The Commodification of Everything   /   Summer 2003   /    Bibliographic Review

Commodification and Consumer Society

A Bibliographic Review

Edward Song

Margaret Hamilton standing next to the navigation software that she and her MIT team produced for the Apollo Project (1969).

Worries about commodification are as old as the market itself, but these worries appear to have grown with the increasingly consumeristic character of contemporary society and the remarkable social changes of the last ten years. With the political revolutions of the last decade, free markets have replaced command economies in the former communist states, and even in the advanced capitalist nations, we have seen a remarkable social transformation as commodification and the ethos of consumerism have become dominant cultural forces. A wider range of goods are being bought and sold, and market-talk is being applied to areas where it had previously been foreign. Virtually anything can become a commodity now, and nothing is unaffected by the market’s logic and categories of thought.

The recent intensification of commodification has prompted a corresponding growth in the scholarly literature that seeks to evaluate its origins, nature, and social effects. This literature is, of course, diverse in its methods, approaches, interests, and conclusions. Many welcome the tendency towards commercialization and commodification, trusting in the market’s potential to eliminate inefficiencies, produce wealth, extend human freedom, open new possibilities, and unleash the potential of human creativity. Others are far less sanguine and worry about the potentially corrosive effects of the market—its capacity to widen and exacerbate social and economic differences, corrupt various goods and social values, expose the disenfranchised to greater exploitation and manipulation, and encourage patterns of consumption that put pressure on vulnerable natural resources.

This bibliography attempts to survey the vast literature on commodification by first looking at the classic and contemporary attempts to theorize the origin and structure of the phenomenon of commodification. It then turns to the historical development of commodification, first looking at the early origins of consumerism and its development through the important postwar period. Advertising and shopping are crucial engines to the growth of a commodified culture and a survey of this literature is followed by an examination of the literature that attempts to provide systematic theoretical tools to evaluate the ethical dimensions of the market and its expansion. Finally the bibliography ends with a survey of some of the most prominent recent celebrations and critiques of the phenomenon of commodification.

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