Commodity Registers


Department of Anthropology
University of Pennsylvania
325 University Museum
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


Commodities mediate roles and relationships through discourses that formulate them as social indexicals. Discourses that typify commodities make indexical stereotypes widely known through their own dissemination, thereby linking commodities to registers of conduct. Phenomenally diverse objects (durable goods, forms of speech) readily come under commodity formulations, and many objects acquire distinct formulations in distinct phases of their social existence. The case of lifestyle formulations is discussed in some detail. Yet all commodity formulations and their fragments (products, services, discourses about them) are recontextualized and transformed through the activities of those acquainted with them. Many commodity formulations come to be treated as common culture. Others function as emblems of group differentiation, or of forms of individuality prized in liberal society. Commodities are thus cultural forms through which images of diverse social phenomena (persons, groups, ideals) become manifest in perceivable activities through which culture is transformed in social history. [commodities, registers, social relations, lifestyle, cultural change]