Book Talk: The Critique of Commodification with Christoph Hermann

Join the Network for a discussion with Christoph Hermann about his new book The Critique of Commodification. Sharad Chari (Geography) will serve as discussant.

About the Book: In recent years activists around the globe have challenged the commodification of water, education, health care, and other essential goods, while academics have warned from unintended effects when everything can be bought and sold. But what is commodification? And what is the problem with commodification? In The Critique of Commodification, Christoph Hermann argues that commodification entails production for profit rather than social needs, and that production for profit has a number of harmful effects, including the exclusion of those who cannot pay, the marginalization of those whose collective purchasing power is not large enough, and the focus on highly profitable forms of production over more socially beneficial and ecologically sustainable alternatives. Drawing upon and extending the work of Marx, Polanyi, and Luxemburg, Hermann goes beyond the standard moral critiques of markets and adopts a materialist approach to emphasize the dispossession of public resources and to highlight how goods and services are altered when sold on markets for profit. Tracing the intellectual history of the term commodification, this book not only criticizes commodification, but also proposes a new model for production that focuses on needs rather than profits.

About the Author: Christoph Hermann is a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley, teaching courses on economic history and the history of economic and environmental thought. Before he taught at the University of Vienna and the Berlin School of Economics and Law. Previous books include Capitalism and the Political Economy of Work Time (Routledge 2014) and Privatization of Public Services and Impacts on Employment, Working Conditions, and Service Quality in Europe (edited with Joerg Flecker, Routledge 2012).

About the Discussant: Sharad Chari is an Associate Professor of Geography at Berkeley. He works on racial capitalism, agrarian transition, and oceanic capitalism in India, South Africa and the Indian Ocean. He is the author of Fraternal Capital (Stanford, 2004) and Apartheid Remains (Duke, forthcoming); co-editor of The Development Reader (2008, Routledge), Other Geographies (Wiley 2017) and Ethnographies of Power (Wits 2022); and is on the Berkeley editorial team of the journal Critical Times.

NOTE: This is a hybrid event and will be held in person at the Social Science Matrix (8th Floor of SSB on the UC Berkeley Campus) with an option to join by Zoom. In person attendance is warmly encouraged, but please be sure to familiarized yourself with campus COVID protocols.

Location: Social Science Matrix (8th Floor of SSB) & on Zoom

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