Two Economics Tropes of Commodity and Capital Fetishism: Sensationalism and Monotony (1700–1900)


  • Jelle Versieren University of Antwerp


Marx’s concept of fetishism expresses a market ideology of capitalist society representing the social world as commodities being exchanged according to immutable laws of the market and being quantifiably produced by machinery. The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois economists articulated this market ideology in different forms. Two antinomic tropes are the sensationalist trope, dating from pre-modern times, defining the discursive codes of luxury and technological inventions displayed in the consumer markets; and the trope of monotony, expressing the qualities of industrial production regarding the repetition of unpleasant but necessary work and the regularity of machinery. In the eighteenth century, the trope of sensationalism pertained exclusively to luxury goods traded by merchant capital. In the nineteenth century, the sensationalist trope was intimately tied to commodity and capital fetishism when industrial capital represented itself in the consumerist sphere of merchant capital providing innovative commodities to the popular strata of society. At the same time, political economists grappled with the economic significance of industrial production as they produced the trope of monotonous machinery and industrial work that expressed the ideological essence of commodity and capital fetishism.

Author Biography

Jelle Versieren, University of Antwerp

Jelle Versieren; is finishing his doctoral research at University of Antwerp. Affiliated with the Centre for Urban History, his dissertation examines labour concepts and the discourses of labour value in the Low Countries’ economic transition to capitalism. He is a guest lecturer at Ghent University and University of Antwerp regarding the histories and epistemologies of economic thought. He has recently published essays on Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Adam Smith, Rosa Luxemburg, Thomas Sekine, GWF Hegel, French structuralism, history of the Belgian labor movement, and state formations and economic transitions in early modern Western Europe.