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What is Fetishized Commodities?

Updated on April 30, 2022
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Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics.

Introduction/ Definition of Fetishized commodity

The term fetishism was employed by Marx in deducing the magical qualities inherent in a commodity. Marx (1997) appears to borrow this word “fetishism” from anthropology where in this discipline; the word is used to imply the ability of godly powers in inhering in inanimate objects. This concept is borrowed by Marx who endeavors to make sense of what he considers as commodity fetishism. Marx explains that a commodity could remain simple when tied to its user-value. When a raw material is changed into a valuable object, for instance, when wood is changed into say a table, it the object becomes use-value through human labor. In addition, the table which is a product derived from wood remains to be a material value. However, Marx observes that if an object is considered as a commodity, then it changes into a thing with no consciousness. By being termed as a commodity, it means that the object is monetized and hence the connection of the material with the laborer is affected, and it may even go to the extent of not being recognized. In a capitalized society, commodities are treated in such a way that it is the objects which have value with no regard to the labor or laborers involved in producing it. According to Marx, the mysterious nature of a commodity is derived from the fact that commodities are a reflection of social features of individual’s labor as objective features of labor production, which are also considered as socio-natural properties of these things. However, in a capitalist world, a social relation between laborers and capitalists has assumed an incredible form of a relation between objects while alienating the laborers. In other words, the actual producers of commodities are largely invisible in a capitalist society. The products are accessed through money from those individuals or organizations that extort from the laborers. This is what has been termed as fetishism of commodities.

Though human labor accrues value for the material produced, individuals in a capitalist society believe that they do not have control over the market forces that seem to exist independently of individuals. This situation differs greatly in a feudal society where all people are dependent of one another. In such a society, labor and its products can not presume a fantastic form that deviates from their reality since relations of human dependence establish a given social basis. The transactions for the products and services are carried out in kind. Rather than substituting the particularity of labor with the universal equivalent, the transactions in a feudal society involves the actual laborers and the products. In his conclusion, Marx enumerates that the different roles in which individuals interact one another, how they relate with one another in terms of labor performance are considered as their personal relations. As such, these relations should not be presumed to be a relation between the products of labor or “things” but rather, between persons.

The Matchbox as a Fetishized Commodity

The matchbox is among the common commodities that are highly fetishized in today’s perspective. It is common for individuals to treat commodities such as the matchbox in a more valuable way without consideration of who made it in the first place. This is contrary to Marx’s assertion that a commodity’s value exchange ought to be equated with the labor that produced it. Interestingly, very few people if any want to be concerned on who made a matchbox or where it was made. In fact, a matchbox is considered as having human qualities for without it, many will find it hard to cook. What is more, once one someone has bought a matchbox, then it becomes his or hers in the virtue of him/her having exchanged the monetary value for the commodity. What many do not know or choose to ignore is the fact that someone and in this case a person was involved in creating the matchbox which according to some people has a huge place in their lives.

The demand for matchboxes have reduced human beings, particularly those involved in producing them, labor and their capacities into commodity status to be traded, sold, bought, used or stolen. This is more particularly expressed in the trade of matchboxes, whereby; the commodity and money are considered as elements of value. In this respect, the third being, which is an important element is eliminated or ignored.

The fetish of commodities is more expressed in the following video with the following link

In this video, the narrator argues the social power of objects where things or an object acts as if they have a will of their own. The author focuses and analyzes Marx’s perspective about the relation of “things” and producers in a capitalist society. This video can be effectively related with the aspect of matchbox and its social power in the society.

The Matchbox in Marx’s Perspective

In essence, the matchbox harbors an exchange value to which it can be traded to satisfy particular needs. Marx explains that a thing’s use value has to satisfy the specific needs and wants of a society. Therefore, in order for a matchbox to be of use or satisfy the (specific needs which is lighting fires), it has to be transferred from the producer to the consumer. Accordingly, the consumer has to give out money which has the value of the commodity (matchbox) before he/she is given the product. While the consumer will benefit in terms of obtaining the product which he/she will use to light fires, the producer/trader will benefit in terms of being given the money which they can use to solve their various needs. This implies that the consumer will only be interested in the getting the matchbox while the producer will be interested in acquiring the money. This also leaves the producer at an invisible end since his/efforts are either not recognized or considered to be of no value.

The fetishism of commodities is therefore, explicit in the matchbox and other common commodities since as Marx points out, the worker who in this case is the matchbox maker is alienated from his product (matchbox) and that only his product (matchbox) is regarded important and not him as the producer. This object becomes its own power which confronts the owner in a way that is hostile (Fine, 2010). Similarly, the matchbox has become an object through which people use to satisfy their needs with disregard to the maker. In fact, very many people use matchboxes without getting into contact with the producers the entire of their lives.


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