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Sunday
Sep042005

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.

Agreed?

References (4)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (11)

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

Hello
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

your article help me about what's the definition of 'comodification', in my simple research.

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterasri
That has actually helped a lot. My AP teacher gave us a list of vocabulary words to do and on the list was commodization but in the glossary was commodification. I just wanted to know the difference before I wrote down the wrong definition. Thanks😃
November 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKira
Thank you for this piece, I was barely aware of the word 'commoditized', I was well aware of commodification. As far as I can tell when a manufacturer commodifies a product then they have to advertise to make said commodity mean something to the putative consumer of it, for the manufacturer to make their money. That the advert creates a false or new identity in the product and consumer is better than neither having an identity. But when both the vendor and purchaser commoditze the product, and it is personal to neither party and is beyond personalisation, then the product is devalued, and the manufacturer feels the loss in their profits. The consumer is free to find other purchases where they feel more individualised. E.g. employers can commodify labour by treating employees as if they were impersonal numbers for only as long as employees value the job more than the employer, but when staff see their labour and the company in terms as impersonal as their employers then that is collective commoditization and will eventually lead to a decline in the profile of the company. Would Enron be an example of this?
September 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMalcolm Walker
I think it could be misleading to suggest that commoditization is something that big business tries to overcome. Often commoditization is precisely what big business needs in order to be able to undercut community-based business on price. I would say the anti-GMO-labeling push is a pro-commoditization push, for example. Conversely, any kind of efforts to consider the larger footprint of a product (on workers, ecologically, "carbon" footprint, etc.) are efforts to de-commoditize that product. What do you think? Do you think that's appropriate word usage?
October 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric
I am exploring this subject as part of a report I need to do on possible careers I might choose. Thank you for your post it has valuable information on this topic.
October 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterariano reppucci
This post has helped me to have another perspective. I am researching this topic for a paper I am writing. Your article provided me great insight of my topic.
October 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergreat site

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