Geographies of marketization: performation struggles, incomplete commodification and the “problem of labour”

Berndt, Christian/Boeckler, Marc (2020)

In: Berndt, Christian/Peck, Jamie/Rantisi, Norma (eds.), Market/Place. Exploring Spaces of Exchange. Newcastle: Agenda Publishing, pp.  69-88.


“A marketization perspective turns the argument around. It rejects the idea that there is a theoretical market logic, on the one hand, and a market reality (concrete market), on the other, that somehow exists prior to that knowledge (Boltanski & Thévenot 2006 : 71; Callon 2005 : 8). Rather than debating what the essence of the market is – whether the market is destructive, creative, feeble – work in this tradition is interested in the particular ways in which economic thinking informs attempts to understand, design or adapt markets. […] There is always a non- commodified human element in any form of commodified labour. Of course, the labour market produces working conditions that we would have tremendous difficulties in labelling as “humane”. But, as Radin observes, even in extreme instances of “inhumane commodification” people express their humanity, such as in their relationships with co- workers, making “humanity … hard to suppress completely” (Radin 2001 : 105– 6). In different, less one- sided constellations, the line between commodification and decommodification is more difficult to draw. Fordist labour arrangements were associated with at least partial decommodification, as the state set regulatory limits to the marketization of labour. But, at the same time, this decommodification further disentangled workers from their products (see Boltanski & Chiapello 2005 ). […] Taylorism turned into the dominant approach performing labour for a large part of the twentieth century. But the performation of Taylorist labour had contradictions and overflows that could be contained only with increasing difficulty. The dehumanizing reduction of labour to ever tinier wheels in ever more gigantic machines homogenized and alienated workers to an extent that there was growing discontent. The solution, or reframing, was to strike an implicit contract: workers would continue to endure Taylorist labour conditions in exchange for being able to seek fulfilment in private life. The wage increases that facilitated consumerist lifestyles redrew the line between the realms of production and reproduction. This was institutionalized in the Fordist welfare state, providing the environment in which corporate capital could enlist labour unions and secure the collaboration of privileged workers in order to realize corporate profits in a climate of social inclusion, at least for the insiders of this societal formation (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005 : 217). In facilitating fulfilment outside the workplace, organized labour contributed to a standardization of social life much in the same way as the rationalized labour process produced standardized mass commodities (Beck 2000 : 39). The “normalizing discipline” inside and outside the workplace and the deeply uneven distribution of its gains and costs became increasingly visible. The sharp boundaries between the realms of production and social reproduction framing the Fordist subject became increasingly difficult to maintain (Haug 2003). This fuelled what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (2005) term “artistic critique” and contributed to the demise of the Fordist compromise. A new generation sought to break out of the stifling conservative climate and demanded recognition, mobility and freedom while capital restructured production by devaluing labour in situ and/ or moving production off shore to the emerging industrial zones of the new international division of labour.” (pp. 73/79/84)