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Beyond Commodification
An interview with Margaret Jane Radin


More and more things are being commodified, from body parts to personal data. This raises not only ethical questions, but also legal and economic problems. What are the limits of commodification? And what are alternatives when we nonetheless need to transfer some of these things?

Can everything become a commodity? What happens when things that are an intimate part of a person’s life (such as her sexuality or privacy) or body (organs, babies) are for sale? With the perspective of a lawyer informed by economics and pragmatic philosophy, Margaret Jane Radin has contributed to the diffusion of specific conceptual tools—such as “commodification” and “contested markets”—in order to tackle these problems.

Her seminal book Contested Commodities (1996) has become a landmark in what we now call “commodification studies”—studies that do not deal with the role and desirability of the market in general but focus on particular markets that might raise ethical, moral or social problems (organs, babies, the environment…). During an interdisciplinary conference on the commodification of nature and of the body, she gave us this interview in which she not only presents the main concepts of her work, but also offers alternatives to a generalized commodification.

Margaret Jane Radin has been Professor of Llaw emerita at the University of Michigan Law School, and is distinguished research scholar at the faculty of Law of the University of Toronto. She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Her founding articles “Property and personhood” in 1982 and “Market-inalienability” in 1987 formed the basis of her book titled Contested Commodities and published in 1996. From these legal limits of property, Professor Radin has oriented her research towards the legal limits of contracts, more specifically on how standardized contracts invisibly commodify our basic rights. On this topic, she published Boilerplate: the fine print, vanishing rights, and the rule of law in 2013.

Interview: Elodie Bertrand, Image & sound: Ariel Suhamy & Catherine Guesde, Editing: Catherine Guesde

To quote this article :

Élodie Bertrand, « Beyond Commodification. An interview with Margaret Jane Radin », Books and Ideas , 1 November 2018. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL : http://www.booksandideas.net/Beyond-Commodification.html

Nota Bene:

If you want to discuss this essay further, you can send a proposal to the editorial team (redaction at laviedesidees.fr). We will get back to you as soon as possible.

by Élodie Bertrand , 1 November