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Decommodification and Egalitarian Political Economy

Lookup NU author(s): John Vail


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This article contends that decommodification is an appropriate concept for understanding diverse initiatives such as fair trade, microfinance, open source, social enterprises, and the environmental commons as component features of a common process. Decommodification is conceived as any political, social, or cultural process that reduces the scope and influence of the market in everyday life. Given recent transformations in market societies, a more expansive framework for decommodification is urgently required. Decommodification would insulate non-market spheres from market encroachments; increase the provision of public goods and expand social protection; promote democratic control over the market by creating economic circuits grounded in a logic predicated on social needs rather than profit; and undermine market hegemony by revealing the market’s true social costs and consequences. By ensuring basic needs, enhancing individual capacities and capabilities, and promoting social cooperation and collaboration, decommodification constitutes a central feature of an egalitarian agenda.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Vail J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Politics & Society

Year: 2010

Volume: 38

Issue: 3

Pages: 310-346

Print publication date: 01/09/2010

ISSN (print): 0032-3292

ISSN (electronic): 1552-7514

Publisher: Sage Publications Inc.


DOI: 10.1177/0032329210373069


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