Commodification and decommodification: a developmental critique

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Esping-Andersen's influential analysis of decommodification, and his depiction of three worlds of welfare capitalism, is rooted in the writings of Marx and Polanyi. However, whereas Esping-Andersen focuses on the way that commodification threatens the basic consumption needs of the labourer, Marx and Polanyi were equally concerned with its denial of the labourer's scope for self-development and critical social transformation. This paper first argues that even Esping-Andersen's analysis of decommodification in relation to consumption is flawed; it then proceeds to operationalise the notion of decommodification for self-development. Making use of the available cross-national data, the paper produces decommodification scores for a range of OECD countries which challenge the mapping inherited from Esping-Andersen, and which view welfare regimes in terms of their capacity to promote a creative, critical and highly skilled labour force. At the same time, it acknowledges that such composite indexes of decommodification depend on political value choices as to the overall priorities and organisation of society. The paper thus provides a new standpoint from which to analyse welfare regimes in relation to decommodification: one which gives a central place to education and vocational training, as forms of social investment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-351
Number of pages21
JournalPolicy & Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2000


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