Accepted paper:

Self-commodification in neoliberalism: bodies, intimacies, emotions


Susanne Hofmann (University of Göttingen)
Adi Moreno

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses neo-liberal practices of self-commodification, exploring examples of current-day bodily markets, i.e. sex trade and reproductive trade, in order to discuss how new forms of technology and governmentality can shape commodified bodies, intimacies and emotions.

Paper long abstract:

While humans were exchanged since the beginning of history for the purposes of sexuality and reproduction, religion, labour or scientific inquiry (Scheper-Huges 2002), our contemporary era has seen a rise and extension of the human commodity market, both into new populations and new terrains.

Neoliberal practices of self-commodification, instead of negating the existence of a subject (as was the case in the slave trade) are now based on the very existence of these valorised, thematised selves who actively 'choose' to sell body parts, access to their bodies and different kinds of emotional and intimate labour in the capitalist market, subjugating themselves into regimes of control and harm. In this context, discourses of self-authorship and freedom of choice enable the masking of harsh realities of impoverishment, gross inequalities and economies of extraction, in which bodies and bodily capabilities from the Global South serve the needs and desires of the more affluent populations in the Global North.

Global markets based on technologies of communication, transport and cryopreservation have served as crucial actors in the development of these new forms of commodification of human bodies, intimacies and emotions, enabling abstraction and anonymisation of both buyer and seller; further alienating the seller from her (or his) own personhood, and loading the object-self with fetishised meanings, aspirations, desires.

In our paper we will utilise two examples of body-trade, namely surrogacy and sex-work, in order to explore the novel and the persistent within the commerce of bodies, and in ways of resisting it.

panel P099
Changing intimate exchanges and emerging forms of resistance to intensified self-commodification