back to

e-flux conversations

Neo-Materialism, Part Three: The Language of Commodities


Continued from “Neo-Materialism, Part Two: The Unreadymade” in issue 23.

Yet what is here already very plainly expressed is the idea of the future conversion of political rule over men into an administration of things …

—Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880)

In his 1898 “The Beginnings of Ownership,” Thorstein Veblen explains how we have arrived at the notion of property through our understanding of its subjectivity. Veblen presents a concept that the savage’s individuality covered a pretty wide fringe of facts and objects, which commonly included his shadow, his reflection, his name, his peculiar tattoo marks, his glance and breath, the print of his hand and foot, his voice, representations of his person, parings of his nails, pieces of his hair, his clothes, his weapons, and other “remote things which may or may not be included in the quasi-personal fringe.”[footnote Thorstein Veblen, “The Beginnings of Ownership,” The American Journal of Sociology Vol. 4, No. 3 (Nov. 1898), 355-356.] These were part of him, not owned by him. And he was part of an early collective community that shared a communal life. It is only with looting that women were brought into his community not as beings that were extensions of the man’s individuality, but as things to be owned by him. But even under ownership these women had their own subjectivity and will—they had minds of their own. This, says Veblen, is at the core of our understanding of property:

Read the full article here.