Sorting out commodities: How capitalist value is made through gifts

Anna Tsing


Far from being a self-enclosed system, capitalism is unable to create most of the skills, relations, and resources it needs to function. Capitalist accumulation depends on converting stuff created in varied ways, including photosynthesis and animal metabolism, into capitalist commodities. Capitalist commodities thus come into value by using—and obviating—non-capitalist social relations, human and non-human. How is this done? This article shows the importance of assessment practices in creating commodity value from non-capitalist value forms. Sorting mushrooms offers a startlingly clear example, because the mushrooms are basically unchanged except for sorting. Yet, similar practices are found in many commodity chains. Alienation cannot be taken for granted; it must be built into the commodity.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.1.003