||Commodities are objects that are produced for the purpose of being exchanged. This has not always been the case: for example in many subsistence societies objects are produced simply so that people can carry out their everyday lives, without thought of exchange (see subsistence agriculture). But in a society driven by the production of commodities an entrepreneur chooses both the commodity and the method by which it is produced according to whether she expects that the commodity will sell at a high enough price to realize an adequate profit on the money that must be invested in its production. The mechanism of market exchange is left to match up to the hunt by commodity producers to realize a profit and the presumed needs of consumers.
Marx (1977, p. 163) stated that \'a commodity at first sight is an extremely obvious, trivial thing\'. Thus, for some commentators, the market exchange of commodities defines what commodities are. But for others, including Ricardo and Marx, this view does not go far enough. It is obvious and trivial. They want to look behind the mechanism of exchanging commodities at the value created in producing the commodity in order to fully understand what commodities are (Sheppard and Barnes, 1990). In particular, these commentators distinguish between a commodity\'s use value, exchange value and labour value. Use value is simply the usefulness of a product to an individual. Exchange value is defined as the number of units of another commodity for which a commodity is exchanged in the market place. Finally, labour value is a general measure of the value created in the process of producing a commodity (see Marxian economics).
In fact, not all commodities are equal. Two types of commodity hold a special place in most economic theories. The first of these is labour itself; one of the abiding principles of capitalist societies is that people who work must themselves become commodities, exchanged in labour markets. The second special commodity is money which has multiple functions, as a measure of value, a medium of exchange, a store of value and a means of payment (Harvey, 1982; Leyshon and Thrift, 1997: cf money and finance, geography of).
Money is also a good example of commodity fetishism, in which social relations appear as things. Thus, in the case of money, social relations with others are secured by the money form. Similarly, rent transforms land into a commodity with a price on it and makes it seem as though money comes from the soil.
What is certain is that the process of commodification has reached into every nook and cranny of modern life (see modernity). Practically every human activity in western countries either relies on or has certain commodities associated with it, from births to weddings to funerals, at work or in the home, in peace or in war. Increasingly, the process of commodification has also taken hold in nonwestern societies, leading to notions of a global culture based, in part, on the ubiquity of certain commodities and commodity meaning (see globalization).
In some accounts of modern life, the commodity has travelled even deeper, burrowing into the human psyche. Thus the need to make commodities as attractive as possible, so that they will sell in large quantities (and make large profits), leads to the practice of commodity aesthetics. Commodities are fashioned that will, as near as possible, mirror consumers\' desires. In turn, the potent combination of mass production and the mass media has lead to attempts to create desire for commodities, through design, advertising and market research (see consumption, geography of). No wonder that Richards (1991, p. 13) has argued that \'the commodity is the focal point and, increasingly, the arbiter of all representation in capitalist societies\'.
Some commentators would go further again. They would have it that the images and signs used to create desire for commodities have become more important than the commodities themselves; people buy commodities because of the images and signs associated with them, rather than vice versa: \'The surface (of the commodity) has been detached and becomes its second skin, which as a rule is incomparably more perfect than the first; it becomes completely disembodied and drifts unencumbered like a multicoloured spirit into every household, preparing the way for the real distribution of the commodity\' (Haug, 1986, p. 50). This description of the modern world, one in which the simulation of commodities has become its own reality (or \'hyper-reality\'), in which the consumption of the images and signs of commodities has become more important than the consumption of commodities, reaches its zenith in the work of Baudrillard. In turn, Baudrillard\'s description of a world of simulation and hyper-reality (see hyperspace) has been a key component of work on postmodernism (Baudrillard, 1988; Gane, 1991a, 1991b; Jameson, 1991).Â (NJT)
References Baudrillard, J. 1988: Jean Baudrillard. Selected writings. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Gane, M. 1991a: Baudrillard: critical and fatal theory. London: Routledge.Â Gane, M. 1991b: Baudrillard\'s bestiary. London: Routledge.Â Harvey, D. 1982: The limits to capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Haug, W.F. 1986: Critique of commodity aesthetics/ Appearances, sexuality and advertising in capitalistic society. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Jameson, F. 1991: Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. London: Verso.Â Leyshon, A. and Thrift, N.J. 1997: Money/ Space. Geographies of monetary transformation. London: Routledge.Â Marx, K. 1977: Capital, Volume One. New York: Viking; Richards, T. 1991: The commodity culture of Victorian England. London: Verso.Â Sheppard, E. and Barnes, T.J. 1990: The capitalist space economy. Geographical analysis after Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa. London: Unwin Hyman.
Suggested Reading Stallybrass, P. 1998: Marx\'s coat. In P. Spyer, ed., Border fetishisms. London: Routledge.