Commodification (or commoditization) is the transformation of goods, ideas, or other entities that may not normally be regarded as goods[1] into a commodity.

The Marxist understanding of commodity is distinct from the meaning of commodity in mainstream business theory.

The earliest use of the word commodification in English attested in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1975.[2]

Use of the concept of commodification became common with the rise of critical discourse analysis in semiotics.[3]


Marxist theory

In Marxist political economy,[4] commodification takes place when economic value is assigned to something not previously considered in economic terms; for example, an idea, identity or gender. So commodification refers to the expansion of market trade to previously non-market areas, and to the treatment of things as if they were a tradable commodity.

For instance, sex becomes a marketed commodity, something to be bought and sold rather than freely given. Human beings can be considered subject to commodification in contexts such as genetic engineering, social engineering, cloning, eugenics, social Darwinism, Fascism, mass marketing and employment. An extreme case of commodification is slavery, where human beings themselves become a commodity to be sold and bought. Similarly, the use of non-human animals for food, clothing, entertainment, or testing represents the commodification of other living beings.


While a person dies every day during the eight or more hours in which he or she functions as a commodity, individuals come to life afterward in their spiritual creations. But this remedy bears the germs of the same sickness: that of a solitary being seeking harmony with the world.

Karl Marx extensively criticized the social impact of commodification under the name commodity fetishism and alienation.

Commodification is often criticised on the grounds that some things ought not to be for sale and ought not to be treated as if they were a tradeable commodity.

Business and economics

The word commodification which describes assignment of economic value to something not previously considered in economic terms, is sometimes used to describe the transformation of the market for a unique, branded product into a market based on undifferentiated products.

These two concepts are fundamentally different and the business community more commonly uses commoditization to describe the transformation of the market to undifferentiated products through increased competition, typically resulting in decreasing prices. While in economic terms, commoditization is closely related to and often follows from the stage when a market changes from one of monopolistic competition to one of perfect competition, a product essentially becomes a commodity when customers perceive little or no value difference between brands or versions.

Commoditization can be the desired outcome of an entity in the market, or it can be an unintentional outcome that no party actively sought to achieve.

Consumers can benefit from commoditization, since perfect competition usually leads to lower prices. Branded producers often suffer under commoditization, since the value of the brand (and ability to command price premiums) can be weakened.

However, false commoditization can create substantial risk when premier products do have substantial value to offer particularly in health, safety and security. Examples are counterfeit drugs and generic network services (loss of 911).

Commodification and commoditization

The dispute between the terms of commodification (Marxist political theory) and commoditization (business theory) was first highlighted by Douglas Rushkoff.[6] Douglas highlighted that the words Commodification and Commoditization were used to describe the two different processes between the assignment of value to a social good and the movement towards undifferentiated competition. Rushkoff's outlined an approach which is closer to the common usages of the words.

Commodification (1975, origins Marxist political theory.) is used to describe the process by which something which does not have an economic value is assigned a value and hence how market values can replace other social values. It describes a modification of relationships, formerly untainted by commerce, into commercial relationships in every day use. This definition is, nonetheless, inherently fallacious as all value is, by definition, assigned rather than inherent and, to the extent that this is true in any context diminishes qualifying definitions of value be they "social" or "economic". The most obvious example of this fallacy is the feminist perceived commodification of sex through prostitution. As an act of physical labour, it has, by any market definition, an assigned value and, by extension, an economic one but, as all value is assigned rather than inherent, this cannot be an act of commodification. In the strictest sense, Marxist "commodification" should only be possible, as a diminuation, with that which cannot actually be traded such as "happiness" or "a sense of humour". The ability to trade or exchange in such things would truly be an abomination that is thematically both typical and common in science fiction literature, for example.

Commoditization (early 1990s, origins Business theory) is the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers. It is the movement of a market from differentiated to undifferentiated price competition and from monopolistic to perfect competition.

Cultural Commodification

American author and feminist bell hooks refers to cultural commodification as "eating the other". By this she means that cultural expressions, revolutionary or post modern, can be sold to the dominant culture.[7] Any messages of social change are not marketed for their messages but used as a mechanism to acquire a piece of the 'primitive'. Any interests in past historical culture almost always have a modern twist. According to Mariana Torgovnick,

"What is clear now is that the West's fascination with the primitive has to do with its own crises in identity, with its own need to clearly demarcate subject and object even while flirting with other ways of experiencing the universe."[8]

hooks states that marginalized groups are seduced by this concept because of "the promise of recognition and reconciliation".

"When the dominant culture demands that the Other be offered as sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be inclusive of difference, it invites a resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism."

Socialist movements are losing their voices on change because members of the "movement" are not promoting the message but participating in a fashion statement. Activists' hard works are marketable to the masses without accountability. An example of commodification is the colors red, black, and green, which are the colors of the African Liberation Army (ALA). For people of African descent these colors represent red (the innocent bloodshed of Africans), black (African people) and green (stolen land of Africa). These colors are marketed worldwide on all types of apparel and shoes. The colors do not carry the message of the resistance any longer; they are now merely a fashion statement.

“Given this cultural context, Black Nationalism is more a gesture of powerlessness than a sign of critical resistance. Who can take seriously Public Enemy’s insistence that the dominated and their allies “fight the power” when that declaration is in no way linked to the collective organized struggle. When young black people mouth 1960s’ black nationalist rhetoric, don Kente cloth, gold medallions, dread their hair, and diss the white folks they hang out with, they expose the way meaningless commodification strips these signs of political integrity and meaning, denying the possibility that they can serve as a catalyst for concrete political action. As signs, their power to ignite critical consciousness is diffused when they are commodified. Communities of resistance are replaced by communities of consumption.”

See also


  1. ^ This includes money itself, human beings, and the natural environment, which are not goods or services, let alone commodities. See Karl Polanyi, "The Self-Regulating Market", page 40 in Economics as a Social Science, 2nd edn, 2004.
  2. ^ commodification, n. Second edition, 1989; online version November 2010. <>; accessed 06 January 2011.
  3. ^ "Critical Discourse Analysis and Stylistics". Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  4. ^ Andy Blunden, ed. "Commodification". Encyclopedia of Marxism. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  5. ^ A letter from Che Guevara to Carlos Quijano, published as "From Algiers, for Marcha : The Cuban Revolution Today" (12 March 1965) "Socialism and Man in Cuba"
  6. ^ Rushkoff, Douglas (2005-09-04). "Commodified vs. Commoditized". Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  7. ^ hooks, bell 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation (South End Press)
  8. ^ Torgovnick, Marianna 1991. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago)

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