Commodity Discourse: The Object In Cultural Theory and Design
Prasad Boradkar |Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
This paper attempts to bring to design dialogue an expanded meaning of the term “commodity” by revealing its presence and discussion in other disciplines. Particularly germane to design are the notions of commodity fetishism and commodity aesthetics outlined by Karl Marx and Wolfgang Haug. Experiments in generating innovative forms largely perceived as imperative creative exercises in design are, according to Marxist thought, merely attempts to valorize capital. The redesign of product forms is labeled by Marxists as ‘aesthetic aging,’ and referred to as an activity with the sole purpose of forcefully outdating existing products. Also critical is the notion discussed by Marx, and later by Walter Benjamin, that human (and maybe robotic) labor-power expended in the making of the commodity is invisible to the consumer, thereby degrading as a value. By referring to a commodity as a product (a visible, tangible termination of the process of design and manufacture), designers align themselves at the other extreme of this idea. Modernist thinking emphasized the visibility of function and means of manufacturing of products, revealing an interesting antithesis. Theodor Adorno likens the production of culture to that of mass-produced objects. He therefore portrays the commodity as a metaphor for culture by equating its means of generation, which relies on standardized industry, to that of cultural production. Not habituated to fundamental discussions of capitalism and political economy, the debate of design history can gain from the inclusion of such material, as it will challenge existing definitions of objects, encouraging designers to engage in a broader dialogue.