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 sometimes post instances of commodification that tickle us. Previously I posted about a company that will now put together and deliver a care package to your 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, 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. This post originally appeared in 2012.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Mary Trupp MacLeod — April 7, 2012
Shoot me now. Please.
Shaina Carmel Indovino — April 7, 2012
But... those Easter Eggs are so plain...
Anna — April 7, 2012
People used to boil recently hatched eggs, so that the eggs would remain edible after the last week of Lent, where dairy is prohibited. The eggs may not have lost their religious/holiday symbolism, but their practical purpose has largely been forgotten. While the image above is a good example of commodification, I'm ambivalent if it is tied specifically to capitalist imperatives.
And is dyeing Easter eggs seen as an enjoyable family activity in some households? That surprises me. It usually involves boiling water, obviously handling eggs; not exactly a kid-friendly activity. If dyeing eggs was ever deemed a fun family activity, that also must have come at a time, closer to this modern age, when the eggs in question weren't so precious to a family.
myblackfriendsays — April 7, 2012
Sad. Unless, I suppose you needed a large amount of dyed eggs for a display or something.
Caro SR — April 8, 2012
here in Germany, those
pre-dyed eggs are in the stores everywhere - next to the dying kits. I don't know one single family who gives their kids pre-dyed eggs. There are just ofr occasions like giveaways, e.g. when you go to your local butcher on Easter Saturday, you get one of those pre-dyed eggs.
In the families, the eggs are usually still self-dyed.
animal rights — April 8, 2012
It is ironic how the post fails to acknowledge the underlying, constant commodification here: enslaving hens as production units and selling their bodily outputs for profit.
Anonymous — April 8, 2012
I usually really like this blog, but it is surprising to me how much some sociologists can play fast and loose with history... Exactly who and when does "we used to" apply to? If we have a hard time imagining life any other way, maybe we have just as hard a time cutting through our idealization of the past.
"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.
Since the post is about things being newly commodified, getting the historical context right seems especially important. There has been commodification, as you define it, since the beginnings of human history. Looking back and assuming that there was a time free of commodification or with less, is to profoundly misunderstand all that has come before us, or to dream up a false past with which to compare the present.
Anonymous — April 8, 2012
Capitalist imperatives? The chicken rendering plant in my Southside Chattanooga neighborhood won't stop churning out that disgusting (even for meat-eaters) smell on this Easter Sunday.
Sam Clems — April 8, 2012
While I agree with the larger point around the problems with commodification of everything, and care in particular, this particular example fails to stoke and flames of outrage for me. Easter is a holiday that was created to co-opt pre-Christian holidays celebrating Spring, fertility, and various non-Christian spiritual beliefs. Forgive me if I'm not upset that a holiday that was created to supplant earlier beliefs and practices is now itself being supplanted by more modern beliefs and practices. What's good for the goose...
Andrew — April 8, 2012
In Germany and Switzerland, I see dyed eggs like these on supermarket shelves year-round. The dying tends to be to indicate that the eggs are hard-boiled and ready to eat, rather than raw; they seem to be used often as a colorful addition to children's lunches, rather than as a seasonal activity.
As an American, though, it puzzled me the first time I saw it, close to Christmas.Also, the children's egg-hunt tradition also exists here, not just as a family bonding exercise but also as a larger community activity. If I were organizing an egg-hunt on a large scale like that, I'd be very happy to use pre-dyed eggs.
Kathryn Talbert — April 9, 2012
It seems to me that the issue of co-modification becomes disconcerting when it removes humans from actions or activities that are required for their existence as humans. Porn is a good example of this co-modification that is concerning because in the process of making it a marketable product, sex becomes dehumanized and mechanized. Also, in order for the porn industry to provide what their market seems to want most, a large proportion of their themes and the actors/actresses involved, must participate in degrading, unhealthy and dehumanizing activities. The consumption of these activities further condones the entire act and dehumanization process which begets a never-ending circle which seems to spiral downward (the fixation or thrill must always provide newness in order to survive in the competitive capitalist environ -- in other words, something must give reason to invoke a consumer to wish to give up something of value to consume it).
Dyed easter eggs, while disturbing in that it challenges our notions of family time and traditions, are nothing more than an outgrowth of the capitalist system that proffers that where ever a need exists a service or device to fill that need shall follow. Unfortunately, the real question is whether all needs are real in and of themselves and are not simply symptoms of a larger dysfunction that while a service or device may resolve the pinge of immediate need, does it serve humanity's broader interest or survival?
Free marketeering and capitalism support the idea that resolving or curing any ill from alcoholism to social degradation isn't really in the interests of the market, especially when exploiting a need and best a need never fulfilled fulfills the need of those who play in the "free" market.
hjc — April 9, 2012
I look at this less as a commodification of Easter, but as a sign of increasingly busy families, moms in particular. Who, after all, is going to boil all those eggs and assemble all those dyes and clean up the mess afterwards? And if mom is busy working outside the home and chauffeuring the kids to all their outside activities (and the kids are too busy themselves besides), a package of eggs like this looks like just the thing.
Same goes for the care package, for that matter. Who has the time? Are you also going to criticize the moms who pick up store-bought baked goods for the school bake sale instead of lovingly baking things from scratch?
keileya — April 18, 2014
It's interesting that all the examples you use as things that have been 'commodified' are all examples of the unpaid, second-shift labor that women are expected to pick up without protest, even if they work outside the home.
I think you're seeing attempts to get rid of second shift work and criticising them with a romanticised view towards how things 'should' be. That's kind of crappy of you when the way things 'should' be rests unfairly on women.
Bill R — April 18, 2014
It is amazing to see how human ingenuity (technology) and the capitalistic economic system have combined to allow such an incredible set of diverse products and services to thrive. Over the top!
At one point humans probably spent 80% or more of societal resources gathering food and protecting themselves from the the environment. Now I'll guess that's 20% or less.
You give all the credit to capitalism, and that's certainly a big part of it. But there is also something innate in our species that propels us too. Good to be us!
Naomi Allen — April 18, 2014
I usually find the comments the best part of these posts, but was surprised nobody questioned the "social cohesion" assumption in the text. I am not a historian, but when did family egg-dyeing become a major activity? I grew up in a Midwest suburban Catholic tradition, and this was never a big part of our Easter traditon--until the Paas company began marketing Easter egg dye kits. Maybe because my parents were Asian immigrants? But my friends from multi-generational traditions never had dyeing eggs as a big deal.
So along the point of commodification; perhaps this is just the next step in the continuation of how we invent "traditions" and then reinterpret them to suit the modern desire to self-criticize. Nostalgia and Pinterest, married together in an existential self-loathing?
Meggyeggs — April 19, 2014
In Switzerland there are colored, hard-boiled eggs available at the markets year-round! The commodification of raising eggs yourself! Pick and choose your battles!
julie — April 19, 2014
Dude, just becuase coloring eggs might have been a tradition in YOUR family doesn't mean that it is in everyone else's as well. Some people (yes, even kids) don't particularly enjoy the mess, the hassle, or that awful vinegar smell.
Also, not everyone wants colored eggs for just their family - some people are having community easter egg hunts or evern parties (which may or may not even include children.) It really wouldn't be reasonable to expect people to dye several dozen eggs - who even has the time?!