Abstract: The commodity-form played an important, if often overlooked, role in the studies of capitalism. Processes of transforming literally anything into a privatized form of (fictitious) commodity produced for market exchange are of fundamental importance for the rise and reproduction of capitalism. At the same time, the commodity, as the “cell-form of capitalism”, has played a crucial role throughout Marx’s oeuvre. This chapter aims to contribute to a large body of academic work dealing with commodification and commodity-form by directing focus on the field of communication in the widest sense of this word. Commodity-form and commodification are analysed from a theoretical, conceptual and historical point of view. Main consequences for society and social relations that emanate from the global universalisation of the commodity-form are emphasized. In the conceptual and theoretic part this chapter analyses how the commodity-form was analysed by Marx throughout his oeuvre, how this corresponds to the wider constitution of capitalist society, and how critical authors analysed these processes. It is claimed there is now an enduring global commodification of everything, including culture, creativity, information, and diverging types of communication; these social categories are becoming fundamental in what could also be called capitalist informational societies. Historical dialectical approach is used in the historical part of the chapter to make sense of this on-going contradictory social transformation, which manifests itself simultaneously as continuity of capitalist social relations and discontinuity of the means of production (because of the strengthened influence of information in the present historical epoch). Commodification of communication and information is analysed in deeply historical manner by looking at how these resources have been subjugated to capitalist market relations since the capitalist economic system first emerged several centuries ago. It is claimed, however, that especially political incentives and interventions led to the increasing social, economic and political significance of the information and communication systems and resources we have been witnessing in the last few decades. A seeping commodification as a historically novel type of commodification, which trickles throughout society, is conceptualized in the final part of the chapter. This is done by referring to the long historical transformations and to two strands of thought that offer several converging points between them: a) to critical communication studies, more specifically to political economy of communication (through a reappraisal of the “blind spot debate” initiated by Dallas W. Smythe and his audience commodity thesis); and b) to some neo-Marxist approaches, especially to the findings of the authors basing their research in the autonomist (post-operaist) movement (that defined the present transformations through concepts such as communicative, bio-linguistic capitalism, and social factory). The concept of a seeping commodification indicates we are witnessing a qualitative transformation in the commodification processes that is, in part, owed to an overwhelming capitalist enclosure of the wider communicative field, which accompanied its increased economic importance.
Keywords: Commodity-form, Commodification, Abstraction, Political economy of communication, Critique of political economy, Social factory, Audience commodity, The Internet, Communication capitalism, Capitalism, Critical communication studies, Information Society, Enclosures, Intellectual Property Rights, Critical Media and Communications History.
This is a book chapter published in the volume entitled "Marx in the Age of Digital Capitalism", edited by Christian Fuchs and Vincent Mosco.