EnrichmentA Critique of Commodities
A Critique of Commodities
Translated by Catherine Porter
This book offers a major new account of modern capitalism and of the ways in which value and wealth are created today. Boltanski and Esquerre argue that capitalism in the West has recently undergone a fundamental transformation characterized by de-industrialization, on the one hand, and, on the other, by the increased exploitation of certain resources that, while not entirely new, have taken on unprecedented importance.  It is this new form of exploitation that has given rise to what they call the ‘enrichment economy’. 

The enrichment economy is based less on the production of new objects and more on the enrichment of things and places that already exist.  It has grown out of a combination of many different activities and phenomena, all of which involve, in their varying ways, the exploitation of the past. The enrichment economy draws upon the trade in things that are intended above all for the wealthy, thus providing a supplementary source of enrichment for the wealthy people who deal in these things and exacerbating income inequality.

As opportunities to profit from the exploitation of industrial labour began to diminish, capitalism shifted its focus to expand the range of things that could be exploited.  This gave rise to a plurality of different forms for making things valuable – valuing objects in terms of their properties is only one such form.  The form that plays a central role in the enrichment economy is what the authors call the ‘collection form’, which values objects based on the gap they fill in a collection. This valuation process relies on the creation of narratives which enrich commodities.

This wide-ranging and highly original work makes a major contribution to our understanding of contemporary societies and of how capitalism is changing today.  It will be of great value to students and scholars in sociology, political economy and cultural studies, as well as to anyone interested in the social and economic transformations shaping our world.
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  • May 2020
  • 600 pages
  • 163 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
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  • Hardback $45.00
  • 9781509528721
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  • 9781509528745
Table of Contents

Translator’s note

Preface by Charles Sabel


PART I. Destruction and Creation of Wealth

Chapter 1. The Age of the Enrichment Economy

The deindustrialization of Western Europe

Old and new sites of prosperity

The omnipresence of enriched objects

The rise of luxury

Heritage creation

The development of tourism

The expansion of cultural activities

The art trade

Arles: from railroad shops to contemporary art exhibits

An economic reorientation toward the wealthy

Chapter 2. Toward Enrichment

The characteristics of an enrichment economy

Dormant resources in the enrichment economy

Changes in French cultural policy

A new perspective in economic analysis

A shift to different scales

From ornamental patrimony to heritage creation

Local mutations in global capitalism

Partisans of things

Part II. Prices and Forms of Valuation

Chapter 3. Commerce in Things

The commodity condition

On the circulation of things

Changing hands

The process of determination

Price and metaprice

Critiquing the price

Value as justification for a price

Price as an element in the construction of reality

Chapter 4. Forms of Valuation

Structure and transformation group of forms of valuation

Analytic and narrative presentations of things

The problem of valuation by means of images

On the reproduction of things

Institutions and forms of valuation

Structuralism and capitalism

Competition from a systematic viewpoint

Capitalism and markets

The role of the capacity to reflect

The structure of the forms of valuation

Part III. Commodity Structures

Chapter 5. The Standard Form

The model for the standard form

The standard form and industrial production

Prototypes and specimens

The proliferation of things without persons

The internal tensions of the standard form

The unease created by the standard form

Chapter 6. Standardization and Differentiation

The historical dimension of the forms of valuation

From trade in things to the circulation of commodities

The effect of standardization on the constitution of forms of valuation

Material economies, immaterial economies

Chapter 7. The Collection Form

The modernity of the collection form

Systematic collection as an arrangement for valuation

Collectors’ items

Price and value of collectors’ items

The fields of collectibles

The structure of the collection form

Chapter 8. Collection and Enrichment

The usefulness of useless things

Collecting in thrall to marketing

On the use of the collection form by luxury firms

From lumber to luxury goods: the transformation of the Pinault group into Kering

Capturing the wealth of the wealthiest

Values and prices of luxury product brands

Standard products with a “collector effect” and collectors’ items

The collection form and contemporary art

The contradiction of the enrichment economy

Chapter 9. The Trend Form

Trend, sign, and distinction

The structure of the trend form

The economic constraints of the trend form

From the trend form to the collection form

Chapter 10. The Asset Form

Characteristics of the asset form

On the liquidity of things as assets

The commercial potential of assets

Part IV. Who Profits from the Past

Chapter 11. Profit in a Commercial Society

Competition and differentiation

Surplus work value and profit

Surplus market value and profit

Displacing commodities or displacing buyers

Profiting from the wealthy in the capitalist cosmos

Chapter 12. The Enrichment Economy in Practice

An enriched village: Laguiole in Aubrac

The transformation of habitats through heritage creation

     New “traditional festivals” in the village

Heritage creation around food

A landscape to contemplate

Cutlery valorized by the collection form

The “artisanal” manufacture of a knife in Laguiole

A collectible knife

Museification as a means of commercialization

The problem of the origin of materials

Distinguishing Laguiole’s knives from those made elsewhere

“A name, a brand, a village”

How the residents lost the ability to dispose freely of the name of their village

A geographic indication to “highlight the treasures of the territories”

Chapter 13. The Shape of the Enrichment Society

The organization of things and persons

Who can profit from an enrichment economy?

“Losers” and “servants”

The return of “rentiers”

Chapter 14. Creators in the Enrichment Society

The economic condition of culture workers

Self-promotion by creators

The constraint of self-exploitation

The circumstances behind the crystallization of social classes

Troubled critiques

Conclusion. Action and Structures

The enrichment economy and a critique of capitalism

On pragmatic structuralism



About the Author
Luc Boltanski is Professor of Sociology at the EHESS, Paris and he is the author of many books, including The New Spirit of Capitalism (with Eve Chiapello).

Arnaud Esquerre is a researcher at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Issues (Paris).
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“Boltanski and Esquerre propose a grammar of things and their value that sheds new light on the transformations of contemporary capitalism. An original and powerful work which will undoubtedly stimulate much debate.”
Clément Lefranc, Sciences humaines

“A seminal book.”
European Journal of Sociology

“arresting and impressive”
Journal of Classical Sociology

"Expansion of industry blocked, capitalism in France—and not only there—seeks shelter in the production by select artisans and artists of 'authentic' goods for the winners of globalization. Enrichment is a brilliant and deeply disturbing study of this grim involution, by which a nation’s history and identity become its last resource, and new forms of labor market inclusion and exclusion disarm traditional criticism of exploitation. This book is a foundation stone in a sociology of dystopia for our times."
Charles Sabel, Columbia Law School

“Uplifting, fun, accessible to all, Enrichment is the most scholarly and relevant analysis to finally make sense of the current 'madness' of the art market. It fascinates speculators, disconcerts art lovers, and arouses public distrust. But the observation is obvious to all: in our post-industrial societies, heritage, luxury goods and even contemporary art are the only source of wealth that we have. They are now part of the main foundations of our economy."
Catherine Millet, founder and editor of Art Press

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