The Commodity Frontier

Arlie Russell Hochschild

in Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780520241367
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520937857 | DOI:
The Commodity Frontier

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This chapter looks into capitalism's drive to commodify social life. It particularly focuses on a job advertisement for a personal assistant and the reactions to this ad. It uses Neil Smelser's work on the relationship of family and economy and the psychological function of myth. Together these ideas form an insight that the “economic man” is a culturally and emotionally complex being. This chapter finds that the contradictory human needs for connection and intimacy on the one hand, and control and freedom on the other, come together in the search for a perfect commodity. Advertisements today promise to end people's ambivalence: the myth of capitalism is that through buying something, people can become perfect individuals with perfect relationships. The extreme case of commodification presented in this chapter is an outcome of an historical process of differentiation. It is argued that the moral value of this arrangement does not reside in the facts themselves; it has to be understood in context. The gradual awakening of the family is the most critical in this regard: as individuals become less secure about the reliability of care provided to them by their families, they seek out substitutes which capitalists are eager to provide.

Keywords: capitalism; social life; family; economic man; commodity; advertisements; commodification

Chapter.  8919 words. 

Subjects: Social Theory

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