The word commodification refers to the process by which something that is not bought and sold becomes something that is. As capitalism has progressed, more and more parts of our lives have become commodified. Restaurants are the commodification of preparing and cleaning up meals; day care and nannying is the commodification of child raising; nursing homes is the commodification of caring for elders. We use to grow our own food, make our own clothes, and chop down trees to warm our houses. Not so much anymore.
We sometimes post instances of commodification that tickle us. Last year I posted about a company that will now put together and deliver a care package to a child at camp. A parent just goes to the site, chooses the items they want included, and charge their credit card. As I wrote in that post: “The ‘care’ in ‘care package’ has been, well, outsourced.”
I was equally tickled by a photograph, taken by sociologist Tristan Bridges (@tristanbphd), of pre-dyed Easter eggs:
This is a delicious example of commodification. If you don’t have the time or inclination to dye eggs as part of your Easter celebration, the market will do it for you. No matter that this is one of those things (e.g., a supposedly enjoyable holiday activity that promotes family togetherness) that is supposed to be immune to capitalist imperatives.
While we might raise our eyebrows at this example, newly commodified goods and services often elicit this reaction. We usually get used to the idea and, later, have a hard time imagining life any other way.
For more on commodification, peruse our tag by that name.
UPDATE: A commenter and historian named blueowleyes made fair points about my representation of history. Sheepishly, I’ll add some of them here:
“We use to grow our own food, make our own clothes, and chop down trees to warm our houses.” When was that time of super-subsistence? As an historian, I don’t recognise it. Maybe some people did these things, some of the time, some to a greater degree than others, some only partially, with materials produced elsewhere by others, with the aid of others’ services. I might suggest that very few people probably ever chopped down their own trees to heat their houses. To claim that ‘we’ did, is to assume that people needed heat, used wood heating, had access to timbre, lived in houses, didn’t pay or force others to do work they didn’t want to do in some idealized past. We wouldn’t assume such things about the present, why assume them about the past? The details matter as much in talking about the past, as they do in talking about the present.
I apologize, blueowleyes, because you’re right of course.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.