The Subject and Object of Commodification

30 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2004

See all articles by Margaret Jane Radin

Margaret Jane Radin

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law; University of Michigan Law School

Madhavi Sunder

Georgetown University Law Center


This book reveals the changing subject(s) and object(s) of commodification. It traces how the academic discourse evolved, both in its treatment of commodification as an academic topic (subject) of study and in its views of the purpose (object) of commodification; as well as how the discourse evolved in its views of the subject in a relationship of commodification (the owner) and the object in a relationship of commodification (the thing owned). The book begins by establishing a canon of commodification discourse. Debates over commodification have occurred primarily within two disciplinary frameworks: economics and cultural studies. We review the foundational works of scholars in these fields. We observe that in the two decades since these works surfaced, the subject and object of commodification have taken a distinctly cultural turn. What might broadly be called a cultural studies approach animates much of the new commodification scholarship published herein. For these scholars, commodification and culture are indelibly linked. The cultural study of commodities in motion focuses on the changing meaning of the commodity as it passes through various local and global circuits, including markets. Cultural studies theorists argue that, in many cases, individual agents, not just the hegemonic market, control those meanings. Thus, commodities are in motion both literally and figuratively. As they pass through various physical spaces, they also undergo semiotic changes. A new age of freedom through commodification, or what Arjun Appadurai has termed commodity resistance? According to some, yes. Read as a whole, the essays in the latter half of this volume suggest an emerging new conception of human flourishing itself: today, demands for equality include a right to compensation and control in the world's markets. This rhetoric hearkens back to old-style market-liberationism. The question is if, and how, they are different.

Keywords: Commodification, property, intellectual property, markets, law and economics, law and culture, cultural studies, information studies

Suggested Citation

Radin, Margaret Jane and Sunder, Madhavi, The Subject and Object of Commodification. UC Davis Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16; Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 97, Available at SSRN:

Margaret Jane Radin

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
505-314-6516 (Phone)

Madhavi Sunder (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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