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Fetishism and the social value of objects.

By Tim Dant


The idea of the fetish has a particular presence in the writings of both Marx and Freud. It implies for these two theorists of the social, a particular form of relation between human beings and objects. In the work of both the idea of the fetish involves attributing properties to objects that they do not 'really' have and that should correctly be recognised as human. While Marx's account of fetishism addresses the exchange-value of commodities at the level of the economic relations of production, it fails to deal in any detail with the use-value or consumption of commodities. In contrast Freud's concept of the fetish as a desired substitute for a suitable sex object explores how objects are desired and consumed. Drawing on both Marx and Freud, Baudrillard breaks with their analyses of fetishism as demonstrating a human relation with unreal objects. He explores the creation of value in objects through the social exchange of sign values, showing how objects are fetishised in ostentation. This paper argues that while Baudrillard breaks with the realism characteristic of Marx's and Freud's analyses of fetishism, he does not go far enough in describing the social and discursive practices in which objects are used and sometimes transformed into fetishes. It is proposed that the fetishisation of objects involves an overdetermination of their social value through a discursive negotiation of the capacities of objects that stimulates fantasy and desire for them

Year: 1996
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Provided by: Lancaster E-Prints

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