(Here I work with the wiki on Jean Baudrillard . . .)
In his early books, such as The System of Objects (1968), The Consumer Society (1970), and, especially, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (trans. Charles Levin [1972; Telos, 1981]), Baudrillard focusses on consumerism—and how different kinds of objects are consumed in different ways. As against Marx, he argues that consumption, rather than production, is the main drive in capitalist society. He also rejects Marx’s naive concept of “use value”: that uses answer needs in a straightforward way. He argues that needs are constructed rather than innate—and that all consumption is fetishistic because of the social significance of commodities (“commodity fetishism”). Objects always “say something” about their users.
Thus, the “ideological genesis of needs” precedes the production of goods to meet those needs (For a Critique . . . 63). (The implication is that whoever owns the means of consumption [Konsummittel] controls the factory. This is all commonsensical for us, but his taxonomy is more useful . . .)
According to For a Critique, there are four ways an object can acquire “value,” i.e., four logics of signification (66):
(We could replace that grammatocentric device, the pen, with a metagrammatic one, the cellphone, which is much more often to hand presently.)
- the functional value of an object: its utility as an instrument (= the logic of practical operations). A pen writes.
- the exchange value of an object: its market value as a commodity (= the logic of equivalence). One pen may be worth three pencils.
- the symbolic value of an object: its value a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject, i.e., as a gift (= the logic of ambivalence). A pen might symbolize a student’s graduation.
- the sign value of an object: its value within a system of objects as a sign of status (= the logic of difference). A particular pen may, whilst having no functional benefit, signify prestige relative to another pen.
He argues that the first two values are disrupted by the third and, particularly, the fourth.
(I’d correlate these logics with phenomenology, political economy, structuralism and poststructuralism. Commensensical again—but what of the hand at the end of the pen/phone? The hermeneut, avatar of Thoth/Theuth?)