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Commodified vs. Commoditized

Strangely enough, this little usage dilemma hasn't been written about in any reference book or website I can find. And my copyeditors at HarperCollins want me to use the word "commodified" exclusively, since it's the only one in Websters. But I see the words as very different, and have issued a big STET on that one.

And so I am hereby declaring the proper way for these two words to be used, based on the way I've been hearing them, as well as seeing them used in magazines and books:

"Commodification" is a somewhat Marxist idea, referring to the way that market values can replace other social values, or the way a market can replace a communal system. "Our parties become commodified as Tupperware moves in to turn them into buying opportunities." or "The techniques for proper breast feeding used to be passed down from mother to daughter, but now there is a market for lactation consultants. As a result, one of the most intimate human functions has become commodified."

"Commoditization" is a newer and undocumented word (except in WIKI) referring specifically to the way that goods that used to be distinguishable in terms of attributes end up becoming mere commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers. "The collapse of Marlboro's brand value in the early 1990's convinced cigarette manufacturers that their products had become commoditized." or "Unless Intel comes up with a new kind of computer memory chip, Japanese equivalents will commoditize RAM." The problem with commoditization is that the only thing that left to distinguish one brand from another is price, so margins shrink.

Commodification is more of a crime of the market against humanity, while commoditization is more of a market problem for the manufacturers of branded goods.


Reader Comments (5)

Thank you! I have been trying to figure out this little dilemma for some time now, in relation to my research on subcultural movements and the internet :)

November 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertunabananas

Helpful, although for some reason I gravitated toward using "commoditized" in the Marxist sense you describe above because I was talking more at the level of society doing something, versus an individual or small group. Don't know if this has any linguistic value, but I imagine a single company turning a historic process or service into a commodity as "commodifying," whereas "the market "commoditized" home ownership by turning mortgages into securities. Just my brain?

December 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercommunitylife

I've been struggling with this and found these references:

Rethinking commodification By Martha M. Ertman, Joan C. Williams, 2005 (it's available via Google books), in the Afterword by Carol Rose on page 403. She considers commodification and commoditization analogous, referencing Arjun Appadurai's The Social Life of Things - Commodities in cultural Perspective, 1986.

May 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLizzy Tawdry

Some consumers are better than others at judging the quality of a product. For those people, commoditization has not occurred, so long as they still have a range to choose from.

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTod

Thank you for clarifying. You will be pleased to know that I too have been using those words in the manner you suggest. The difference is crucial when discussing historical socio-economic inequality, as both meanings are relevant.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEssayist
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