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McCann, Anthony. "Beyond the Commons. Enclosure within and without the Commons"
Article published on 5 November 2004
last modification on 26 April 2015

by r-c.
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Commodification (also commoditization) is a popular word among mainly left-wing thinkers, due to Karl Marx’s enthusiasm for the term "commodity" as part of his anti-capitalist arsenal in Das Capital. It is interesting that people who write about the process of commodification concerns themselves almost exclusively with attempts to quantify or define the qualities of ’commodities’ (e.g. Arjun Appadurai’s 1986 edited volume, The Social Life of Things). This seems to me a somewhat counterproductive strategy. To focus on commodities-as-things, to focus on the exchange, movement, access, control, and ownership of commodities in these discussions is ironically to adopt a peculiarly commodifying approach. I would further suggest that to consider commodification as primarily or solely an economic issue is further to diminish its usefulness as a concept in the analysis of areas that are not predominantly economic in focus by making commodification in such contexts invisible. I don’t accept that commodification is a primarily or peculiarly economic process, or that it overly concerns the abstract exchange and movement of commodities.

In my own terms, commodification is what happens when we engage in ’enclosure’, when we engage in strategies of ’closure’ and ’separation’ in the way that we make sense of our experience. We close ’things’ off, ring ’things’ round, make distinctions between "us" and "them", identify, isolate, eliminate variables, and thereby separate, distance, things from other things, people-as-things from other people-as-things, separate ourselves from acknowledgement of many of the realities of our own experience. Think, for example, of the way that thinking, speaking, and acting in military terms (e.g "collateral damage") can keep actual effects on people in social situations out of the picture.


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