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 Baudrillard - System of Objects

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PostSubject: Baudrillard - System of Objects   Thu 24 Dec 2009, 7:49 pm

Amazon: The System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard...


The book discusses the thesis of consumer society from a neo-Marxist perspective, relying on both Lacanian psychoanalysis and Saussurean structuralism to develop his main theme, which is that consumption has become the chief basis of the social order. Consumer objects structure behavior through a linguistic sign function. Advertising has taken over "the moral responsibility for all of society and replace[d] a puritan morality with a hedonistic morality of pure satisfaction, like a new state of nature at the heart of hypercivilization," (12-3). The freedoms and liberties we have in this new hypercivilization are completely circumscribed by the commodity system: "'Free to be oneself' in fact means: free to project one's desires onto produced goods. 'Free to enjoy life' means: free to regress and be irrational, and thus adapt a certain social organization of production. [This is] the ultimate in morality, since the consumer is simultaneously reconciled with himself and with the group. He becomes the perfect social being," (13). Buying commodities is a preconditioned activity which takes place at the intersection of two systems: that of the individual, which is fluid and disconnected, and that of the relations of production, which is codified, continuous and integrated. "This is not interaction but rather the forced integration of the system of needs within the system of products," (14). The relationship is similar to the Saussurean system of langue and parole : the object of consumption is a particular articulation (parole) of a set of expressions that preexist the commodity (langue) . But this is not a language: "Here we have the tower of Babel: each item speaks its own idiom ... This immense paradigm lacks a true syntax," (15); it is "a system of classification, and not a language," (16). "Needs" as such are created by the objects of consumption: "objects are categories of objects which quite tyrannically induce categories of persons. They undertake the policing of social meanings, and the significations they engender are controlled," (16-7). Objects signify social standing, and in consumer society they replace all other means of hierarchical societal division -- e.g. race, gender, class. People are no longer ranked according to these obsolete mechanisms but by the commodities they own -- a universal code of recognition tells us that the person with the Rolex watch is higher on the hierarchy. This does not mean liberation from exploitation; "On the contrary, it appears that the constraint of a single referent only acts to exacerbate the desire for discrimination ... we can observe the unfolding of an always renewed obsession of hierarchy and distinction," (20). Consumption is a "systematic act of the manipulation of signs" (22) that signifies social status through difference -- buying a Rolex means not buying a Seiko. The object itself is not consumed but rather the idea of a relation between objects. Also, technological imperatives undermine the Marxian problematic of revolution because change is integral to the system and its very reproduction: "Everything is in motion, everything is changing, everything is being transformed and yet nothing changes. Such a society, thrown into technological progress, accomplishes all possible revolutions but these are revolutions upon itself. Its growing productivity does not lead to any structural change."[7]

http://www.csun.edu/~hfspc002/baud/

Download the Book (PDF)


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PostSubject: Re: Baudrillard - System of Objects   Thu 24 Dec 2009, 8:00 pm

In his early books, such as The System of Objects, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, and The Consumer Society, Baudrillard's main focus is upon consumerism, and how different objects are consumed in different ways. At this time Baudrillard's political outlook was loosely associated with Marxism (and situationism), but in these books he differed from Marx in one significant way. For Baudrillard, it was consumption, rather than production, which was the main drive in capitalist society.

Baudrillard came to this conclusion by criticising Marx's concept of "use value." Baudrillard thought that both Marx's and Adam Smith's economic thought accepted the idea of genuine needs relating to genuine uses too easily and too simply. He argued, drawing from Georges Bataille, that needs are constructed, rather than innate. Whereas Marx believed that uses genuinely laid beneath capitalism's "commodity fetishism," Baudrillard thought that all purchases, because they always signify something socially, have their fetishistic side. Objects always, drawing from Roland Barthes, "say something" about their users. And this was, for him, why consumption was and remains more important than production: because the "ideological genesis of needs"[11] precedes the production of goods to meet those needs.

He wrote that there are four ways of an object obtaining value. The four value-making processes are as follows:[12]

  1. The first is the functional value of an object; its instrumental purpose. A pen, for instance, writes; and a refrigerator cools. Marx's "use-value" is very similar to this first type of value.
  2. The second is the exchange value of an object; its economic value. One pen may be worth three pencils; and one refrigerator may be worth the salary earned by three months of work.
  3. The third is the symbolic value of an object; a value that a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject. A pen might symbolize a student's school graduation gift or a commencement speaker's gift; or a diamond may be a symbol of publicly declared marital love.
  4. The last is the sign value of an object; its value within a system of objects. A particular pen may, whilst having no added functional benefit, signify prestige relative to another pen; a diamond ring may have no function at all, but may suggest particular social values, such as taste or class.

Baudrillard's earlier books were attempts to argue that the first two of these values are not simply associated, but are disrupted by the third and, particularly, the fourth. Later, Baudrillard rejected Marxism totally (The Mirror of Production and Symbolic Exchange and Death). But the focus on the difference between sign value (which relates to commodity exchange) and symbolic value (which relates to Maussian gift exchange) remained in his work up until his death. Indeed it came to play a more and more important role, particularly in his writings on world events.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Baudrillard
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PostSubject: Re: Baudrillard - System of Objects   Fri 25 Dec 2009, 5:11 pm

Thanks for the PDF IP.
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