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  • Things (or at least some things) have use value (give examples) Commodities, by definition, have exchange value. The nature of commodity exchange through markets, especially one in which money is used, leads to “commodity fetishism”
  • In a market system, commodities are “fetishized” What does this mean? A fetish is something that stands for something else (and also has a secondary meaning as an “object of desire”) The exchange value of commodities is based on social relationships among people; but people generally don’t see it that way – they see value as somehow inherent in the commodity (the thing) and/or in the price Marx – “commodity fetish” Money heightens this effect of separating use value from exchange value (other things, used like money, can as well… gold, seashells, etc.). For Marx – the values of commodities stood for the social relationships of production (relationship between labor, capitalist, and consumer); He was mainly interested in how this affected the relationship of labor and capital. Markets are SYMBOLIC systems of VALUES


  • 1. SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition Lecture 8: Culture and Commodification Eric C. Thompson Semester 1, 2011/2012 MONEY
  • 2. Where Are We Going?
    • Part 1: What is Anthropology?
      • Strangers Abroad, Race, Culture
    • Part 2: What do Anthropologists Study?
      • Kinship
      • Gender
      • Economy
      • Community
    • Part 3: Current Debates and Trends
      • Representing Others, The Poetry of Culture, World Anthropologies
  • 3. Last Week…
    • Cultural Contexts of Economics and Exchange:
    • !Xharo exchange (Making/Maintaining Social Relationships)
    • Potlatch (Status; Redistribution)
    • Kula Ring (A Complex System)
    • Wholesale Sushi (Further Complexity)
      • (Continued This Week)
  • 4. This Week (Lecture Outline)…
    • Further Anthropological Perspectives on Economics and Exchange…
    • Modern Economics as a Cultural System
      • Wholesale Sushi
      • Branding; Production of Value through Consumption
    • Commodification of Human Relationships
      • Money as a Cultural System of Values
      • Commodity Fetishism
    • Bureaucratic Organization & Patron-Client Networks: A Clash of Cultures
  • 5. Practical Application and Food for Thought
    • What kinds of exchanges to you participate in?
      • Think of shopping at 7-11, birthday presents, little red packets, what else??
      • What is important in these, the people you are exchanging with or the things being exchanged?
    • Next time you are standing in line at Fair Price, 7-11 or wherever, look at what you are buying.
      • Reflect on “Wholesale Sushi”. Can you imagine all the cultural meanings and social relationships that brought the thing you are buying to market?
      • Pay attention to the clerk at the register. Have you ever considered your social relationship with him/her?
  • 6. Modern Economics as a Cultural System
  • 7. The Magic of Markets
    • Culture in “primitive” exchange/economics:
      • !Xharo, “Red Packets” (about relationships)
      • Potlatching, Feasting (about status)
    • What about industrial, capitalist societies?
    • Our economy runs on rationality, right?
    • “ Laws” of supply and demand (rational, “natural laws” – not cultural?).
    • There’s no magic, no arbitrary symbolism, nothing mysterious or irrational in our economy… is there?
  • 8. “ Wholesale Sushi”
    • Tsukiji Fish market (Ethnography of a Place)
    • History
    • Social Organization
    • Food Culture (What is “Japanese” Food?)
    • Industrialization
    • Domesticity (Family/Kinship) and Cuisine
    • Authenticity, the “Invention of Tradition”
    • Temporal Patterns (“Time to Eat”)
    • Tradescapes, Culinaryscapes, “Webs of Significance”
  • 9. Toro (Tuna Belly)
    • How is “value” created?
    • Before the 1950s, toro was “not fit for cats”?
    • Now, toro is considered premium sushi.
    • How did this happen?
      • Changes in technology (refrigeration)
      • Changes in taste preferences (marketing)
      • Transformed “cultural” values (taste) = transformed “economic” value (price)
  • 10. Branding
    • How does branding create (surplus) value?
    • Traditional, “Means of Production” theory:
      • Surplus value is created in the production of products (commodities)
      • “ Value Added” in modifying/manufacturing
      • Labor of workers “exploited”
    • Newer, “Means of Consumption” theory:
      • Surplus value is created in the consumption of products (commodities)
      • “ Value Co-Creation” between consumers and producers of products
      • Labor of consumers “exploited”
  • 11. Creating Value through Consumption
    • Value Co-Creation
    • Ways that Producers (Companies) draw on (exploit?) value created by consumers:
      • Feedback and marketing research.
      • Personal relationship between consumer and product; products become part of a consumer’s identity .
      • Brands sell at a premium (surplus value).
    • If value is “Co-Created” who owns it?
  • 12. Trademark, Copyright and Intellectual Property
    • Value is “co-created” but Producers “own” the brand – enforced through trademark and copyright.
    • Case of Sharad Haskar and Coca-cola (2005 billboard critiquing water shortage in Chennai)
  • 13. Questions for Reflection
    • What brands do you consume?
    • Why do you value those brands? How is that value created? Does it translate into price… do you pay a premium?
      • Do you signal something about yourself through branded goods?
      • Does the brand have personal (nostalgic) meaning to you?
    • What does it mean if the brand “says something about you” is part of your identity… but you don’t “own” the brand?
  • 14. Modern Economic Culture and the Commodification of Human Relationships
  • 15. Commodification of Human Relationships
    • Two Examples of the Culture Values of Modern, Economically “Rational Markets”:
    • Money
      • Arbitrary symbolic value based on shared beliefs
    • Commodity Fetishism
      • Valuing the relationship among goods; devaluing relationships among people
  • 16. “ Two Sides of the Coin” (Keith Hart, optional reading)
    • Token of authority
      • Of states; top down
    • Commodity with a price
      • In markets; bottom up
    • Cultural governed by rules, norms, shared ideas
    • Social mediated by exchange, interaction, relationships
  • 17. Money
    • Money is a “pure commodity”; symbolic; cultural
    • It has no use value, only exchange value
    • Money is a “fetish” of (stands in the place of) social relationships
  • 18. SMART a poem by Shel Silverstein QUARTER (25 cents) DIME (10 cents) NICKEL (5 cents) PENNY (1 cent)
  • 19. SMART! My dad gave me one dollar bill ‘ Cause I’m his smartest son, And I swapped it for two shiny quarters ‘ Cause two is more than one!
  • 20. SMART! And then I took the quarters And traded them to Lou For three dimes – I guess he don’t know That three is more than two!
  • 21. SMART! Just then, along came old blind Bates And just ‘cause he can’t see He gave me four nickels for my three dimes, And four is more than three!
  • 22. SMART! And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs Down at the seed-feed store, And the fool gave me five pennies for them, And five is more than four!
  • 23. SMART! And then I went and showed my dad, And he got red in the cheeks And closed his eyes and shook his head - - Too proud of me to speak!
  • 25. Commodity Fetishism
    • What is a Fetish?
      • A fetish stands in the place of something else (to the point that the ‘something else’ disappears).
      • Religious fetish: An object of worship; a representation of a clan.
      • Sexual fetish: Sexual attachment to or gratification from an object in place of a person.
  • 26. What is a Commodity?
    • Use Value vs. Exchange Value
    • “ Commodity” = A Thing with Exchange Value
  • 27. Commodity Fetish
    • A commodity stands in the place of the social relationships between exchange partners.
    • “ A commodity is … a mysterious thing… because the relationship of the producers … is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.”
    • -Karl Marx
    • Capital Vol. 1
  • 28. The Cultural Nature of Commodities (and Money)
    • Markets are SYMBOLIC systems of VALUE
    • Money – mediator of value
    • Social relationships are abstracted into money and commodities.
    • Social differentiation based on relationships mediated by money & commodities = Class
  • 29. Patron-Client Networks and Rational Bureaucracies Comparing Two Cultural Systems (A Clash of Cultures)
  • 30. Patron-Client Networks
    • Patron: From “patri” (father). A person who provides support to (takes care of) others.
    • Client: The ‘lesser’ in a relationship. One who receives support from a patron and at the same time “serves” the patron.
    • Many different cultural forms (for example):
      • European Patrimonialism (father as ideal)*
      • Chinese Filial Piety (son as ideal)*
      • Malayo-Polynesian “Big Men” (orang besar)**
    *Julia Adams, “Rule of the Father: . . . In Early Modern Europe” ** Benandari community in “A Man without Pigs”
  • 31. “ Rational” Bureaucracies
    • Bureaucratic Rationalism (Max Weber)
    • Displacement of “Patrimonialism” in Europe.
    • Shift from Feudal Relationships (Kings, Lords, Peasants) to Nation-States (Government, Citizens) and Industrial-Capitalism (Owners, Workers)
  • 32. A Clash of Cultures
    • Culture: Learned, Shared Knowledge. Systems of Meaning – Ideas, Beliefs, Values
    • Patron-Client Networks (PCN) and Bureaucratic Rationalism (BR) are culturally different schemes for ordering human relationships
    • From the point-of-view of PCN, BR is cold, impersonal and de-humanizing.
    • From the point-of-view of BR, PCN lead to corruption and nepotism.
  • 33. Comparing Patron-Client Networks to Rational Bureaucracies
    • Patron-Client Networks
    • Personal Relationships
    • Treat People as Individuals
    • Individual Judgment
    • “ It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”
    • Limits to “personal touch” (hard to treat masses as individuals)
    • Bureaucratic Rationalism
    • Categorical Relationships
    • Treat People as Categories
    • Bureaucratic Rules
    • Fairness and Meritocracy (what, not who you know)
    • Effective for organizing relationships among “the masses”
  • 34. Comparing American and Minangkabau Business Cultures
    • American Business Ideals
    • Greed is good.
    • Competition (always beat the other guy)
    • Work Hard
    • Be the Biggest
    • Make the most Money (Profit Oriented)
    • Individualism (I am out to maximize my benefits)
    • Datuk’s Business Secrets
    • Treat people well.
    • Cooperation (work with the other guy)
    • Work Smart
    • Be the Best
    • Work with the Best (People Oriented)
    • Collectivism (I rise and fall with my network)
  • 35. Is a “Bureaucracy” an Economic System?
    • Economy: a system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.
    • Bureaucracies determine “who gets what”.
    • Socialist, welfare, national states.
    • “ Neo-liberal” capitalism: State bureaucracies set rules of exchange (e.g. monetary policy)
    • Modern corporations operate on the cultural principles of “bureaucratic rationalism”
  • 36. Question for Reflection
    • Do you relate to people as a you a bureaucrat or a patron (or client )?
    • Do you interact with people as people (whole persons) or as categories (clerk, teacher, student, taxi uncle, etc.)?
    • What are the social and cultural conditions leading you to one or the other?
  • 37. A Final Thought . . .
    • Who understands economics better? “Primitive” Foragers or “Civilized” Consumers?
    • !Xoma broke into a broad smile, “I see what your problem is! /Tontah, you don’t understand our way . . . You see, we don’t trade with things , we trade with people .” (Lee, p.119)