Front line is everywhere: for a critique of radical commodities

Haylock, B 2006, Front line is everywhere: for a critique of radical commodities, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Front line is everywhere: for a critique of radical commodities
Author(s) Haylock, B
Year 2006
Abstract This dissertation addresses the phenomenon of 'radical commodities'-commercial products which advance an oppositional politics. Examples of such include the products of Rage Against The Machine, a 'revolutionary' rock band; Michael Moore, a best-selling author and award-winning documentary filmmaker; Naomi Klein, a journalist and author of the international bestseller No Logo; The Body Shop, a multinational manufacturer and retailer of 'natural' cosmetics and toiletries; Freitag, a company which manufactures bags, wallets and other fashionable accessories from recycled materials, and; the Adbusters Media Foundation, publisher of Adbusters magazine and producer of Blackspot shoes. Radical commodities are fundamentally paradoxical objects whose apparent ethic would appear to be at odds with the fact that they are commodities.

This dissertation asks: can a commodity-object legitima tely serve as a vehicle for social and political critique? It is reasoned that the problem of radical commodities is principally structural. Marx's seminal writings on the commodity accordingly represent the logical point of departure. The Marxian analysis illuminates not only the commodity-structure, but also the political problematic which emerges from that structure-for Marx, the commodity is a mechanism of exploitation. From an orthodox Marxist perspective, the idea of a radical commodity would therefore be most contradictory, or indeed impossible.

It is argued, however, that the Marxian analysis is inconclusive. This dissertation traces a genealogy of analyses of the commodity, which variously advance or diverge from the orthodox Marxist position. From a perspective of the consumption of commodity-objects, the radical commodity would appear to be possible. Yet, the relationship between the commodity-structure and the capitalist ideology runs deep. The question of the radical commodity is therefore markedly more complex than it might initially appear. With regard to the ideological consequence of the commodity-structure, however, certain streams of post-Marxist analysis are themselves problematic, for they ultimately short-circuit historical critique and destabilise the very possibility of politics. In contrast, this dissertation seeks to reaffirm a place for politics and, in so doing, to establish the theoretical possibility of radical commodities.

To contend that the idea of a radical commodity is not fundamentally contradictory, however, says nothing of the political potency of such objects. These are undoubtedly complex objects, whose peculiarities cannot be ascertained by abstract theorisation alone. For this reason, this dissertation also employs empirical analyses of a number of radical commodities.

In sum, it is argued that the sphere of commodities should be admitted as a possible site for the expression or implementation of a radical politics, and thus that radical commodities should be understood as a legitimate vehicle for social and political critique, but that such objects are by no means free from contradiction, and that the political efficacy of these products is anything but guaranteed.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Keyword(s) Sociology
Cultural studies
Consumer society
Radical Commodities
Rage against the machine
The Body Shop
Naomi Klein
No Logo
Michael Moore
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