Enrichment. A Critique of Commodities

Luc Boltanski & Arnaud Esquerre (2020)

London: Polity Press

English translation by Catherine Porter of the French book Enrichissement (2017)

This book offers a major new account of modern capitalism and of the ways in which value and wealth are created today. Boltanski and Esquerre argue that capitalism in the West has recently undergone a fundamental transformation characterized by de-industrialization, on the one hand, and, on the other, by the increased exploitation of certain resources that, while not entirely new, have taken on unprecedented importance. It is this new form of exploitation that has given rise to what they call the ‘enrichment economy’. The enrichment economy is based less on the production of new objects and more on the enrichment of things and places that already exist. It has grown out of a combination of many different activities and phenomena, all of which involve, in their varying ways, the exploitation of the past. The enrichment economy draws upon the trade in things that are intended above all for the wealthy, thus providing a supplementary source of enrichment for the wealthy people who deal in these things and exacerbating income inequality. As opportunities to profit from the exploitation of industrial labour began to diminish, capitalism shifted its focus to expand the range of things that could be exploited. This gave rise to a plurality of different forms for making things valuable – valuing objects in terms of their properties is only one such form. The form that plays a central role in the enrichment economy is what the authors call the ‘collection form’, which values objects based on the gap they fill in a collection. This valuation process relies on the creation of narratives which enrich commodities. This wide-ranging and highly original work makes a major contribution to our understanding of contemporary societies and of how capitalism is changing today. It will be of great value to students and scholars in sociology, political economy and cultural studies, as well as to anyone interested in the social and economic transformations shaping our world.

Link to Polity Press

Arrichimento. Una critica della merce.
Traduzione in italiano, Bologna: Il Mulino.

La crescente disponibilità di fortune personali in capo a élite emergenti dell’economia globale (rentiers da sempre usi a disporre di patrimoni, ma anche parvenus recentissimi) rende oggi spasmodico il bisogno di distinzione sociale. Esclusività, autenticità, estetica ricercata contrassegnano la desiderabilità dei beni di consumo, dalle opere d’arte agli oggetti di lusso, dagli immobili ai siti turistici, ai prodotti enogastronomici. Tanto più si agognano certe merci quanto più esse si arricchiscono di un’aura speciale, costruita mediante raffinate narrative cui partecipano folte schiere di storici, giornalisti, critici d’arte, che con i loro saperi contribuiscono in modo cruciale ad ammantare di fascino antico oggetti e luoghi, nella glorificazione del passato come strategia di marketing.

Link to il Mulino