Seminar: Reconsidering Commodities & Markets
Wednesday May 4th, 2011 @ 1pm
University of Essex Room 3.108

Seminar presentations by: Cecelia Cassinger (Essex), Emma Dowling (Queen Mary), Stephen Duncombe (NYU), George Tsogas (Cass)

What would commodities say if they could speak? Marx’s question can seem playful in some registers. And yet, objects voice themselves not only through our playful – or rueful – gaze.  If Marx had listened long enough, these talking commodities would have announced the traumas of their exploitative and violent birthing to him. Likewise the rise of consumer culture, the proliferation and intensification of the commodification, can be understood as the expansion of the violence of accumulation all across the social field. Today the critique and denunciation of these forces have become yet another commodity in the spectacle; something we witness today in the backlash against banks, bankers and speculators and all the glorified preening of capitalist consumption they stand for. Is this trend, then, the ‘new spirit of capitalism’?

And yet, an alternative exists to the vicious dynamics described above.  One thinks, for instance, of the practices of Russian constructivists during the 1920s employing their artistic practices and knowledges to turn commodities from passive objects into active participants in the building of a more liberatory world: to make them into comrades. Yet, how attractive is this vision to the postmodern consumer? Is it more or less dangerous than its alternative? Today, therefore, we need to reconsider “the state of things” created by commodity logic. Both bloody commodities and comradely objects exist all around us:  the stubborn existence of sweatshop production and labor exploitation exist side-by-side with the proliferation of ‘helpful’ technologies and all sorts of interactive gadgets and participatory media networks. Is this the inauguration of a new era of ethical production through the commodity form or the latest and most comprehensive example of alienation, one that is now self-managed through the fetish of ethical consumption?  What would objects now say to us?

– Cecelia Cassinger – The violence of personal branding: on the commodification of the subject
– Emma Dowling – The Business Model of Social Movements
– Stephen Duncombe – Dream Politics and Commodity Aesthetics
– George Tsogas – The Commodity-Form in Cognitive Capitalism

Sponsored by the Essex Management Centre and the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy

For more information and to register contact Stevphen Shukaitis (