Commodity Fetishism

The term "commodity fetishism" refers to placing more importance on the monetary worth of an item than on its actual usefulness. Marxists consider fetishism toward commodities a characteristic of the consumerist ethic that characterizes mature forms of capitalism.
Commodity Fetishism Sociology Definition

Definition

The term “commodity fetishism” refers to placing more importance on the monetary worth of an item than on its actual usefulness. Marxists consider fetishism toward commodities a characteristic of the consumerist ethic that characterizes mature forms of capitalism.

Explanation

It is the attribution of ‘naturalness’ to material goods created by human labor in a capitalist economy, even though their nature is the outcome of social processes. Marx argues that this trend toward fetishism is hardly unexpected, given that commodities are the primary way social interactions manifest in capitalist society. But it also implies that the true social dynamics involving the labor force and exploitation are concealed from view.

It is a concept that Karl Marx developed early in the first volume of Capital: Critique of Political Economy (1867).   He distinguishes between use-value and exchange-value: the former is a judgment about an item’s utility; the latter is the price an identical product would bring in market trade. For instance, a dinner at a restaurant would equal four paperback novels.

Exchange values are based on the ratio of the current labor times required to create the items. This, in turn, refers to the intricate interdependencies and social “division of labor” that characterize a capitalist society. However, people taking part in market exchanges who see the resultant linkages (of price) between goods are unaware of these complicated relationships. As a result, they mistakenly but effectively, for their purposes, see these interactions as independent of and regulating rather than being reliant on the social division of labor and the relationships it creates between various producers.

This illusion, when applied generally, is the commodity fetishism that Marx decried in bourgeois economists who believed that economic worth was an inherent quality of goods, similar to their use-value.

It seems that what happens to us relies on the status and movement of the market since the commodity is a fetish with human abilities. Gyorgy Lukacs expands on the theory by introducing the idea of reification: all human interactions and experiences start to be seen as commodities, and we begin to treat them as such. One part of examining ideology in capitalist cultures is the phenomenon of commodity fetishism, in which the true underlying connections are obscured from human vision, and we base our worldview only on outward appearances.

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