‘Fetishism’ and other problems of society

After such an intensive summer school, being on the roads (and the sky) again is a great opportunity to reflect what we have actually done. Maybe it is the contradiction between hard materiality such as iron railroad tracks and the digitized issues we have tackled during the summer academy that made me think about “Fetishization” of our digital society.

When Karl Marx talked about “Commodity Fetishism”, he meant that when trying to evaluate commodities’ value we dismiss the social relations determining their establishment. Fetishism alienates the proletariat from their own products and the exploitative essence of capitalism (the human interaction that made the commodity production possible) becomes the ‘natural order of things’.

“As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities”.

— Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

(Cited from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity_fetishism)

As critical scholars working on digitization and its implication for society, we musttake caution with about the threats of fetishizing digital and media products. The iPad is not an “autonomous figure endowed with a life of its own,” but a product owing its existence to specific social relations – for example, the horrible working conditions in some factories which manufacture ipad’s hardware. Facebook, for another example, is not a neutral platform aimed to enable people’s interaction, but a money oriented corporation that will not defend your personal information if economic interests are involved.

When speaking about “Digitization and its impact on society” it seems that society is a static variable being affected by digitization. However, the digital era is an important issue, but the society and social relations constructing it, is much more important. For me it became clear during the different workshops and keynotes we had, that digitization is only a tool and what important is how different social actors use the digitized tools in order to gain social power.

If acknowledging that society “Must be defended,” using the words of Sartre, we must prevent ourselves from fetishizing digital society. Meaning, we should understand digitization without neglect its social implication. Otherwise, the unjust power relations which already exist in our societies will replicate themselves inside the “neutral” digital environment making social resistance a much harder activity.

To sum up, I will use a sentence tweeted by me just now. Digitization has an important impact on society. However, society has even greater impact on digitization.

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About Noam Tirosh

Noam Tirosh, 30 years old, media and communication studies Ph.d Candidate (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel). Tries to figure out the connection between media, coolective memory and democracy. This blog will be used for sharing my concerns about “Digitization and its impact on society”.

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