest of power. There is also the question of specialized knowledge. This is crucial because knowledge itself is valued. Most people who do not know the story or culture behind a diasporic good usually pay someone who does so that the owner can understand the story of the object. If the object has no mediator, then the object is story-less. It is the knowledge of that object which is crucial to adding value. One can argue craftsmanship is a factor in determining value however without the knowledge, the craftsmanship is not appreciated and hence under valued. One can use the example of paper currency as an object that increases value as it is exchanged. The more the exchange, the increase the goods sold, the more valuable the paper currency becomes. It is a direct correlation with the economy. U.S. paper currency is based on a value that is constructed and not actually gold based (Nixon-era). The recession shows that the value of paper money had no faith and gold reached an all time high. Why? It is because the constructed value of that paper money was in decline and thus that medium of value depreciated which in turn appreciated something more physical: gold. Strangely enough, gold does not become the new currency but rather a form of insurance against failing economies and a form of investment. What one has to remember that value is always relative and in context.

Questions for thought:

1) An object’s value will definitely change over time, place and ownership. Is there a formula, a method to the madness, to determine the value of a diasporic object or will it be different every single time it changes spheres?

2) When it comes to sale of the a diasporic good, who has the right to say what the value of the good is? Where and how does the agreement of the sale of the good come to terms? Whose in power? Whose the dominant and whose the dominated?

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