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Beyond the commodity economy: the persistence of informal economic activity in rural England

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A widely held view in economic geography is that the commodity economy — in which goods and services are produced by capitalist firms for a profit under market conditions — has permeated, albeit slowly and unevenly, ever more areas of daily life. Until now, however, little evidence has been provided of the extent and unevenness of its penetration. This is the intention of this paper. First, secondary data are used to evaluate the penetration of commodification in the advanced economies. Rather than find its permeation into every crevice of daily life, a non-commodified sphere as large as the commodified sphere is identified. Reporting case study evidence on the commodification of household services in rural England, explanations are then sought for the persistence of these non-commodified spaces and the uneven penetration of commodification. This reveals that despite household services being more commodified in higher income rural areas, commodification and its uneven contours cannot be explained simply in terms of economic determinants. Although economic forces prevent the advance of commodification, especially in lower income rural areas, strong ‘cultures of resistance’ to the edicts of commodification also impede its deeper penetration. The paper thus concludes by outlining the roles played by both economic and cultural forces in shaping commodification and its uneven contours, as well as the need for economic geography to broaden its scope beyond the commodity economy.
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Keywords: England; commodification; informal sector; rural areas

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leicester, UK

Publication date: December 1, 2001

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