The social life' of things

Commodities in cultural perspective





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and thE poli:tics 'of value


ceptual problems (Chapman ]980:68-70), for Man.: postulated that barter wok the form of direct exchange of the product {~ use value A = )1 use value 8), as well as direct exchange of the commodity (x commodity AI = Y commodity B)., But ~his Marxist view of barter, whatever problems it may pos,e for a Marxist theory of the origin of exchange value, has the virtue of fitting well with Chapman's most persuasive claim- that barter, as either a dominant 01' a subordinate form of exchange, exists in an extremely ..... ral1ge of societies. ide Chapman criticizes Marx for inserting the commodity into barter and wishes no keep them qlllite separate, 0111 the grounds thaa commedaies assume the use of money objects (and thus congealed labor value), aad not just money .3S a I..miijof account OT measure of equivalence. Commollityex<change, for Chapman, occurs.cnly ,..hen a money object intervenes in exchange. Since barter. ill her model, excludes such intervention, commodity exchange and barter-are formally completely distirnc~,though they may coexis[ in some societies (Chapman 1980:6768).



which the circulation of things is most divorced from social, [political,

In mel'"critique of Marx, it seems U} me, Chapman tales an unduly constricted view of the role of money in the circulation of commodities, Though Marx ran into difficulties in his own analysis of the relationship between barter and commodity exchange" he was. right to see, as did Polanyi, that there was, a commonality Gf spirit between barter and capitalist commodity exchange, a commoeality tied (in this viel,y)to the object-centered, relatively impersonal, asocial nature of each. In the ... rious simple forms 0,[ barter, we see an effort to exa change things wilhoui. the constraints of sociality on tile one hand, iild tlie complicaeicns of mOHey on the other. Barter in the contempormiy world is on the increase: one estmrate has it that an estimated $12 billion a ye<JI.F goods a nd ser ...ces is bartered in the Uni LedStales ill i alone. International barter (Pepsico syrup for RlIssian vodka; CocaCola [or Korean toothpicks and Bulgarian forklifts are examples) is also developing inao a complex. alternalli1l9 economy . In these latter situations, barter is a response to the growing number of barriers to intel"'llationaI trade and finance, and has a specific role to play in the lalrger economy. ~a!te!.:._as a form or trade, thus links the exchange of commodities in widely difCer,ent social, I..edllliolog:ical, andinstimtional clrcumstanoes, Barter may thus be regarded as a special form of commodity exchange, one il1,,,,hiEh, for any variety of reasons" rnoocy plajs either 110 role or a very indirect role {as a mere unit of account). By this definition of barter, ill: ll'ould ~ to locate <lilly hurnaer sm:iety in which commodityexchange is completely irrelevant. Barterappears to be the form, of commodity exchange in

o!. ~ultll.lralIlorms~ .. J'l_ber... ,ey,_eL~Visletlce .available, t be d,eLer. is ... mination of what may be bartered, where, when" and by whom, as well ~ whail drives the demand for the goods of the "other ," is a social affair;. There is, a deep tendency to regard this social regulaticn as a largely negative matter, so ahar barter in small-scale societies and. in earlier periods is frequently regarded as having been restricted to the relation between communities rather than within, commenities. Barter is, in this model, held to bein ilfWverse proportion to sodality, and foreign trade; by extension, is seen La have 'preceded' internal trade (Sal1lins 19'72} are good empirical and methodological. reat sons to question this view, The notion tl'nt trade in nonmonetiaed, preindestrial economies is generally regarded as antisocial from the point of view of face-to-face communlties and thus was frequently restricted to dealings with strangers has as its dose counterpart the view that the spirit of the gift and that of t~e commodity are deeply opposed. In this view, gifl exchange and commodity exchange are fundameetally contrastive and mutually exclusive. Tho~gh there have been some important recent attempts 1..0 mute the exaggerated contrasa between Marx and Mauss (Hara 1'982; Tambiah 1984), the tendency 1:0 see these two modalities of exchange as fundamentally opposed remains a marked feature of anthropological discourse (Dumont, 1980; Hyd,e 1979'; Gr,e,gory ]982; Sahlins 1972;, Taussig 19'80). The exaggeration and reification of the contrast between gin and commodity in anthropological writing has many sources. Among them <lire the tendency ito romanticize small-scale societies; to conflate use value {in Marx's, sense) with gmnrinc1wft (in Toennies's sense); the tendency ~.o forget that capitalist societies, too, operate according to cultural designs: tile plJ"odivity to marginalize and underplay the calculative, impersonal andself.aggrandizin.g features of noncapitalist societies. These tendencies, in tum, are a product of an oversimplified view of the opposition between Mauss. and Marx, which, as Keith Hart (1982) has suggested, misses important aspects of the commonalities between them. Gifts"and the sp.iriLQL:te.Qpfocity, ooci<3ibilj!)';, lI!lJdpOnItaIit~!L!n < s which:_!l:i!q are typically exchanged. u,s~ally a!:.esprkly opposed :to tile p..!.Ofit.orientecC self-centered, andcalculated spirit that fires~l6e circulation of commodities. Further, Wh~Toe gihs .. _nktJ:!ings to persol1s H and embed tile flow of things, in the How of social relations, mmmodi.nes are held to re-present the drive - largely free of moral or cuknral constraints - of goods fur one another, a drive mediatled, by

tbat SUdl movements can be slow or fast. itself a 11istorical product of capitalism.ionto converge.:_thing"be defined as ihe- . Baudrillard (I 968. This means looking at ahe commodity potential of all things rather than searching fmidessly for the. If i[ is true that the lapse of ~ime interposed is whatenables the' gift or CQUMl~ergifl 110 be seen and experienced as an in. magic distinction between commodities <lindother sorts of things. 1981) Sahlins (1976). at different points in their social lives. can be disaggregated into: (1) the commodity phase of the social life of . in trying to understand what is distinctive about commodity exchange. tend or pretend to pm the law of selfinterest into abeyance. "materialist ~md refigious". or sugar). As.Jamified" {ibid: 177). both gifm.ant._ dellned this way. These oppositions pamd!y both poles and reduce human diversities artificially. It remains now ~ocharacterize commodity exchange in a comparative and processual manner. One s.any thing.aqice never ceases to conform. il: does not make SEI1ISe to distinguish it shairply either frOom liarter 011 the one hand. which stresses certain strategic parallels between gih exchange and more oSlLensiJbly"economic" pracuces. but of the sort of ethnocentrism. For the present.ic to the monothetic. It also means breaking significantly with the pmduction.Qrtin . Simmel (1978:97-8). are designed to show that this is a simplified and overdrawn series of contrasts. and because of th is. . all of which I'eprescnt 'efforts to restore the cultural dimension to societies that are too ofsen represented simply as economies writ large. The commodity candidacy of things of gifts on the other. have an economy ill itself and not for iiselL (Bourdieu 1'977: 171. But how are we to define the commodity situation? I pmpOise that rit. extended a himerto underplayed aspect of Mauss's analysis oflbe gifl {Mauss 197. and Douglas and Isherwood fI981).) things". or_fu!ur:e) for same . a situaaion that can characterize rna. thus restricting me debate to the matter of deciding what kind of thing i~ is.12 Arj WI) Apfl3durai In:troduction: commodities . then it is dear lhat in reducing the polylhel. makes a shrewd analysisof t1'U1. "objectification of persons" versus "personification of I q ~. reversible or terminal. that assumes a very restricted definition of economic l]Joi~. and antiques) may be more nolice<llblethan that of some others (such as steel liars. even i. because they deny "the true soil of their life. eXGessivdy dualistic: "us and them".and the politics of value 13 and rroa by sodality. A rational contract would telescope in[o an instant a transaction whicl! Loiftexmange disguises. The idea of the cornmodiay phase ill the social life of a thing is a summary way to capture the central iasight inIgor Kopytoff's important essay in this volume. postage stamps. in societies whid]. i~.nian of commodities comes out of Bourdieu's critique not only of "objecLi\. this component is never completely illTele'i'." as Lukacs puts it. Part of lhe difficulty with a crosscultural analysis of commodities is that. Each of these aspects of "commodity-hood" needs some explicatio 11:.l. let me propose one importtant quality that gift exchange and Ute circulation of commodities share. though.XcJw:/I.i. as being a certain kind of thing. (2) tile commodity candidacy of any thing. ~et ~aEP_roach _coEJImodiitiesas Lhings in a certain situation.6:70-3). at Ieasi the oDly mode '100 be fully recognized.i:s important to see the calcelative dimensien in" treatments of social action.ty.augural act of geneTOsi. 1 make this s. less a temporal rhan acoathe commodity silwtion in tke social life This treatment of gift exchange as a particelar farm of ~lhecircuI. But. where certain things are seen as moving in and cut of tile commodity state. Further.an4_!1u_t Qf the commodity state. 0]1" from she . Many of the essays in this volume. suggests.(h as heirlooms. through exchange/distribution..). by stretching i~ OU~in time.U}lliEh i!> 'f.e" without cauuJaAe'n.u~ these forms of exchange.f they vary in the form and intensity of sociality associated with ahem. as well as my own argument here. if 11ot lbe om)' mode of com m ad ity circu~aliOIl a practiced.yrnp~omof this problem has been an excessively positivist conception of the commodity. who has.hing may be placed. though from a slightly different angie" with the proposals of'Tambiah (19'84:.-dominarted Marxian view of the ocmmodity and focusing on ilS lotal trajectory [rom prt:lduction._f!reJimt. which stresses the' aemporal dynami.ugg'esl. ill shall have more to say 011 this biographical approach to things in the next section. and commodity circulation: . ·Though th. to consumption. and so forth.ative or deltia!!!..e common spirit that underlies. \vitho~lt any past or 11IWre. anthropology is. the commodity situation.. Bourdieu's argument.ny '. "market exchange" versus "reciprcdty". as with other matters in social life. My view of (he spirit of gif~exchange owes a good deal (0 Bourdieu (1977).and~o restore ~he calculative dime'l1sioll (0 societies that are too of len simply portrayed as solidarity writ small.. gi Ii e:Kcll nge is.other thing is its socially rdeva1l~ feature. like girt exchange. and (3) the commodity context in which any t. salt.e' biographical aspect of some things · (slI. bua let us note for the moment that thi~s can move in .DY different kinds of tiling. 1975. objectivism destroys the specificity of all ~r practices which. even when it gives every appearance of disinterestedness by departing from thelogic of imerested calculation (ill the narrowseuse) and playing for stakesthat are non-material and not easily of gifting.! Bourdieu suggests that "1i1r::.geahi~iti'(J1a§. to economic calcujatior.

l. Such regimes of value account for the constant transcendence of cultural beerndaries by the Row of commodiries. The variety of such contexts. We lTlay speak. and most appropriately.__To_the degree that m. Tile best exaniples of sUichimracliIltural value divergence <lireIto be found in situations of extreme hardship (sech as famine or war fare) . and aoappear ina commodia y context.icaJ context .heseobjecas. of ll"le cultural framework that defines tile' commodity candidacy of thirngs. and from commodity to commodity.r units. the society may be said to be highly oommodiaized. thus.. but rather that the degree of 'Value coherence may vari<lil?!e from situation to situation. l.the indi~idual and his sebjectivity. <lindit refers to tile standards and criteria (symboli.aring of standards by the parties to a between the cultural and social dimensions of commodity exchange (Price 1980).s I have already suggested. The first is the case of transactions across culvural boundaries. as Simmel Ilas pointed om. Also. but we must bear in mind that SQme exchange siauatiocs. in this sense. are' characterized by a shallower set of shared standards of value than others. to fn the requirements ofcommodlity candidacy.andintracultural. attaching meanings and values. a specific exchange is based on deeply divergent perceptions of the value of the objects being exchanged. ccmmoditization lies at the complex intersection of'eempora].quite different cultural m systems who share only the most minimal understandings (from the conceptual poillt of view) aboua the objects in question and agreellniy about the terms of trade..aybe seen as legitimate in extreme circumstances. of situations. in a society sometimes meet these criaeria. as a social maUel"". Thus. But there are two kinds. fLom the point of view of.k valu. It is true that in most stable societies.. I therefore a taxonomic or 11. bounded and localized system of mean ings. Auctions accentuate the commodity dimensioa of objeers (such as. Bazaar seuings are likelyte encourage commodity Hows as domestic seuings may not. but could Ila. The so-called silenj trade phenomenon is the most obvious example of the minimal. Dealings will1 strangers might provide coneexas for the' commeditization of lhings that <lire otherwise proaecaed from comrnodjtization.xchange. 1'0 the degree that some things in a society are frequentjy to ~e found in the commodity phase.:my or most things.!lithin and across societies" provides the link between the social envii'. the commodity context. In regard to the economy (thal is.14 . Yel. despite a vast universe of shared understandings..e!i. where culture is understood as a. to these groupings. where all that is agr. 'are engaging in transactions that m. A.! contexts.c.eed upon is. discrepancies normally brushed aside because of the host of conventions ahcut exch.l1ers. ay bring together aeaors from . where the staeidards and criteria that govern exchange are so attentuaaed as to seem virtually absent. FinaHy"the commodil:}' context refers to the vam-iety social arenas. value and price hav'e come almost completely unyoked. lumping some things logetber. thafhdp link {be commodity can<!!~acyof a thing to the commodity pnase of its career. da. it would be possible to discover structure that defines the world of things. regarded as exchange values. lhey a. discriminating between o'l.r1eits quintessential oommoditi.alio~ bef.r assumptions. and prosiding a basis for rules and practices goverlling the circulation of m. marriage transactions might constitute the context il1 which women are most intensely. paintings) in a manner that might well tie regarded as deeply inappropriate in other contexts. both inter. cultural. Thus in many seeieties. A regime of value. this feature would ap~ear best glossed as the cultu1~al framework within which thjngs are' classified. AI10ther way to characterize suell Situations IS to say that in sud. (l955) account of spheres of €x'r:hange among the Tiv is an obvious example of this type of framework lor exdu!lng'e. a Bellgali male who abandons ihiswife eo prostitution in exchange for a meal. and the standards of commodity candidacy to embrace a large part of the world 01 things than in noncapiralist societies. Thus. and it is a central preoccupaaion of KopyLolfPs p<llper in this volume. safely be said that more things are likely w experience a commodiay phasein their own careers.Alrjum A"adlJl"ai Introdul:tion:: commodities andthe politics of va1lue 15 ceptual feature.his gloss conceals a variety of complexities. when exchanges are made whose logic has little to do with the commensuration of sacrifices. it earn. all exchanges migh~ contain this lYRe or dISC['epa ncy between the sacrifices 01 buyer and seller. 'to exchange). price (whether monetary or not) and Oil minimum set of conventions regarding the transaction itself? The other is the case of those intracultural exchanges where.onrnem of the commodity and its temporal and symb"Olicstate.:.At first glance.:veen buyer~nd seU91i. and moral) that define the exchangeability of ILhings in any particular social and lli.rdlly be regarded as operating under a rich shared framew0r. of within I?! Cullur.0 !£Ise the term regimes of value.mge that are complied with by both parties (Simmel 1978:80). or a Turkana woman who sells critical pieces of her personaljewelry fOol' a week's food. In modern capitalist societies. Paul Bohannan's. <BIndsocial factors.ssificatory.rular commodity e. Though Marx was therefore right in seeing modem indus- iy prefer ~gwy" b-etwee~n . is consistent with Doth veryliigh and v'ery low sh.. which does no~ imply that every commodity exchange presupposes a complete culaural sharing o.stor. more contexts La become legi~imate wmrnodity contexts.

lri~J capitalism as entli!iling the most intensely commoditized type of society. meet the requirements or commodity candidacy.go'r Kcopr10(f points ol..ed process (affecting neatters phase.!_l'cc.. (4} ex-w:m:modilics. ideal-typkal contrast) involve the more or less permanent comll1oditizing of s. since some of the most interesting cases {in what Kopytoff agrees <life in the middle zone of his. pereenial and universal nJig·of-war betwee~' a the tendency of all economies so expand the jurisdiction of com~odjtization and of allculuares to restrict it.d.. sharp case of comrnodiries b). ~thersa~e discussed later in this. and out o. liIU efforts at defining commodities are doomed to sterility unless they ilh.1. By this definition. _. special. the shifting relauons~lp bel1~e." divides com"modities into the following four types: 0) commodities by deslination. preindastrial ones . jusm. Keith Hart's recent (1982) analysis of the importance {If the growing hegemony ofthecommcday in the world would fit with the approach suggested her. a Marxist critique of this contrast woarld suggest tffi1atit is eeenmoditiaatioe as a worldwide histori~l p~cess that d~termines in very important wa}'s. (the perfect steel bar) and classes of culturally valued singularities.j[ru KO.n-thal the now o£ there can be unique examples of homogeneous classes. which is a modified application of a distinction originally made by Jacques Ma· quet in 1971 in regard to aesthetic productions. the commodity_ of the life history of al1~bJ~ct does no. and categorization. some of which are touched upon in the course of ~opiyt~.!.16 Arrjun Appaduraii IllItromuction: .mmoditization has several important implications. of By . or Paths and diversions Commodities are Frequently represented as mechanical products production regin:i>I!sgoverned by the Iaws of supply and demand. metamorphosis are commodities by dsoersion. though il1 premodern societies the fgom for maneuver is usually not great. that is" objects intended by their producers principally for exchange. the comparison of societies in regard to the degree {If "comruoditization" would be a most complex affair giY'en the definitional approach to commodities taken here. is that it proposes a general process~al model of commoditiaatioa. Of the many virtues of Kopytoff's model the most important.ell SI11i3Ul~rnand homogeneous things at any given moment ..odities in any given situati cQ!!!PJ{~lJli~~ between socially regulated paths and spired diversions. But my lmmediate concem IS with one important aspect of this temporal per. This view of commodities and co. th~ question of what sorts of ob~ect may have ~h~t sorts of biography is more deeply ~matl:er for SOCial contest and mdIVldu<!!] taste in modem societies t!hal1iIn smaller-scale. fmlll the commodity state and placed 111some other state. (3) a. necessities and luxuries. in wh'i. by metalluJI' usefully as h a 111 r:':g. indistinguishable in practical terms from any o'!her steel bar) and those whose candidacy is precisely their uniqueness wilhin some class (a Mant. except that commoditizaticn is here regarded as a differenti. Two questioos can be raised about thisaspect of Kopytofrs argument. differentially) and the capitatisr mode of cemmoditjzatioa is seen as interacting with Inyri<a.e. in Ilhis.... (ShlCIJ asworks of art and designer-label clothing).rmjnate commodities.Jl~lo[f'S. in my view.~s I. Onewould be that the very definition of what constiuues singLllarities as opposed to classes is a cultural question. the term "commodity" is used in [be rest . objects placed imo a commodity stale though originally specifically protected from it.of this essay to refer to things that. view 'can go with either tendency as it suits their interests or matches their sense oJ moral appropriateness. Here. is tile distinction between primary and secondary cornrnoditics. Nevertheless. though not identical. ~~itie~. things retrieved. nonmoneuzed. 11:: also SCl:IIlS worthwhile to distinguish "singular" from "homogeneous" commodities.There i.ue . But the important palm is [hat the c~ty IS not one kind of thing Father than another. at a certain phose in their careers and in a particular can-lex!.d other indigenous social forms.ingularities.haust its biography. I n t~ IS processual vie. po1incs of v. Individuals. context. (2) commodi~ies.h£~ his tones. ] ho e to s~£tio. This is the principal aim of lllesecLlon that follows. Kopytofl and I are ill full agreement.frs ~e life of a society. .ch objec~ may be moved both Into. in order to discriminate beaween commodities whose candidacy for the cO'lTImodil. I aim less comfortable with the opposition between singularization and cornmoditiza tio I] .. lhings intended for other uses that are placed into the commodity state.ex. either temporarily ()!' pe['manently.commodities and the. On the other hand. and Its mterpretancn IS open to individualmanlpul~~iol1 to some degree.y state is precisely a maater of their class characteristics (a perfectly standardjzed steel ber. Closely relateh. The first. but 'one phase In fh~elife of some things._I'iI19d~L. one Manet father than another). Three additional sets of distinctions between commodiaies are worth making here (others appear killer in [his essay). it culturally regulated. in motion.( rather (han a Picasso. ~lnther. drawing on certain ethnographic examples. and what E call mobile versus enclaved commodities. of com modi tizarion . as KopytoU also points out. essay.f the commodity state.

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for the rnomeru. fi4 . As in most prol:esses.<11 similar light. accept this definition" which should suffice for raising certain preliminary usually In exchange for as paTt of the cultural shaping of biographies. Patterson 1982).D. What we see in the career of a slave is a process.sem the natural universe of individuation and singulariZtltl(~I1: Tlu~ .em thougb[. decommodiil. in which marginality and ambi. nI<ltcl""I!ally as things. b~ aud have bccll~ommoditiled again and again.5. wilen a th!l1g is a commodity reveal a moral ecol1lomy that stands behind [he objective economy of visible transactions. frames the cornmonsensical definition ora commodity: an item with use value that '~ll~o has :exc!ldinge valuevI shall. the successive phases merge one into another. Sl~very ~egjlls w~th ~apture or sale.tem as they are beillg exchanged for o!. mo. certain things exist. that of adoptee] that we in the West <consider far removed from slavery . or o OF peTsons and thi. by W6iY of thosewidespreadinstiauticns known under tile bl<ll~lkeL term "slavery.lously a.represent the natural universe of comrrrodities. At the opposite pole we place people. 'j \' Slavery has oft'eo been defined. From this perspective~!aver}' is seen [Iotas a fixed and tliIlIIi~ary status.. Effectively. That is.llg new s~atuses (by no means always lo~"ly ones) and a unique configuration of personal relationships . More recently. Such shifts and differences in whether and. For ~he cconoenist. Moreover.a.guity of status are at the <core of the slave's socialidentity (see Meillassoux 197.:veen capture or first sale and the acquiseion of the new SOCial Ide 11tlty. The eornrnodiry-slave becomes in effect reirrdividnelized by acquiri.. as objects.In b_!lef. culturally speaking. commodity only during tile relatively short p~nod beil. exceptional. his.~as also 'true of the "free. Vaughan ]977. we take :it more or less for granted t_hal tllm~s . Out of the total range of things available in a society. ahe same thing nl~y. or her commodiilization. the same thing may be treated as a cornIlludity . when the individual is stripped of his prevIous SOCial u:iiellti'ly and becomes a non-person.. Bur lhe slave usually rema1l1s a potentialcommodity: he 'or she continues to have (II potential exchange value that mar be realized by resale.he~ lillngs. In many societies.tiol1i that involves a succession of phases and changes in status. But the process continues. it in the context of slavery.. the pTooe~s h~! moved the slave away from the simple statusO[' e~.physical objects and rights to them . commodirization in them was dearly not cllll.y of individualized persons arid comrnoditized tlllllgs. People' (. tile slave :yas uoambigll.' who we-re subject to sale under certain defined circumstances.ization) ill the new setting. ol].pby o:f !sillgs CHAPTER2 65 The cultura] biography of things: commodi tization asprooess IGOR I{OfVTOfF IIq ¥&") simply are. there has been a shin away fmm [his all-or-none view towaed a processea] perspective. but as a process of social ~ransform. followed oy increasing singularization (that is. in innumerable societres throughout history.m. as the treatment oK persons as property or. ~\!h~ repre.3 new social Identity .lysorne them areconsidered appropriate for marking as commodities. Kopytoff 1982. And rnl!lally.cha~~eable commodity and toward thas of Oil singular individual ocw1?ymg aFar~clJllar social and personal niche . the prcdueticn of coenmoditiesis also a cultural all~1 cogniti~e process: eommodities must be not only prodl~o::d. with the possibility of later reeommodiaization. indeed an object and an ~Clua] ~r potential commodity. in the paSiI. commodities •and rights to things are produced. Hence. be seen as a commodity by one person andas something else by another. <tile! J shall expand on it as the argument warrants. w~ich he 'is resocialized and refeumanized by being given . and ~he slave becomes less of a cemmodity and ~OOl'ore a singll]~r indiv~du~l in the process of gradual incorporation of into the host society. of course. The slave IS acquired by a person or group and is reinserted into th~ hos~ .cml~eptLWal pob.tmrally confined to the world Qf things. of initielwithdrawal from a given original social setting. i~maJYbe suggestive '10 approach the nQHOn or commodity by first looking at. .The culnsral Within. namely. This view. To the extent that in such societies all persons possessed an exchangevalue and were comenoditizable. ts receru and. in some kindred definitions. some of which merge wilh odu::r S!:_aI[Uses (for example. Kopytoff and Miers 1977.~t one t:im~ and not at another. ThIS biographical consideration of enslavement as a process suggesl:s that the ccmmoditisatioe of other things may u~ef~Uy be ~een in . From a cultural ~n oon~e:mporaryWe. but also {:ul~ur<llilly marked as being a certml~ kind ef thing. and <Canbe seen to circulate lh~'ollgh the ec~nomk sys. the same tune. this .

That is obvious . are I. One Ina). and what happens to in when it reaches the end of its usefulness? "For example.erminology and relationships may be superimposed Olll a genealogical diagram and traced through the social-structure-intime that tile diagram mirrors.until at lasl." and what are the cultural markers for them? How docs the thing's use cllange with its age. inhospitable.aILare considered to be desirable models in the society and the way real-life departures from the models are perceived.h05e one asks about people: What.the aspect for which il. The biogm-aph)f of a GU' in Africa would reveal a wealth of cultural data: the way it 'was te show how kinship (. 1m. and. The physical state of the hut at each given age corresponds to a particular use . a message. the enovemenr of the car from hand to hand over the years. Clearly. who on ends up murdered.i~e with her children. the . model is rather more demanding. And it examines ide.. and even political judgments. To us. Rivers also suggested something else: that. what is seen as a well-lived life in all African societyis different in outline [rom what would be pronouncedas a well-lived life along the Ganges.urral questions to arrive at biographies of tlling-s.he mu l be lazy. he may compare the ideal statemeat of the rules with the actual movement of a particular object. such as a pial of land. and how are these possibilities realized? Where does the thing come hom and lliho made it? What has been its career so far. h011i and from whom the money was assembled to pay for it. In doing the biography of a thing. one would ask questions similar to II. Early in lhi~ century.n situations of cuhurecontact. But a biography may ccncentrate on innumerable other matters and events. For a hut to be Ollit of phase in its use makes a Suku uncomfortable. the frequency of borrowing.he biographical. it is successively turned into a guest house 011". One brings to every biography some prior conception of what is to or . but the way tlley are culturally redefmed and put LO use. Bu. W.S and those who borrow it. they can show what anthropologists have so ofaen stressed: that what is significaru about the adoption ofalien objects . ill its way. when the anthropologist ES in search of inheritan c rules. and what do people consider to be an ideal career for such things? What are the recogni1Jed "ages" am-periods in the ~hing's"life. Wha~ of a Renoir ending lip in a private and inaccessible collection? Of one lying neglected ill a museum basement? How should we feel aboua ye~ another Renoir Jeavilflg France [or the United States? Or for Nigeria? The cl!Iltura] responses. or III Brittany.03 house for a widow . amollg (he Su ku of Zaire. As (he hut ages. It is based on ill reasonable number of actual life histories. one way to understand a culture is LO see what sort of biography it m-egards as embodying. or one may construct a typical biographical model from randomly assembled biographical data. or among the Eskimos. finally. H. as the biography of a per . among whom J worked. What Rivers proposed was a kind of biography of throngs in terms of ownership...a of alien ideas. not the fact that they are adopted. the identity of its most frequent passellger. is now mainly remembered . [he uses LO which the cari regularly put. R Rivers offered what has since become a standard lOO] in ethnographic fieldwork. and of convictions al1d~ values that shape our attitudes to objects labeled "art. and in the end" when the car collapses. the garages to whichit is taken and the owner's relation (0 the mechanics. The thrust of the article . a biography of a painting by Renoir 'that ends IJp in an Inrinerator is as tragic.e final disposition of us remains. kitchen. of tDings 67 The Itiographical appreach Biographies have been approached in various ways in anthropology (for a survey" see Langness 1965). present an actual biography.. All of these derails woold reveal an emirely different biography from that of a middle-class American. for example. presents the range of biogl'aphical possibiWities that the society in question offers and examines ahe rnannerin which these possibilities are realieed in ll1e lire stories of various 'calegori!es of people. i." H. for example. sociologicafly. . expectations of things.. Thus. and if there is no visiaors' hut available in a compound. goat or chicken house . a teenagers' hangout. the termites win and ihe structure collapses.Igor Kopyloff The cultural biograph).al ized biographies Lh. Iloting concretely how it passes from hand to hand. 1O such biographical details reveal a tangled mass of aesthetic.. possibilities inherent in its "status" and in the period and exp~ctaJ~CY ?f a hu~ is about ten years.iographies ohhililgs can make salient what mighuHherwise remain obscure. it says somedling aboutthe compound-head's character . and it colliveys. ina polygynous household. a l'I!. om' French peasant car.But there are other events in the biography ofobjects that convey more subtle meanings. We have similar biographical. The typical biography of a hilt begins With Its housing-a COLIple or.a successful social career. to house ill visitor in a hut that should be a kitchen says somethingabout the visitor's status. A more theoretically aware hiiOgraJ)hical. as one does in the standard life Cycle chapter in <II general ethnography. or poor. or Navajo. iln all article entuled 'Tile genealogical method! of anthropological i£l(~uiry" (1'910). ll'li. through the genealogical diagram. the relationship of the seller to the buyer. As Iargaret Mead remarked. it seems to me dlat we am profitably ask the same range and kinds of cll[l.

is also its economic function). Wfiateverlne fate that is reserved for it after the transaction has been made (it may. Hence.. an equivalent value. as a matter of cultural shorthand. its sale and resale price. be decommoditized).. luxury goods. its response to the recession.. ~here societies dif£:er is ill the \vayscornmodi.1<at~turally constructed entily. Here'.which in turn will evoke a similar obligauon . Their existence is a concomitant of the existence of transactions I:hat il"l~riiie the exchange of things (objectS and services). The two siifi. the same token also a commodity at the time of exchange.mayor may not be WlllJrally informed. ~echlilical.or rather.strucaured and relat. Tile car call also furnish: au economic biography .ed world would be one in which everyl~irng is exchangeable or for sale. in. I j tization as a special expression of exchange is. speaking processually. the sheer physical biography of a car is quite different from its technical biography. as these have been classi(al~ydefined in anthropology. ill ahe immediatecontext. and unexchangeable. and a third may foclls on its role in the sociology of the family's !!tin reiatiolls. as the perfec!. thereafter.•while non-saleability imparts to a thing a special aUnBI of apartness froUl the mundane and tile common. familial. first. singular. al. known in the trade as its repair record. incomparable.its initial worth. partake of a single univ. the very core of it [see.economic. While e~changles of IDings usually involve commodities.r and the' . Ekeh 1974. anything that can be bought For money is as that point a commodity. such as loosening family ties in.0 somerheorists. is terminal . America or strengthening them in Africa. poliaical.The gifts themselves may be things thatare l1o:rmally used as commodities (food.By ~he sametoken. the rate of decline in its value. and classified andreclassified inee culturally constituted categories.le.. <I! notable' exception is 'the exchanges that mark relations of reciprccity.. 111 fact. and Kapferer 1'976). But all such biographies . atcommcdiaization.. unique. hl1S. But. but each transaction is not discrete and.ery fact of exchange indicating that tile counlerpann. Whall would make a biography culaural is not what it deals with.liS !goli' KO' . Obviously. the West. ahe patterning over several years of its maintenance costs. ullique. saleability for money is not a necessary feature of (omrnodi~y status. as in the case of gifl:S given to initiate marriage negoti<i:tions. in principle. Homans 1961.e a framework.. eo open the way for some other kind of transaction. given the existence of commodity exchange in non-monetary economies.ed !LO the social system. Biographies of things cannot but be sim~larly partial. Hence.mon".a never-ending chain of gifts and obligations .according 11. professional.or so secure. each of these cases. then. in the factors til at encourage or contain iii" in the long-term tendencies for it to expand or stabilize.each of which selects some aspects of the life history and discards others.or f examp.1 assume commodities to be a universal cultural phenomenon. We usually cake saleability to be the unmistakable indicator of commedity status . endowed with culturally specific rneanj~. one of whose functions is as a means of exchange. The car also offers several possible social b. to be saleable or widely exchangeable is to be "com. gifts are given in order to evoke an obligation to give back a gin. 69 be its focus . The exchange calli be direct or it cam be achieved indirectly by way of money.the opposite of being uncornmoa. the v.ngular.. services). feasts. what is a commodity? Icommon I The' singula. for example. makes a thing a wllilmllld!i~)'?'A commodity is a thing that has use value and d1<liL be exchanged in a discrete transaction can for (lJ counterpart. The purpose of the rransactioa is I'lom. [~ is [r'Ow this point of view that m should like to pmpos.uatiOl1isare ideal polar types" and no real economic . none. and in the cultural and ideelogical premises that suffuse its workings. economic and so forth . A culturally il1f~rrned economic biography of an object would 100. exchange being a universal feature of human social life <lind. another may relate the hisl:ory of its ownership to the society's class structure. for looking at oernmodities . the perfectly decommoditized world would lliJe ne in which everything o is si. and therefore not exchangeable for anything else. The perfect commodity would be one that is exchangeable' wiah anydruing and ellerything else. I refer to lillie transaction involving commodities as discrete in order to stress that the primary and immediate purpose of the transaction is W obtain the counterpart value (and that. We accept that every person has many biographies psychological. of course. is a partial transaction (hat should. taken together. To use an apprO:priately loaded even if archaic term. for the economist.erseof comparable values. commodlitiz. To be' saleable for money or to be exchangeable for a wide aJrral' of other ~hings is to have something in oommon with a large number of exchangeable things that. be considered in the context of the entire transaction. but how and from what perspective.iographies: one biography may conoerurate on its place in ttle owner-family's economy. The coun- terlPart is by.

. <lin each was. .rnon stanar IS a . slaves.eprese~( three separate uiliverses of e. .ll~~. . e a I . ~lng here. Culaure achieves order by (.. .l ~ave b. an n rn -~OllP 1-e1a!. .s. mediCInes.' I. rn at mUI:iI-cemnc economy. 1.. Yet.that of several spheres of eKchal1gre values.rr:ces:"k y l~...f thmgs .col1w:~nll1g "downward" was shameful ad· n-peopie. .. lvith most philosophers.' ~rarc am.' es . .()J"le could. 71 or A concrete example of all econo· .• . objecti vely. ..IU.e~·sm:n:amlh .. . ..5" [.ed...ence...nk. III the realm of exchange values this means tlUlit the natural wqrid of singular things must be arranged into several manageable va1u~e classes . III economics It involves the oth end .arving out" through discrimination and classificaiion. what we lIsually refer to as "structure" lies be~.· . y ~.. . ~Il no system is everything so singular as to preclude even the hint of exchange..h· . . . .suchspheres Tn' 0lf cent .lOS ~or rods some trail " . ~ Clod doth.n1]I .pheres r..'_. . rela(ed lo the world of 1<' nd ki ' an t e rl?"htswas the highest . d hi' .. is totaUy heterogeneous and presents an endless array of singular things. ty..L n~Tare He t .Flg yams W ritual offi. r 5051011. And beyond lhii. .. if (he hmiilogeniziil1g prooess is carried too far and (he perceived world begins to approach too closely the other polein the case of goods. the cultural systems of classificatioe reflect the structure and the cuhural resources of the societies in question. e sp. adable in compan. ms mc a smg e cOl'nmodin' f sphere.. which included rights in w' ' .egory <lind dissimilar'when put into different categories. But ~hey are two extremes between which . 10 prestige . wnereas ..hiD the overall helcrogerneil.. '.~exchange as they operated before the c:~::ials dilr~. and brass rods. 1"''-'-' .~~~:~ ~I~:tehow MI"e. .. ". . Y . Moreover.111 contrast to that' F r nv orh SImilar systems) • i( 'was possible t 0 move . '.hlC 1 thmgstl:Jat are patently un. U'Uilgs Spheres of exebange system could wnform... . taking the pa~ently sin erlms aJly msem-tmg It 1111[0 a 11 . .~ . . . ".. .se . ~ora y appropnate W COl1!vern.I'i' con_._II'[£:'C'. . CIInd. h."1I ward" hom suhsls~.IOns In the nghts~'[]-people sphere Th T sidered It sarnsf'ilmg d II. . This is the basis for a well-known nomic phenomenon . that of utter commeditizaaion . . distinct areas of homogeneity wi~.e. different things must be selected and made cognitive:ly similar when put together within each cat.' ". . " •I cu. rnarser moralny. ere 0:( nghts-I.. .d~al"ly dls[~nct.rnany at er ' '''. all Suell diIS'1." Bohannan (959) d' the first case as totally heterogeneous in terms of valuation and. . c . Both individuels and cultu ra I collectivities I1IHlsl navigate somewhere between tile polar extremes by dassifyillg things into categories that are simalraneously neither too many nor too embracing. ere Inqt1lse' 1I01vllh I'd r subsistence rtems.chan if: '. . d: d i . extreme duress.losophical conundrum . gu ar " .mY WU. . in the second.. as to~aHy homogeneous ." .e . original publication e 1903).. ". aresti .•It at least suggests that while v· d. And in 110 system..malnl:}' cantle..'weenthe heterogeneity of UJO much spli:nliig and the homogeneity of loa much lumping. is everything a..y.'JI'aphy of' . ... comparable [0 an. .even' f . ana YSIS'0 a o. making ams for e ' . own peculiar place. • . e . 'LiIal tile human mind has an inherent tendency to impose order upon the chao'S of its err . Brass rods ~::i~~ler c~mlJerexceptional CIJrClIITlSl<llinces eopl p I' ". sves. ... I .. e s~here of~'r~smJge Hems .. ..S.' " exchange will hel~ tile discu ' .h d P " tile ". also llllLla. me.that is..or ne c urerenr mvestmem in [raining that the labor re _ resents in each case). We can accept.. and ~jJe I'k. except in some ell:.' and ( ) th h" ~ people." r= . P . ironment by classifying its contents. c Wll res pea tovalue. . and fro' m prestige to ng!:! ts-I. f..~allne~ . rne a or ~ leary of value presents .. i' .e mysterious . and without this classifieauon lnowledge of the world and adjustment to it would nol be possible.lld value equival:ence has aiwa s been a rt:u.. . u. l llo~e .betl'll'cen the spheres.H ' the Immense d "ffi I'd>' .70 Igor Kopylof{ The cultural bio"." . -.P ". I .hree commodity snheres Ite "'hog Ie bl dr-·· . '.d exchang'eable with a ~ort. Such a construction the wodd . U~)I prOlll I'" "d.. Y .every real economy occupies its.~u~s~. b hi I .s~cl:. .l. which ' operate more or less independently one another. Cd .like are somehow ~ad~ o .. of lump 1"llg. . goats. this in volves. an..lIOns. '.~Ior~ categOl y of value With o!heratenll smgula..can c()llcelllably P y L e labor required to produce ~hell ( hil allowing f. . r~ Nigeria: (31) the sphere of sub.osslbIIHy· .culture's function of cogni'live discl'imi. . . ~h:~~ s.there was a moral hi . . 0 morality. . e.T1 . P.. Culture serves the mind by i'rnposing a conectively shared oognilille order upon [he world which.111 the Tiv d cereais oone une lS hick .0 either.... ritlla. Ufenstls.wouM be humanly and culturally impossible.0 I. Iinguisl. . lSplrlng.. ~n br~f.en.h . J' arns an pOLS. ruled by its own kind ..travaganl Marxian image of an utterly commoditized capitalism.nOltionis undermined.eI10e.. an done ol1lly under orne. For aJlnt1e difficulties that '11 I' b I. mllilmodity and exchangeable for everything else wilhin a unitary sphere of exchange. The phenomenon is found in every society. . .sis(e:. ~e spheres: (he subsistence sphere.. wltllits'ilntram. I 'eed Imp. er . L..l~t·. thougll Westerners are most apt to perceive it in uncommcl'dalized and unmonetized economies. tl l'iT' . 'was the lowesr .:s r. (b) f.e. I! ~. and psychologists. In . as we (<BInxpect 'with Ourkheirn and Mauss (1963. . be com ared b h .ms wrt III each were ex cnangeante.ces or pots W wives and of~·' .r ofaX.pheres of l w h IS a classic .1 e~..r In-people spllere. The natllre and s[J~uct!olr! these spheres of exchange varies m!l0':!g societies b~£. I ' ·f' " I' ... . . . 1 even W II e .Le With ~.~ eoo- or or !he pr?blem of value aJ. there's also some tendency to im pose a hierarchy upon the categories.... as-we may expect with Dumont ('1972). no such com . wars. .'..' .nTI h . n " c :lcKens... This . and offspnllg \1all..

There m<liy be some practical side to these royal pretensions. Culture ensures that some things remain unambigiously singular. as opposed to the prestige items of social mal'!lelllV~Tln:g.( others. whaa serves the state. One may iruerpret Brandel's recent work 0983) In this light . Henoe. marking it as "sacred.~ of a ~tfal~htfo:ward exchange syst.. is to expand the visible reach of sacred power by projecung it onto additional sacralized objects. African chiefs and kings reserve to them&dvesthe right so certain animals and animal producss..72 Igor Kopytoff The cultural biography of things 73 the natural basis for the cultural construction o~ s'eparate spheres of exchange.11e merger of the separate spheres of exchange '. comrnoditi- The oounterdrive to this potentia] onrush of commoditization is cult. by making more and more different things more widely royal residences.a~geable for more and more other things. many of these prohibitions are the handwork of the state. In state societies. such as the skims and teeth of spotted wild cats. state art collections. a whole. then.Yr_c. and it sometimes resingularizes what has been @[I1l!lodit_!_zed. But why only three spheres and not. as indeed so many have perceived it 01" sensed ill t:o be. Such singularization is sometimes extended to things that are nOI["- ." singularizanon is one means W this end.ght to singularize an object.ess ~f initial r:.a ~eac. ditization. n-tn'e sense that cemmodirization f nomogenizes value. The exaenssve WlTI~OdL~aUOI1 we associate with capitalism is thus not a feature of capllahs~ p. moeumerns. ~ven though they may try to corurolit by political means.lllustrale~ by the mode~n 'Tiv. a multi-centric eCOD?my such <JIs.5. This applies to much of 'what one thinks of as the symbolic inventory of a society: public lands.Some of tile prohibitions are cultural and upheld collectively. regardl.ed r. say. a dozen? The. chieAyinsi. palpable items of subsistence created b~ physIcal labor.. was assoc~a~edwlt~__!!_ and! that set dramatically wider limits to rnaximum feasl~le com~o. which lacker] a common denominator of value more COU\lement than brass unhappmess well. The drive to commoditization zation in them expandsinto novel areas.and individual From this perspective'. And British monarchs have kept their right to dead whales washed ashore. led to the explo~ion of conl~~dIL~zalion thai was at tile root of .S to seize uporn the new oppOorlunities that wide commodlllzaIllOn. must first purchase access to the transaction.coromodltll3!lIOn seems to be pushed to the limits pesmiated by tile Tiv exchange tec. the paraphernalia of political Jlower. and "vila!. in 'which the consumer.. What. with the usual ilJllernwil1inl!: etween what serves b the societyat large.IL is rather the opposite .9Bc0. and (0) with respect to l~system as. as op~ose? to the more intimate domain of the rights and obligaaions of kinship. The culture rakes on the less swecpingt~sk of making ~alueequivalence by creating several discrete cornmoduy sph~res .. .gnma. in order to purchase goods and services. The kings of Siam monopolized albino elephants. these monopolies clearly do. Power often asserts illsdf sY_E1bolically precisely by insisting on its ri. that of the Tiv is not an exotically complicat..e. which ecological and cultural materialists will no doubt dilligemly discover. ritual objects. . in turn.em. as Durkheim (191. by making it exch:. . serves the specific groups in control. the drive t~ extend the fundamentally seductive idea of exchange to as many Items as th~ existing exchange technology win co~fortabty a~low. is best looked upon as a process of becomingrather than as an all-or-none state of being. the urnversa! acceptance of money whenever It has been mlrod~ced Ult~ nonmonetized societies and its inexorable conquest of the mt. Hence also the uniform results of the mtroductlon of mooney In a wiele range or otherwise differeru societies: more extensrve COI1llmodiaization and 1.ent i~ every exchange system aoward optimum wmmodlitizatiarn _. <!!"_3 set or class of objects. however.And if.iection and of individual u L1happiness aboerit . Indeed..~ le~hrlOlogyand how this. there are things that are publicly precluded from being commoditized .rwo ways: (<I) with respect to each rhing. gJV~~ their endemic shortages and ubiquitous b~aclKmarkets. it resists the commoditizalLt. and so on. while the essence of culture is discrimination.of s~phficauon.e~na~~onomy of these societies.. hi every society.endenn. . nOlilcapitalist econormes certainly show no signs of being sys~ematicallyexel~~l f rom this ~endency.eapitalism.10 the Tiv case. .hnalogy.of what is naturally an ulIImanageablernass of singular l~e~s . Comrnoditizaaion.!!_ is as if (he internal logic of exchange itself pre-adapts showing hml1 the devclopmen~ in early modern Europe of a range ~f new institutions shaped what might be called <II new exchan~. Orne perceives in this a driveinher..M: obviously brings with it. Singu131Tizalion: cultural . Its expansion tales r-:lacein..' ~ of the exchange lcdmology that. excessive cornmodlitization is ~e.. societies need to set apart a certain portion of their environment. original publication 1912) saw it. historicaUy. Modern state-ordered..

{j.m_edicine w:nanmakes and sells a medicine that is utterly singular SInce It IS efficacious ol1ly for :tile intended patient. r. in the ritual paraphernalia the Brstish monarchy. sim1glllar:i~y does not guarantee sacralization.a}.tffiiS in the prestige sphere (slaves. The 1.s-in-person achieved a singular inlegrill}' by a different ahough related principle. om plantations.)-llllay be worth very little. all equally mystifying label is attached 10 mattresses and ceshions..74 Igor Kopyto[[ The cultural biography 0. or on galleys. Terminal rommoditization also marked the sale of indulgen~es in the Roman Catholic Church of half a miHenniu rill ago: the sinner could buy them but nor resell them. <ilf~ell" destined to be terminatall. In many societies. medicines are treal. ritual offices. . when trying to find out I. Woefind a Star of India that. I asked abour the barter value ofmanioc. There are oaher exam pies of legal attempts torestrict recomtnoditization. contrary to '''''hat would normally have happened. such ~erminal oommoditizalion is achieved legally.1" things 75 mally commodities . a special I:loth. Another way La singularize objects is through restricted co~E:'0ditization. Other factors besides legal or cultural. the ritual paraphernalia of the kings of the Suku of Zaire included standard trade items. in which fur'l~~." or that certain expensive cars have a "high resale value. T-o be ~ non-commodity is to be "priceless" in the ~pos. it rests 011 the prohibition ag<llinsl reselling a p~escribed drug and against sdling any medicine withour pwper licensing. in which some things are confined to <iii 'IIery narrow sphere of exchange. The scoffing was rather like what an Aghem would get from a Western~r who:m he asked about tile exchange value ofa match he :~rof{en. The expectation is easily enough fullill·ed with such things as canned peas" though even here externa] circumstances can intrude. say. Among the Aghem of western Camerooh. t~ light a Mr~nger's cigarette. were Jess commodirized than ~he far more numerous il. was prevenred from becoming a commoditj' and e'\lcnlually .slble sense of the term. such as eigbteenthceruary European ceramic drinking mugs brought by the Portuguese. Some purchased people ended up in the mines. The response was indignant scoffing at the very idea . Being a non-commodity does not by itself assure higll regard. paperbound ooo~s published. there IS also wffi1. it may be noted" were mare si. Manioc was pan of a class of singular thlllgS of so little worth as to have 110 publicly recognjzed excharwg~ value. in Creat Britajn often . not unlike those of the Ti. that of the hcmogeneity of its components. others S? or . precluded by fiat. more special. a second-hand market normally deyelops. The Tiv system illustrates the principle.cJial1ge is. and hence more sacred than the lowest sphere. Thus.g of but two kinds items . the' promise that oriental carpets. 0011 the order.ed: the .al might be called terminal commoditization. that's all.1J.cartle. U sacralization can be achieved by silllgularily. and sacralized in dIe process. ranging from the uniquely valuable to the uniquely worthless. and the idea that it does m." Similarly. and ill! America.\"0 upper Tiv spheres. one could detect yet anotherand lower sphere. The few.J:!jI_t is.<.as in the classic model of the Trobriaadkula exchange sphere of arm bands and bracelets Fepres~nts an even . With durable goods. _n_9n-excnang'!'=' able lhi. though b'ollglH ~or use. The or or Aghern a!"e and were lit commercially minded people. Wilhex. in times of war shortages. of bread among Easaern European 'effect. be Iostered by the sellers.chang. from the past. and brass rods). where the fan 'that a person has been bought does not in itself Lell us anything <tbOLH [he uses to which tne person may then be put (Kopytoff 1982:223[0. let me stress that llleindignation was not about a suggested commercial cOlfTtwption of a symbolically supercharged staple. be misunderstood and se~limerualized.e spheres. casried by the Suku 10 their present area. In modern Western medicine. instead of being consumed. Most consumer goods are. at least.(arry a bewildering note forbidding the buyer to resell it in any but the original covers. Thus the moral hierarchy of the Tjv exchange spheres corresponded to a gradient of singelarity. O~·one gives it away ifone wants to.greater degree of singularizatioa. The Tiv exchange sphere of righm." The existence of aerrninal commoditjzation raises a point that is central 'to the analysis slavery. one below that of marketable s. commodities are singularized lliJy bewg' pul!. are a "good investment. all sorts of normally consumable goods begin to serve as a store of wealth and. WiL~ no disdain for trade. A sphere collsis(in.0 pots.. forbidding their resale. circulate endlessly ill the market. WOl1llen may help our one another with it and other such food.llgs.singularized into a "crown jewel. it." Lest the outburst.m. though cemmodities by virtue of being exchangeable one for tile other.hat such a lowly thing as manioc should have been exchangeable for anything: "One eats. and many singular things u.lIll'Si~tence items .gingwidely from yams 1.ed out of their usual commodity sphere. But one doesn"t trade it. fiat may create terminal commodities. addition ~o things being classified as more or less singular. it is hoped by the manufacturer. There is an area of our economy ill which the selling strateg)' rests 011 stressillg that the cornmodnization of goods bl:mglliLfor consumption need ~O~ be terminal: thus.ngular. Once. or so.ems of tile sebsisrence sphere.he preco· lonial exchange value of various items. conlail1ing tile many objects of mundance subsistence.

The individual mind .En the Bamenda area of western Cameroon. freezes the girl. say.they continue no have an exchange value. or.!ly were willing to sell them. <rendthese caaered nitive need for discrimination.c:~ plaj wiah them all. some discrete spheres of exchange exist a~d are nearly unanimously accepted and approved. "Everyone" is against coenmodisizing whaa has been publicly marked a.76 IgOT KopytoH Roman Admirals. is suspect because it looks.Singular and made sacred: public parks. Other singularizing values are held by more restricted groups. in any ~Qciel.r academic favors. on the whole.~~~ subsequent SLaWs and whether it will remain a commodity or not:_:_But unless formally decommoditized. Like rthe Tjv. George Was. and changing spheres of exchange. What these mundane examples show is that.that an object is bought or exchanged says nothing a~u~. which declares in doing so that it is free of any lingering oblig. as I have seen in Africa.i[y. ~he Lincoln Memorial. mo- I said above that the exchange spheres are.lling flU the sale of some piece ofchiefily paraphernalia in order to provide a till roof for the schoolhouse. and shields tile donor from suspicion of continuous undue irntluen:ce on the university..e day I railed completely 1. Geruinly.. Her friends. Buajt is more than that.hington's false leerh alMount Vernon . -COimpIex soci. But she would not budge. . non-monetized societies like the Tiv than ill commercial • monetized ones like our OWI1 . the social strucLures within which it takes place vary. the sale of public lands as a way of balancing the budget. as opposed to oollective. advocating. too much like IJUrdlasing influence.ililding moves the money intoa nearly decommoditized sphere. into visible irrevocabil. I had acquired several in this way. or at least are held by the groups who-wield wlwr:lil hegemony in our society and define much of wha1 we are apt to call our public culture . a pastoral group whose women IlIsed ~hern extensively and. even if they have been 'effectively withdrawn frcen their exchange sphere alUf deactivated. Yet OI1l.part hero. so do our Ilnan6ers cautiously navigate between exchange spheres in sudl masten.l1g t. 'LO us. By successfully to (he individual mg· CO ntrast . in our socie~y. We have explicit exchange spheres recognized only by segments or society. implying the don or's power to withhold the next check. societywide. And there is also the opposite phenomenon: the ideological comrnodiaizer. The world Qt~hilJg:s:_Ieruds uself to an endless number of classifications. wh~~e its classifications must provide unambiguous guidance to pragmatic and coordinated donor's name on tile building thus honors not simply the donor but also the university. W.eties or I classificarioes.aland idiosyncraticpercepuons. arguing thar fOol" the money shecould get a far better and prettier calabash. cam lot be so 'eXUbeIJa11t. Partly this is a matter of noticing the exotic and taking the familiar for granted. part fool-wilD refuses to sell his house for a miLlioll dollars and forces I. Cult~e.ealso. we are adamant about keeping separate [he spheres of material objects and pel'sons (a matter I shall elaborate on later). This deactivation leaves them open not only to tile various kinds singulariaarioa 1 have mentioned so Iar.he skyscraper ao be built arollnd it. at least at the cognitive level. rooted in natural features and ClIlLur. But converting a large donation ifUlLO a bm. arc normally anonymous or posthumous. told her that she ' was being silly. . nalior. and highly comrnoditized society. least so ill the economy. Some of ttJis dash between culture and individual iSll1evitable. A money donation in installmenrs would be particularly dinners and keep that sphere discrete.-allandmarks.. producil1g results [hail both culture and individual cognition often O'ppose. the economy [oIIOl~'edthe cultural netized. constructing innumerable classes.. redefinitions. the value-homogeaiaing drive of the exchange system has an enormous momentum. Puni. and such donations. people prized large decoraaed calabashes that came over the border from Nigeria. We blandly accept the existence of <BIn exchange sphere of political 9.ations to tile specific donor. In a society like the precelonial Tiv or Aghem.. The values underlying such transactions are. who carefully moved from the sphere of mundane pots to that of pr. Thus. by contrast. but would be as shocked at the idea of monetizing this sphere as the Tiv were at firstat the idea of monetizing their marriage transactions.lturallliograpby O!f ~hi:ngs 77 became Grand Vjziers or Imperial ( ~Il~ Sa~leTl\r~~ the hcro.estigeful tides by using the mediation of brass rods. more visible ill nonmmmerdal. oommoduized things remain pot~!ltialoomrnodjties .0 convince an Aku woman to sell [He a standard calabash 110which she had added some mil10r decorations of her own. when made . so to speak. ca. no more than does that ever-newsworthy man in our society . norma.. ~ut in inconsistent and even contradictory ways. as ceenmcdisies. A saraight mOoney donation in general funds. butalso to individual. the individual is often caught between ~he cultural strUcture of commadieization and his own personal attempts to bring a value order 10 the universe of things. if it is of any size. in a oornmercialized. giving it different inl-ensi ties.l. as gin-giving to universities. the culture and the economy were ill relative harmony. But if the da:)h is inevitable. differem. The conduit for them was the Aku.nniverses of common value. ~Il The cu..

perhaps. the rules of the professional culture have become less ti.78 [gofKopyloff 1". of the very Idea of cultural restraints has. and liberal society. had little scientific value.ght and the rules 0. BlI~. Such groups consrituae the networks of mechanical solidarity that tie together the parts of the organic structure of the wider society.becultural h:iogl'ap.605. b brief. spheres. Neverrheless. whose' members also belong to other networks .l1ialTiv. The morality governing the sphere did not allow for them to be sold. the last supported by thecollector's supposed knowledge of the object's cultural context.itul'e and the economy joined hands to provide an approved model of classification.~ssil1cation are extremely varied. To be sure. small-scale soueues In \~hlch commoditizauon (helped by indigenous ~er) was very extensive. or worse still. ~ul[e slmp~y. opened the door W a great variety of definitions by indieiduals and small groups. but it had to be don. f(ll' whom it was permissible though shameful [0 sell a brass rod for fond. The widespread rejection. such as the Yurek of northern California I(Kf(}eb~r192'5) ~r . ahat of academic patronclient relationships.I~oshifu. the public culture offers discriminating classitications here no less than it does in small-scale societies.~he peC'Uh"a~Jty. now sentimental value is. and it was vaguely contaminated by having circulated in a monetized commoditysphere .et. excepl at cost to a museum. more sincerely but also le5~ widely. ~he:re are.a matter of individual c~oice. The result is. recognized comrnodlllzauon operates side by side wiLI1 innumerable . The discriminating criteria that each individual or network can bring 10 the task of cI."lic. .cO~(exluallr and biographically as the originators' perspecuves. to make the rules less clear and more open to ~ individualinterpretations and to idiosyncratic systems or valutes.alism. from dealers in Europe or America. we muse not forg.m~oralHY of any kind of circulation of these objects and callmg for their complete singularization and sacralization wim-hin the dosed boundaries of [he society ahat produced lh. from European traders in Africa. worse.). That is.accordiing to Bohatm~n.Y have b~come . een. the Iaarer being ruled in most of its. and relativism and provides no firm guidance.morei~iosYlflcr.fl:doccupational grou ps.namely. while the 0111. since the 1'9.the Kapauku of western New Guinea (pospisil 196~o). he exchange sphere [0 which African art objects heT longed was ex tremely bomcgerrueolls in content.f()rrn~r.egory as ~he objects "legitimately" acquired 'in the I'i:el:d.<I sacred cast."t the I. so here exsreme need justified "Iiquidalion" on the commercial art market.esson the economy can teach is that of the freedom l and dynamism that ever-wider commoditiUltioll clearly bril1gswith it. tlley were held to have for their co<l lector a personal sentimental value. Such an object. One could also give them as gifts. no stnctures now on buymg an African art object at an auction in America. h~ a commercialized. "~J I am arguing here ISthat the crucial difference between com_fkx and small-scale societies does not Iie simply in the extensive com!!I. for example. the public culture in complex societies does pOO"Ovide broadly discriminating value markings of goods and services. h.£ pro:pnc1'.in unaware th~l these objects are what every newspillper and m~ga~me calls "collectlbles. or a scientific one.01'. 111 the simpler days of thiny or more yean ago. by merging Ih~ presiously dIS~I1C~exchange. was not considered entirely proper to acquire an art object from Afr'iC311 market trade!"!'. it conferred as .can an picked Ill) randomly in the course 'Of fieldwork was placed entirely in a dosed sphere with . loos~ll~d the rules amollg the Tiv . Afri.a oomamjnation that was not entirely removed by keeping it thereafter in lhe same cat. At the same time.expolmdil1lg 'yel other value systems. heterogenous. here as elsewhere. Where 'before t~e professional culture decreed that the value of these objects was sentimenaal 'I-Il'hel1 was not scientific. which subscribe to a common cultural code and a specially focused morality. but there the cu. lluls inserting them inw another circumscribed sphere.contaminating as it has become more seductive. affilIations and interests shift.the seeds for such debates also exist in societies like ilile precolo.canisl:S. as among ~he Tiv. thundering abo. or a purdy aesthetic one." As Douglas and Isherwood (1980) show.of complex societies IS that their publici). The rules have been loosened in some of [he same ways that mone[iza~iol1i. pu ritans ha ve arisen. these mustconstan tty compete with classifications !by individuals and by small networks. let alone from an Africalll trader ill AfriC'ol!. activities by commodity principles. Not only is every individual's or network's version of exchange spheres idiosyncratic and different from (hose of others. Students relllming from the field usually brOoughl olle or two as gifts to their supervisors. acquired ar second hand. for no one can rema.hy €If things 79 such as professional <I. The objects collected were greatly singularized. converting "downward. Monetization ill itself has become less. the public culture defers most of lh~ time to plur.e 1oIIill1 a pprop ri ale' discretion and it \'1'<:15 certainly seen as."iBut Ilhe most noticeable change ~a:s. II. only between people and gnmps. There have been. a debate 11m into my discussion by looking <lit an activity in one such group: the collection of African art among American Afr'i. Lea me lead but it a.em.odiiization i~~he . but within each person as well. The l"eSlllt~ can be partly glimpsed ill what has happened to African art collecting over the past quarter (c'utl1ry. was permissible 10 exchange them for other African (or other "primitive art") objects.

emmenlal ones . bored ~¥ith the ho~ogeneo~s Scandi.i~glLllaFiza.ective singularizaliol1 is achieved by reference to tile passage of ume". heirlooms and old! slippers alike=.." v.811 Igor KQPytoff The' cultural biography of !bings 81 schemes ofvaluation and singulariz<lilion devised by il1idivid~. channels the individual drive for singularization. I can think of no ~rrualogy to Stich possibilities among the Tiv exchange spl1er·es.i the s.II1Lh African art." m success sWI)' 0 fan Ital iall-A m erican boxi n g cha mpion fmm SOLIh t Philadelphia. but at about d'lcage of tlm"ly t~ey begin to move into the category of antiques and rise in l. reqUl. a community of a few city blocks can suddenly be mobilized by a common outra..w~ere. The dy"amics societies There is clearly a yearning for singularization in wm~I>ex:. W :rncem y pnceles~ heirloom 'land .vafues may _~s. A few years ago.lIecl:!lve. Such public oonfficts are often more than mere matters of style. . ! am mnfusing two different sys[ems of values: . Because it is done by groups" it bears the stamp of collective approval. hunger.> S!!d~ G:il:egQ:ries"and gmups. of ~e.them LI.eratioIl (in the past.iion in complex of the new "collectibles" of the beer can "i'<lirietyare similarly caught in this paradox: as one makes them more sil1gular and worthy of being collected.imal. much of the coll. they acquire a price and become a commodity <BInd their singularity is to thaa extent undermined. it was a piece of me .n the I1I.societmes. To the groups whose social identities were vested in the museum. panels deciding on public monemenas. The appeal [0 greed in their advertising is complex: buy this plate now while it isstjll a commodity. basrelief renditions of Norman Rockwell's paintings all sculptured plates. of course. and if they are valuable. because later it lvill become a singular "collectible" whose very singularity will make it into a higher-priced commoditj.the market.seum .:t!s_. who controls them and how says much aboutwho controls Lhe socieay's presentation of i~sel{ to itself.ably cancelled ones so there IS n~ doubt about th~tr worthlessness. me a connnodity to the jeweler. they age.the mSl~~t smglllanzation of objects in the trasb-plle-t!O-ltvll1lg-room decor of the upwardly mobile youl1g professiooals.IaluewtLh every receding' year.I~s. Tllus.ate singllla:nzatlo":.if _culiu-re. mo~edl ~TO:m the sphere of the singular'!). matchbooks. one may note. tb:e stamps are prefc·r.i5.' and so on. Much of II. and comac books suddenly become 1:I!'ortby of being collected.odety poses a $op ecial brief.nilimk~bl~.ed "future collectibles.tand':_confllcts. To the jeweler. or silver medals commemorating unmernorable events. and takes on the weight of cultural sacredness."1In liberal societies. more time was.illi. dlvorce(~.s~oh~hty and more stylistic eorninuitj'. apparent in the widespread response to ever-~ew kinds of singularizalioos. As among instnuaion thaI[ happens simultaneously to serve as a public monument to (he local social establishment and w satisfy the artistic needs of the professional intellig. ill the circle of commodities foe which they were onginally intended. the statue was a singlllar object of ethnic. Many of infmmal siDgula~~~. and these scbemes 5ta.]LIggl~~t:_:_~e_po~:t.g:e at the pTO~ posed removal and sale of M:rapmetal of the rusting Victorian foul1rain and tha. one makes them valuable. often on p I""i n ci ples as III U ndane as ttl ee 011 ~ ah at governs. Old [beer cans. bOI h efwhich happen ro converge on the oObject al hand. d~es the sa~e . Sometimes the yearning assumes the proportions ofa cO.e!y equal to the spa[] of lime ~eparaung o~~ (rom one s grandparents' gen.ect of commodity principles and singularizarion principles is played upon by firms slleci<BIlizing in manufacturing what might be call.invariably overestimate its commodity value). As l.fr9rn ahe jeweler'S cuhure is apparent in my \I/illingness. The statue came directly from rtffile ovie set of "Rocky. Old d~lem in some sense to the person and makes parung from.Jt~e period I:. neighborheed organizations concerned with "beautification. a worthy public monument.that of.historical commissions.~ion. Sin gularizarion of objects by gro ups within the s. This 'interpenetration within the same obj.the longeVity of ~e relauol1 asslm~l~t. Behind Ule extraordinarily vehement assertions o~ti_c. there was a public coneroversj' in Philaddphia about a proposal to install a statue of the cinematic boxing hero Rocky on the Parkway in front of the Art MlI. class. '~he faa~ Or.a populatioe.nd in unresolvable ~onflirt with public commoditization as well as with one another.~ely unhisaorical ad<llptatlon of theanuqutog p~ocess s? perceptively analyzed by Th?mpso? . _and_~~ni!= « id~ntity.Itll. these are all processes wlthm small gmups and social networks.expel1lslve SIngular." such as leather-bound editions ofEmersoe. is satisfied individual' sedate pace . class" and regional pride . There I~ al~o the modern and appropria. TOothe "ethnic" working-class sector of tile Ph:ilacldp. navian aridi.(1979) . ¥I:!t_aL_~o is an_ he~loom_. of the dosed sphere ofpersonally smgulanzed things.hal begin~ to usher j~ sacralization IS <!i~prox.:_ of whaa one might Iabel ll~E:lIblifinstiwtions of s.. these institutions are higher nongovernmental agencies or only quasigov.ty preferred by ~he prevIous :generation of lh~lf. And there is a co:ntinuin:g appeal in stampcollecting . by priv. anc. Cars as commodities lose value as. worthless to that of the. and the fact that 1 am not. however.entsi<ll.

llistic society.JunK.·u. t~e worth orcommodli~ies is determined by (he s99alrebtLonsof their pr~duction.. rather._--. The statue was not ins LOll at the Art Museum hut im South Philadelphia. h would. fOT one should lI10t be pricing the priceless . ~ .... or meraliry.l :. In acomplexsociety. he missing the point of this analysis to conclude that [he talk about singular art is merely an :ideological camotillag.uetis. singularizations of various kinds.arity. the justification mlJlstlie imported from outside the system of exchange..cogllitively distinct yet effea-j~ely..---. people VS.. one is mml. museums mU5~Insure their hoJdi. and uncertainties in action.ern society as represestauve the sweeping nature of commcdiuzation in of an ideal type of highly commer- . This is the time when il: is exposed to the well-nigh-infinite variety ofaH.f.o:ll~mous and usually parochial systems as ahat of aesthetics. when. are a constantaccOmpal1lment of commoditizauon.ied will be duly pointed mit by the n.anotller. !-he explanation for our aui~ude is that thingscalled "art" or "historical objects" are superior to the world of commerce. or f Two Wes.I ing to what appear to be al10malies in cognition. is corn~rn1ed not by the object's structural position-in a.ay of an autonomous cpgo!tive and cultural process of singularizat. [0 ~'lhers and to oneself. and this by w.. against the charge of "merchandising" art. the pricetessoess still makes the Picasso in some sense more val· uable than nhe pile of dollars it can fetch . Thus. F~r Marx.f:n to the push and pull of events and desir~. as jlt is shuffled abour in the RUN: of social fife. therefore. _m - "-4l. [h3l1some of that p:mwel'" attributed to commodis ities afser they are produced. for one tiling.."' •. snconsistenciesin va Iues ..empts. however. In response. c~lII!? it traditiotlally did among the Tiv.. aesthetics.ed exchange spheres.'. Th-~-o~!y_ when the commodity saatus of a thing is beyond tin:l~ ...oll. When we feel that selling a Rembeandt or an heirloom is trading downward. and as inevitable as.servll .IIS palpably confirmed by me ability of the < brass rods to bring in ritual doth or Mack market that aceompanies reg-· alated singularizing economies.~ L4dI.&!i. fronted wah seeming paradoxes of value.formally speaking. People in these societies all maintai II SOIne private vision of a hierarchy of exchange spheres. even offended...{)OO. or gerruealogical esote rica.. This allows the commodity to be socially endowed wirh a . objeds West. . oT religion.e. saylisric. makes it necessary to attribute high bur nonmoneil1ilry value to aesthetic. the' superiority in prestige (raaher th3ln mere exchange) of brass rods over pots \. say. when ~c9ml)lOdit)' is effectively out of the commodity sphere. higher scheme. ~ -.' rolfowed by reentries into the closed sphere of singular " brief. for example.e may take Lillis (0 be the missillig non-economic side of what Marx called commodity fe'1i1~ism. There is a kind of singularizing black market here that is {he mirror-image o. 10 "ingularize it.-.But in a plur<.: broiled in snobbery.. Singul. from such aut. between cormnedirization and singularizatioll in complex societies takes place within individuals. Yet. Hence. one that is non~~~ry and goes beyonde~(hange worth. When things participate simultaneously il1 .o~__!§_the moment of actual exchange. though possess· ing a monetary value. (I.e fOJ" an interest in merchandising.tntermesh. .." But the two worlds Q":"ot be Ii:. The high value does not visilJly reside in the exchange system itself . or specialized professional concerns. ~e accused of the sin of transforming art inao a commodity. Our analysis sug~es~) however. led next toa stadium. What is culturally significant here is precisely that d~~.hlike "power" that is unrelated eo its true worth. class.oJ~. absorb the other kind of worth. is.1 a.~-..tern exchange 1 have so far emphasized spheres. W. an inner compulsion to defend oneself. .. we fed uneasy. defend themselves by blaming each other for creating and maintaining a commodity market.I.i...~uest. Most of the conflict.aiiilycoll.ching~ ~~. and. But the opponents. even things that unambiguo]:l_~ycarry an exchange value . _I. and it "masks" th~ :corn~odity's true worth (as.ever.ldJJt J ClIL.•g .- =) _. its slaws is irnevitaibly ambiguous and op.n~ex. jmeg·~Uy !...ewspapers if the Picasso is stolen. but Tne jusritication for this hierarchy is not.Lawvl. .ngs. of the rall statue were in a position to clothe their argument in the garb of public . all the more 50 when it becomes excessive..~Pt separate foW'very long.. This is the reason why (he high valliJc of (he singular in complex socieaies becomes so easily em... So museums and art dealers will nam~ prices.--__:: -I -----. bua the existence of the eX!change 5~~em makes the production process remote and misperceived.1l~. when a nel'~spaper declares the Picasso 110 be worth $690.) dt"' . the "objective" prieelessness of the Picasso can ol1ly be unambiguously confirmed 1:0 us by its immense market price.0 the exchange structure itself. A Picasso.rJo. Most the time. the mor~ famili~~ commoditiz. many of them fleeting.. --_... Thus. I1mll. ~ . a field in which they held cultural hegemony...iIl'tJIUJ. in the case of diamonds).uu. (he absence of such visible confirmation of prestige... as it was among the Ti'II. ethnjc.L!Ul-"· . issues of siugularszation and ccnrmoditizauoe were directly linked into disparate and 1110 >' charged systems.. J: . 'iU"I'L. of what exacaly is an "upward" con versio n.-. is priceless in .

Yet Its cultll~1 S'ignific3llce can be gauged precisely [he fact that slav'ery did present all irllellectual <lindmoral problem In the WesL(see Davis 1966. with a historically conditioned set of predispOSitIOnS to see the world in certain l. more recently. female reprod!llctive capaoty" a_ll_a ova.:of ~~Ileimplio.ts nasnre. .wi. . The culturalargument against a team's or a film studio's "seiling" a ballplayer or an actor ao another employer is cast ill the idiom of slavery. slavery beIng the eXlrem. and in almost all stases in the United States . about the cIH~mo. I? ter~~ of underlying conceptions. 1975).. But exchange opens is the way ~otraffickln~. . intellect.. therefore.z<liliol1 of humilin'"'attributes such as labor.~au"Vlty.ern eulrural ramparts tli1atdefend the hurman sphere against commoditizatiOIl. but almost nowhere else.. adoption through cQ!!lperual:. eultural detail ill the West. terminal commodisy). ~.noruIld not be a mere mmmodity .~me~hing th~t most societies have seen as satisfying the obvious dema_!ll~ds efl. The question remains.ays. it is therefore not.fore: that of conceptually separal. ill th~ practice' of sl<livery.~.!!!. and commemoratmg them by special shrine!. of course.' . the adoption of a baby. though inlellecmaHy rootedin dasslQI <lil1ltl<:~Ulty Chnstlan~ty. or.we cannot at this point -:-object to the cornmodisization and sale of labor (by i. himself. however.e.e... glvu:rug them the special status of 'lntsogo. Iluman organs. surpnsmg ILha~ the culurral dash over abortion should be more 6erc.he t occ. For example. For both anti-abortion and pro-abortIon forces agree on one poinu that "things"but not.em oommodiuzatioo o~ labor .hence the rhetorical power of such terms aswage I ' slavery. The transfer of a contract forces the worker w work for someone whom he had not chos~'11 . There is.S4 Igor K()pyto:ff The cult1Ul'albiograpby of things cialized and monelized so6ely.they ~Il be and are regularly sold and resold. We see here a significan. and traffickin. Th e. But the West is a~5oa ~~ique culwral en~il)'. .ical position of the thinker. beand comes cult. contractual obligations to pay" as in prom~sory notes or instaflmena beying.The hallmark o~oCOmrnoditi7. slavery beca!llse .S~pa!3t10n. and the counts have strlllck down the commoditization 'Of the contracts of athletes. Wbat then.en commodlUZatl~ ~hn:a(ells to invade the human sphere.culI br tural contrast to the Japanese."!he conceptual unease ofconjoini:ng pc'rson and commodity rend~rs. In the West by the mid-twentieth cenuiry.the exchange technology allows. Whatever the c~ltlpJe~ ~ I. As l!lfith traflicking in labor.orusts seek.h .e.the commodiaization must be controlled by the laborer. But we do object to rue traffickWng in labor that . tb~ univ~rs~ o~ J~~ople and tile 1I11ivel"'seof objects had become culturally ?-xlomat~c.asiollal court bau.i. and actors. CllI.leswhen pro-aboru. hence forces him to work i.~re th_.. lose souls. andrent contracts are legally negooab]. By contrast. By due same eultural logic. "persons". One of these predispositiol1ls [ have.vide between 'lhthumwand . b~~lTIg the adoptive parents may be. i. di~i. comes partly from the long debates on slavery <lindtile victory of <!iIbolition. .'es.t modem Wes~ern liberal societies.esjJ ecialIy in a secuIari zed sad ety th aa fi nds it increasingly d j fficelt to appeal to any transcendental sanctions for cultural discrimination and c1a~sification? I have suggested that economies <lire inherently responsl~~ to the pr~ssur'es of commoditiz~tion and that they tend ao c~~~dltl~e as WIdely as..'!cti~~betweel!l.enmal moral concern 10 Westeln th~ghl. 'Wedo not . The moral loadlin these matters.from: in which the totalit.lOIl.]I complete oommeditizatioa of labor would imply. such compensation in Brjtain. the law s'pedfically pUnIShes..y of a person is seen as baying been commOdltlZed~ The moral indicLmenlS of capitalism by both Marx and Pope Leo xm derived their force from the notion th<lithuman 131001' s.". In ~m_os.c:mceplual p~op~e. aper.Ilimself. a. The lauer have few m'ls~l"vmgs ~1:J?ut abortion but ackl10wledge the persollhood of aborted 011"or. H~en{. a~d ?f seel~g ~eople as the natural presenre [ormdlvlduatlon (tll~t.urally salient with the onset of Eur~peal1i modeml!:Y· ~ts most glaring derniallay.lOn IS vlewea as child-seUing and lherefore akin to. court mJ~nctlons against anli-abortionists' attempts 1. ence the ~~~de~cy H to resort to slavery as the readiest metaphor wh._e effects. IS :5tngulanz3tJon) ?l1d ~hin gs as the natural preserve for ~omn1o?1 U~I. the Idea of nearly confiscatory taxation is far less shocklllg to us than even a modest amount of corvee labor. referred to be.nvoluntarily.? be aborted .g in human a ttriblll. however: how secure are the West. whatever tbeid.l!CS ca:rr..~ divides persons hom things and tine pom~ ~t which persol1hood begins.. ~ay" ask. We have abolisbed indentured laboT. And so also we find the imminent possibility of terminal sales of human 01131 somewhat more Iilorally acceptable than the idea of a commercial traffic in them..eolo. regardless of how.t commodiriearion of the child. Thus.e in the _lwenuE_th century·than it ever was in file nineteeruh. a!1.he . . .ation exchange. since ritual disposal preslUmes personhood.0 ritualize ehe disposal of aborted fetuses. on the di.e. (see Millra 1~841}.t. ~ a special opprobrium. in most Canadian provinces.:_~~thle o:f modern West.ga11f involves monetary compensatiee to the natural parent It -. we fillld the direct commoditizasion of sexual services (aJsoa terminal commodity) by the immediate' supplier less objectionable than the trafficking in them by pimps. both sides here stand together ~n ~~~Iklng.dthat t?is dash sh?lIld be phrased by both sides in terms of the _pre:1se locau?n o:~the line ![ha.

to most European countries. however.lly opens the . . a preced eru for th e commod itizatioa of ph ysiGBi] human ajtribuaes: the supply of blood in American medical praeaice depends overwhelmingly on a straightforwardcommeday market in blood . and sacralize. sophisticated exchange t. w~hich ~as been ~omrnoditized for some lime \vi~hoUl a great deal of discussion.raII iography of things b 87 the -commodity spheres" of the developing techllology of transfer of human attributes? 1 am speaking here of recent medical advances In lhe transfer of organs and ova and [he development {If surrogate motherhood.are ~ot. It also carne in response La the shrinkage in the supply or babies for adoption that occurred in ahe 1'960's with the pill and the 1970's l~ith the wider legalization of abortions." It is. How to dealwith ova is only beginnil1g to be discussed.uHogale motherhood are usually phrased in the idiom ofi·the impropriety of commodjtization. the exchange function of every economy appears to have a built-in force that drives the exchange system toward the greatest degree of commoditizaeion that the exchange technology permits. the absence of a well-developed mone~ar~' s}'srem. Conclusion:: kinds of contrast. usually i.em all expansion of the possibilities of the exchange which a woman simply bears a child for the future legal mother . The re is. The couererforoes are culture' and the individual. induding' the possibility of trafficking in them. the existence of a.l. The collective cultural classification thus constrained the innate exuberance to which purely idiosyncratic and private classifications are prone. have deliberately rejected the commodity approach (Coopell" and Culyer 1968). There are no perfect commodities .opening tile possibility of trading in the physical means of reproduction.. and monetized societies. the situation is perceived as being more complex than in the case of sperm. a !:egal more ~han a technical innovation. Culturally. more acceptable. advances in organ transplants <lind inadequate supply of Orlfd:1lS raises the same question of public policy that was confronted in the past in the case of Mood: ~\'hat are the best ways of ensuring an adequate supply? In the meantime.any of them. for example. when the surrogate mother annoersces that she receives not "'payment" bm "compensation" of 'ten thousand dollars "because of the inconvenience to my family and the risk involved.ecollomy (0 s~vampil1ig by comrnoditization.86 Igor Kopytoff The c. whatever their ideologies. and Iii: satisfied irtdividual wgnitive needs for classification.On the other hand. At the sperm.. ular objections ~o s. The question is whether this will increase the permeability of the boundary between the world of things and that of people" or whether the boundary will be displaced by recourse to nel. of course. More recently. The pop.n the form of dosed exchange spheres. in value of against commoditization as a homogenizer of exchange values.] The inevitable development into routine procedures of the transplantation of ova and the freezing of ova for storage will repres. choose l~le scientific metaphor lID which one speaks of the fertilization af the Ovum . the 'picture has been complicated by the development of technical means for the actual rransplantation of ova. This. however. Cana dian provi n ci al mi nister of social (l1_~~ngular and the commodity are opposites. This left room for a cultural ca tegorization of the excha n.opposuiom "You can't buy a baby ill Ontario." And the <lIgency <lIrnmging for serrogatechild producuon makes a point of declaring "We are not lilt the rent-a-womb business.required. at least to some. helping m. The idea of direct surrogate motherhood . notably.echl1ology fu.' in 'the meantime. advertisements have begun 1:0 appear offel'ing to buy k:idneys fOF aransplantatioe. men . the other against the liner sil1lglillarization of things as ahey are in rearure. In all con~ernporal"'}' industrial societies. no thing e¥er-q. Is thjs because the ovum is seen as the basic core of the future human being? Or because women are expected to feel maternal toward the ova as potential babies and should not sell @hem" where~. In tile words of a. so that the ovum becomes a homunculus being activated into life. of course.1j!definitions but itself remain as rigid as before. defying all attempts <lit drawing a simple line where there is a natural continuum.In large-scale" cornmern-cia[ized. The realm of heman reproduction is one in which the difference between persons and things is particularly difficult to define. . express ing 11 is.ogy for human atrributes. with their drive to discrimiWie:-=-dassify~ compare. the drive W cornmoditizauon was uSlI.aphies we AlmoLl. while ethicists <lind theologians contained by the inadequacies of the techlilology of exchange. means a two-front battle for culture as for' the individual . the cosr of securing a surl:"lOg~le mother has now risen to around twenty-five tuousand dollars (Scolt 19'841'. ccrnmodstizatson and monetization . Wes1.uife-reaches the ultimate commodity end of the comt:ill1. expecte~ to" Ilave paler~<3Ij f eel~ngs about their sperm_ (Many socienes describe the generauon of life as the union ?f L\V~elements. Jill small-scale uncornmercialized societies. Tile idea had taken hold at the same time that technical advances in coping with female infertility h<lJdbegun to raise the hopes of childless couples but without. \'I'l1ic11.1l1lm ~~n'lleen them.

The result is a complex mtertwmmg of. in the .ure of the biographies of bod] people and things in these societies is.~fien conflicting. to the posslbl~L~les of exchange and these areas lend to become quickly commod~uze~ '. and private valuations. Equally interesting would be the ca~es. the economies of complex and highly monetized SO~S eXhibit a two·sided valuating system: on one side is 'tile homo~g~ous area of commodities. of trade diasporas.ven social identities.ill be~ome the meas. by contrast. and.tant ~ebhc valua~on [hal Ierring of private valuation to the only rell~b~e exists _ which is i. .[ lh~jr .rea. and there is 110 dear hierarchy oJ loy~ues that males one idel'ltity dominant over the others. how one mash these actions and with whose' connivance. With ulumately the highest theoretical reUUDS. let me nevertheless return to the gross contrast between the "c~mplex.ously dosed areas. a¥son's social identities are relatively stable 'and changes in them a_~ normaUy conditioned more by cuhural rules than by biographical idiosyncracies. s~. . the ~ommodl~Y exchange sphere with the plethora of priva~e dasslfi~atlol1ls. on the other.c converts what is formally in.ography sterns from what happens within the given status. perhaps. above all. the social system and the collective understandings on which it rests.ies i~volved from ~eellllg . on the other. files of things. lies. of the impossibility of choosing b~tween them. These differences lead to quire different biographical pro· pu. the going mark.Jp small-scale societies. for example.1l the commodity area. constltutmg a distinct quasi-cultural group. This. be it openly or ~Y way of a black market. lt lies in 't~e conflicts between the egoistic self and the unambi. m medicine) also open previ.. in brief. the midst of worldwide networks of trade.their particular ideas of comm. Thus. Here. It IS inevitable that If word1 is given a price.odlllZaLwon challenged~ sheltering their baroque exchange systems III the. the drama of personal biographies' has become more and more the dral~~ of identities . rem~lIn pr1Vate ~nd. A caveat is required at !llhis point. At the same time.the I~abltlty of the collective culture of a modern society to cope with this Hamess frustrate the individual on the one hand. The drama in an ordinary person's bi.ewns.ciel. this mediation spares t~~. Further oomplications a~ise from ~m. lea?~l1Ig to anomalies and cOl~tradiClions and to conflicts both m the cogmtJOn of individuals and ill the interaction of indwiduals and groups. 0.ystem of exchange values and exchange spheres. Their status in the dearly structured s. New technologjc<lJl advances (fo~ ~~~mple. and often both . traders. comfort. a person's social identities arenot o~n. are supposed to be insulated from each other.namely.~l price. These classifications.' .which is sacred or dangerous.ultl!l~al from interaction between actors wiru defined roles within a clearty structured social system.of their clashes. w~el"e the different systems of commoditization of different societies ml~raCl. . except m the case of culturally hegemoni. historically. of "allpurpose" wrrency.u~erolls bu~ . how. The excitement in the biographies is of the picaresque variety. would e~plam the stnklng VIability. uruil the twentieth century. the implicanons of which m have pursued throughout this paper.~ complex societies.w.. Q. not least.of economies.iograpny of things 89 tend to invade almost every aspect of existence.dividlllals and sm~n groups. Having said all this. The usefulnes of such trading ?wups inrne?ma~ing bet\V~en t~e' different exchange systems is manIfest. however. The llauening of values that follows wmm~ditization and.n~can_ dr~'!_aJ~nalogy between the way societies construct individuals and the way they construct thing~. the most interesting empirical cases to be . 5110''1'1'1 the' importance. how one breaks the rules by movmg between spheres that. By contrast. The drama. Curtin (m ~}84}has.types . And it might also explain wh~t ~as long been a puzzle in economicanthropology . the extremely variegated ar~~ private valuation. co~mercialized" and the "small-scale" societies. cllltural.c. the structure of the economies of smaLl-scale societies 111 the_PaJst resulted in a relative consonance of economic. the individual who does not fit the given niches is either singularizedinto a.ffied between them in the course of a socier(y's history. without lJubll~ sllppor~.. leave ample room fOT a multitude of dassifications .88 Igor Kopyloff Tihe cultara] b. sp~cial identity . Things in these small-scale societies are similarly modeled.or IS Simply cast ou~. hO\\I' the spheres are reo organized and tbings reshu. of the absence of signals from tbe culture and the society at large to help in UJe choice.commonsense uuhtanamsffi woukl have suggested. the limited spread. An eventful biography of a thing is for the most part one of events within (he given sphere.guous demands of gi. provided the channels for the movem~n1 of goods between disparate societies. By cushioning the direcs Impact of world trade.. are the cases In bet~~cn: It is from these cases that we can learn how the forces of (ommOdHlzatlOm and singularizatioTll are intertwined in \'lI'ays far more sub~tle than our ideal model GHl show. and. While 111 this dISCUSSIon I have dwelt 0111 the gross contrast between two ideal and polar .. of parochial economic systems IH. in these. What one glimpses dlwoll. is unambiguous. or in confllicts ~risi. Any thing that does not fit the categories is clearly anomalous and it is taken out of normal circulation" to be either sacralized or isolated or cast out. ~ sP. for tb~ h~story of ~~orld trade.d far more limited than diffusion theory ol".

Cyan Prakash. K(lPY'~Dff. Emile and Man:dMauss.enized world of commodities. 1.. New Haven. Slavery.!t'.: H~lCri. Mlcffiwa.1823" .:"..Y. Jim ClI!llber! . New York . Kopjtoff.ogical Method A>:IIlhropologicallnquir". [thaca. 1963. Davis. Wis. a_!!. L'~rc. 1983. 1::&1.·ral' Rnm'w3:1-. lnt:roouuioD.. 1977. (Orig .lalJage.ilenl Cullure. . A limbic instjrution of the Marghi (Nigeria)..9! also happens.a theme increasillgly dominant in modern Western literature where it is pushing aside d I<B!lTIas social structure of (even in the eminently strucrural cases dealt with in writings enwomen and! "minorities"].. B ruoe. ~ lers 3n~ I. 1915.12. Ph iladel phia. L. t 963. He~l.'10. American Ethnology Bulletin 78).s. uOJJlom)'. M 1I:ry. Langness.. am describing. Rivers•. li'hilip D" 1984. is that societies constrain both these worlds simultaneously and ill the same way.£a/.o!1lic HislC'ry 19:491-503. . and Barbara Herrnsrein Smith for conunerus and suggestions that helped shape its [mal version. Cambridge.rnliloaok oII/lhe Indinns (jf California.ilc.e. African "slavery" as an insurution of margU'~JJ~Iy..• 19031. T.. and And:u:my J. The biography of daings in complex societies reveals a S'imilal'"pattern. Dumont. Durkheim. ed. the drama here lies in the I. l. As with persolls. 1925. and to Jean Adelman. George. Louis."1 and II'. ThdJroblem oIIfSlBvny in the Age ofRev~.. Slavery and Social D'er1/n: A C0m:jJ6mtive Sludy. tion that a society orders the world of things 011 the pattern of the structure that prevails in the social world of its people.jpl~. 1982. H. ~. MOXll[n.dJndlon. Scciai Beoollil'lT: lis Elemenll!ry Fonns. New York. Paul. 1972.IG2. 1 am grateful to Muriel Bell for this suggestion. Vaugh~[I. It. 1971 . Conn.. Amwai .5 . Y.1912'). M:il!ta. SlaUb] inA! nw. TfI£ Pm6fem of Slavery in We:. Colin 1'974. James ~i!t..Rroi.e.19'76. The Yurek... Madison. L L 1965.e.r.f.lo . London. igor. Cambridge . Cl"o5. French ed . Culyer. H. Mei~las~"IIx. The Life History in AlIl1!TG/JOlogical Science. 2:.QI'I. I.mne Mi:ers. ~.and JJr<tkrof!ologiclll Perspet. I wish to thank Barbara Herrnstein Smith for drawing my attention to ehe importance of sud) insritations ill the I'rooesses 1. .1979.Mass" .. l'h.. D31.e711Tcllicw.. Primilive CI=ijicaJioll. Domyo. 1984. TEI!e·Geneal.IIMafJofGgIcai Perspt. ~Ien and L. Wh. H.- Notes lowe thanks. 19HII. Mafalmr: MadISOn. l~ Mdla.1:2'07-. All this suggests an emendation to the profound Durkheimi:m no.. In milel'IOmog. .. Fernand. Ekeh. Kopy.'id Brinn.u~u Plljnmn EoQ"omy.Tc SilldJ of lite C/wr1lable (mil Commercial Prinr. In S. B~I" 4. ed. 9J Kopy~ol"f" Igor. Tille Imp-an of Mone)' on an AfriQJ~ Subsistence of EWII. If! S. eds. london .el. The FQrgotrm C~ilr!. The CaU/. Sraveryin Itfrica: H~i . S<lcial Exr. Kapa.. Trans. Landon. Sarah.rouJl. The Ei. Paris. 1980. References Bo~~ nnan. Curlin.. Trans. N. London.!li!!izations of it. of classifications and! reclassifications il1 an un_celJaill world of categories whose impoetance shifts with every minor chang~ in context.e culturaJ~ hiog:rnpby '!TIIf things Homans. Em..e"II Afrique prw/{ffl. 'I968.. 1915 . 1961. Rodney' Needham.ey-(m.. Trarn:actwmand Menning. I{a p rero. Durkheim. April 24.eill(mlary FiJ[1lI$ of Reiigi(J1t.llhaca.... Frearh 'cOi. Pcser P. New York. and Baron Isherwood.Thames. Douglas.lIloenainties of valuation and of identity. Thompson. to ArjllD Appadurai and Barbara Klarnon Kopytoff [or diisUlSsions tbar led! to 'Lhe writing of this paper. I jrmrMI Cooper. Mid'n ael H". i.The ~aby Business. 1 would suggest. Sandra Barnes" Murrie! B-ell. consaructing objects as theycon~truct people. and ~uz. Psrtersen. 1966. Wis..2. 61). 1915 .!·Cull!iral Trade in WOTfd fliJlory.tife.I1i~irm: 1770-. Tkqry: The CUlI!li:onalld D~trucl'ion of V o1u. 3-81. N. Rubhisf. c. . (Orig.ew of AnIhroplJ/vgy.r. ' gJ Seen. London. Homo' Hi. The ROrJlsof Modem Capilalism.!~!1tful biography of a tiling becomes the story of the various siog!. . Orlando. New York..h""gt' T~'J!Qry. Socia. I rn>ospi5!1.90 uncertainty of identity .I Vale Publica Lions in An th ropolo gy No.u.~ Price ojlJlQO(/: An Eco"-Orn. The Worla of Goods: Tawards an A nMTlJpo/"lJ of CGlISlimpli. (Bureau of Kroeber.oojXl~ d. Brandel. [959. eds..85-.

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