Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Demand doesn't always precede the market

From "Post-Fordist Desires: The Commodity Aesthetics of Bangkok Sex Shows" by Ara Wilson (Feminist Legal Studies (2010) 18:53–67)

"Capitalist markets encroaching new spheres or intensifying commodification within existing spheres do not simply realise or liberate existing erotic desires but produce new modes of sexuality."

The paper's subject matter, sex tourism, is a bit sensationalistic. (Most academic papers don't have sentences like this one: "My symptomatic reading of pussy shows argues for a more complex understanding of the place of commodification in the transnational sex trade.") But its general point seems apt: Markets are a means of creating new desires, or at least commercializing unreified social longings by making them into products.   Commoditization makes new desires; it isn't a response to pre-existing ones. Arguably in advanced capitalist societies, it is hard to imagine desires that do not take the form of some sort of product. Wilson points out how sex tourists themselves complain of being commodified, as commodified as the sex workers.

Another way of saying the same thing: Markets seem to simply the process of fulfillment but making satisfaction a transactional thing -- a simple exchange of money for the desired thing that satisfies us. But this means that convenience is ultimately the only sort of satisfaction one can purchase; the more fleeting desires escape commodification even as the marketplace teeming with goods crowds such desires out of our consciousness.

It seems as though Wilson leans pretty heavily on Jason Read's book, The Micropolitics of Capital, which I need to read soon.

The paper also has a section on Wolfgang Haug's Critique of Commodity Aesthetics that makes me think I should re-read it; Wilson regards it as precipitating analyses that focus on immaterial labor and productive consumerism (and makes it sound far more bizarre than I remember it).

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