Gabriella’s review

Posted: January 25, 2012 by macdo142 in Uncategorized

Appaduri’s essay provides us with a critical examination of the social life of the commodity. He draws on prominent material culture scholarly work by authors including Simmel, Marx, and Polyani in an effort to address concepts of exchange, value, and politics and the ways in which they act upon each-other. He concludes that Politics is what creates the link between exchange and value (57). This claim can be understood if we consider Appaduri’s idea of commodities as having socially regulated trajectories of distribution. In this understanding, the object has a social life throughout which it interacts with a number of subjects. Embedded in the life-path of an object is knowledge concerning the object’s production and consumption. Appaduri asserts that “mythological understandings of commodities” are created through the lack of knowledge about the economic path of a commodity. The “diversions” in knowledge can create value. Therefore, the life history of an object will be intentionally mystified in order to add value to the commodity.
What I think will be particularly useful in our study of the Diasporic lives of objects is Appaduri?s understanding of objects as having life trajectories and the way in which knowledge becomes associated with the object as it travels along its path. In this sense, although the object does not have the ability to think and therefore possess knowledge, it nonetheless holds onto a certain body of knowledge that can have the power to manipulate people.
What remained unclear in Appaduri?s introduction was his definition of politics. I understand that politics are involved in creating values of exchange, but by whom are politics controlled?
Kopytoff offers a more in-depth analysis of the commodity. He uses an anthropological lens to understand the commodity by discussing why certain things are not considered commodities. His discussion of the slave trade forms the foundation of his argument that an object may undergo a process of commoditization, singularization, and recommoditization. What underlies Kopytoff?s argument is a visualization of the social world as existing inbetween two polar words: One in which everything is a perfect commodity (can be translated into exchange value) and another world in which everything is singular and cannot be assigned a specific exchange value. It is the tension between these two worlds that creates material culture.
Kopytoff explains that certain things in societies become marked as ?sacred? or ?priceless.? This demarcation can be used in order to secure power or to solidify a particular ideology. Western morality, he argues, is concerned with the commoditization of human attributes, a fear that he thinks stems from a fear of commoditization entering the human sphere, which is linked to slavery. What is interesting about the analysis that follows this claim is that it highlights the importance of language in the classification of certain things as singular, and others as commodities. Societies have sensitivities to certain types of words, and once understood, these sensitivities can be manipulated. We can therefore return to the readings of last week, which dealt with the way in which language is used to give objects power.

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