'Free' food, the local production of worth, and the circuit of decommodification: A value theory of the surplus

George Henderson

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57 Scopus citations


"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an 'immense accumulation of commodities', its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity[Marx, 1967 Capital, Volume I first paragraph (International Publishers, New York)]. As Marx moves beyond the first paragraph of Capital, he famously argues that value makes the commodity a 'hieroglyphic'. But his own opening is also a sort of hieroglyphic: it rings true for bourgeois economy as it does for his critique of that economy, but for entirely different reasons. The purpose of Capital is to obliterate this apparent corroboration, yet a hieroglyphic quality is maintained throughout, as Marx subjects his own successive claims to iterative, immanent critique. This chain cannot be said to be indefinite for Marx, but neither is it complete. Here, I hark back to Marx's opening gambit to ask: in capitalist society, what else accumulates besides commodities proper? The paper proceeds iteratively, offering a series of revised opening claims that mimic yet spiral away from Marx's original. I argue specifically that, although devaluation (decommodification) inheres in the production and circulation of value, it has its own accumulation logic. The example is of food banking. I explore this activity as simultaneously material, representational, and political, and examine the constitutive force of each of these modalities. I treat food banking, therefore, as a form of commodity afterlife, through which devaluation becomes (imperfectly) a positivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-512
Number of pages28
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes


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