Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics
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Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics

Edited by Barbara Hobson, Jane Lewis and Birte Siim

An important contribution to the current literature on gender and social politics, this book challenges mainstream thinking on welfare states, citizenship, family, work, and social policy. Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics analyses the corresponding shifts in political discourse, and the changes in socio-political configurations that mirror changing gender relations.
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Chapter 6: Commodification and de-commodification

Trudie Knijn and Ilona Ostner


6. Commodification and de-commodification Trudie Knijn and Ilona Ostner INTRODUCTION ‘Commodification’ – and even more so – ‘de-commodification’ are tonguetwisting words that denote a basic historical process: derived from ‘commodity’, commodification alludes to the great historical transformation of human labour into marketable goods or commodities, that is, the transformation of non-wage-labour(ers) into wage labour. ‘Commodified’ can be both: an activity and the person who delivers the activity, for instance, care and the caretaker, an example we use in our analysis. Commodification of an activity implies that an exchange value is added to the use value of the activity, resulting in surplus value, as depicted by Karl Marx in the first volume of Das Kapital (Marx [1867] 1971, MEW 23). Karl Marx elaborated the many consequences of this transformation that renders the activity comparable and, thereby, exchangeable within a price-making market economy. He was well aware of the many radical changes that ensued from commodification, which altered and affected human life and activities. Most centrally, commodification turned use-value-oriented activities, ‘work’, into what he calls (in English) ‘labour’. Marx alludes to the change in craftmen’s activities; we, seeking a gendered example, focus on taking care of others – caring. In a footnote Marx praises the English language, in contrast to the German language, for making the distinction between ‘work’ versus ‘labour’, that is, activities and/or commodities that are predominantly, if not solely, exchange-value-oriented (MEW 23, note 16, pp. 61–2). Correspondingly, the logic of...

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