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11 Examples of Commodification

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Commodification is the process by which something becomes a commodity that is traded on markets. This is associated with things that were once unique, personal, natural, social or cultural becoming a commodity that is produced at scale and sold as an undifferentiated product, service or experience. The following are illustrative examples of commodification.

Natural Resources

Natural resources such as a beach that was once a shared resource that has been privatized and sold at a market price. It is common for a society to prevent the ownership of certain types of natural resources to preserve them as a common good.

Social Status

Social status is traditionally established by a process of social interaction and connection. In modern societies, this has been partially commodified whereby status is bought and sold as luxury items and other products and services that represent status. Social media, credit scores and other automated assessments of social status may also commodify this element of the human experience.

Culture

Culture is commodified when it revolves around identical mass produced products, services and experiences that are sold at a market price. For example, the culture of a nation that revolves around services such as fast food, products such as cars and experiences such as a theme park. This can be contrasted with unique culture such as a local festival or tradition.

Identity

Brands and their products can be viewed as elements of identity. For example, an individual who views fashion as a key element as who they are as a person such that shopping for fashion is an element of self-fulfillment and construction of their social identity.

Art

Art and artistic expression such as music that is designed for a mass audience. For example, a music production company that assembles bands to produce relatively unoriginal music designed to appeal to a target audience.

Experience

The human experience itself can be commodified such that experiences are standardized, packaged and sold at a market price. For example, a commodity service such as a standard tour of Paris as opposed to a more unique experience such as exploring Paris on your own.

Education

A commodified education system views students as much the same and pushes them through the same series of knowledge consumption and testing. This neglects the unique potential and talents of each individual with the goal to produce graduates with a standard set of skills.

Labor

Workers that are viewed as interchangeable productive units as opposed to individuals with unique qualities, talents and needs as a person. Labor is mostly organized through labor markets and this has great benefits to quality of life and standard of living. However, industries and firms can incorrectly and wrongly view people as commodities.

Healthcare

Healthcare is commodified when it is heavily optimized for cost reduction such that every minute in a hospital bed or with a doctor is carefully measured and optimized.

Public Services

Public services are services that are so valuable that they are viewed as above the profit motive. For example, an art gallery that preserves priceless culture that doesn't buy and sell art on a market in an attempt to profit. These are commodified when they are privatized or when the government offering the services optimizes aggressively for cost as opposed to optimizing for the greater good of society.

Economic Bads

An economic bad is negative value produced by an economic system such as pollution or reductions in quality of life. In many cases, economic bads are created freely without any payment for the damage created. One potential solution to this problem is creating markets for economic bads such that damage is capped and people buy and sell the right to produce an economic bad.

Summary

Commodification is the process by which something that is personal, social, cultural, natural or artistic is produced as a commodity at scale by markets. Although markets are essential to society and quality of life, this has negative connotations as a market that has gone too far in making life systematic and undifferentiated.

Discussion

It could be argued that modern societies attempt to commodify the entire human experience. This has many elements that might not be immediately obvious. For example, if you watch a television show or streaming series this may feel socially satisfying as you watch characters and how different people interact and build relationships. You may eventually begin to feel as if you "know" these characters. In this case, the media you are consuming may be substituting for social processes whereby you may spend many hours a day consuming media in order to feel more socially fulfilled.

Notes

The social sciences tend to refer to a "commodity" as anything that is sold on a market. In economics and business, commodity has a more specific meaning as an undifferentiated product such as corn or wood. This can be someone confusing if you are familiar with both domains. For example, social sciences may refer to luxury goods as commodities but these are certainly not commodities in an economic or business sense because they command a premium price based on factors such as brand recognition, quality or fashion trends.
Overview: Commodification
Type
Definition (1)
The process by which something becomes a commodity.
Definition (2)
The process by which something becomes a good to be bought and sold on a market.
Definition (3)
The process by which resources, products, services, labor and experiences become viewed as undifferentiated resources that can be bought and sold at a market price.
Not To Be Confused With
Related Concepts
It can be noted that commodification is commonly confused with the similar term commoditization.
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