- It is a Marxist theory, introduced by Karl Marx in his book ‘Das Kapital’, that explains how inanimate objects under capitalism, get alienated from the labour and production process and achieve fantastical powers.
- The term describes how the social relationships of production and exchange among people take the form of relationships between things (money and commodities) under capitalism.
- In modern society, this is further accentuated by the use of brand names over quality or use-value of the product.
- The term fetishism in anthropology refers to the belief among indigenous cultures of inanimate objects (such as totems) possessing godly or mystical powers.
- Marx separates the religious connotation of the term and uses it to understand how commodities possess mystical powers once in the market as it severs ties with the production process.
The value of a commodity:
- The concept explains that a commodity has different values.
- In its physical state, an object has a purpose or utility i.e. the use value.
- Since the production of an object requires the labour of producers, the value of the labour adds to the value of the object.
- Finally, when the object reaches the market, it has an exchange value which is the monetary value attached to the product.
- As long as an object is attached to its use-value, it remains an ordinary thing. But when it comes to the market as a commodity, it attains fantastical powers and mystical features.
Social relations under capitalism:
- Under capitalism, the social relations and the production process become invisible to the consumer as it is a private process.
- An object’s potential is realised only when it is exchanged as a commodity in the market (a place where it becomes social),
- Hence, the interaction between individuals is replaced by the interaction between commodity and money and the commodity is devoid of any signs of labour put into its creation.
- Compared to feudal society which was based on the relations of personal dependence, labour was visible in all events and not an abstract universal equivalent that was transacted.
- Consumerism and brand fetishism: In modern society, consumption has become a status symbol. Commodities are associated with Godly figures or celebrities, removing any trace of social relations of labour attached to them, making them desirable as an object of envy among consumers.
- In a consumerist society, the process of production and the exploitation of labour and labourers are forgotten and replaced by the brand and the price tag of the product, causing alienation of labour.
- The workers cannot take pride in their products as they become invisible and are alienated from the commodity.
- In capitalist society, though the value of a product is dependent on the exploitation of human labour, market forces gain precedence and consumers are made to believe that commodities exist independent of individuals.
- Consequently, consumers are oblivious to the concept of wage theft and exploitation of labour, or the physical and psychological hardship of the people involved in the production process.
Source: The Hindu