Beyond Fetish and Animism: Interpretations of the Autonomy of Commodities


  • Ian Schuler University of the State of Rio de Janeiro



fetish; animism; commodity; object; autonomy.


In recent decades, part of the human sciences has been dedicated to rethinking the separations between subjects and objects, or, in another sense, between nature and culture. If, in part of the Western context, this separation guaranteed the ontological primacy of subjects, other strands of thought have sought to rediscover the interactions between subjects and objects, including finding ways to establish the conditions of autonomy of objects by themselves. In particular and turning to the cultural context and the production of objects in capitalist societies, we ask about the conditions of autonomy of commodities. Depending on the perspective we adopt, the commodity loses its economic attribute, reappearing with other constitutive meanings. In this paper, we trace a brief conceptual course about the separations between subjects and objects and the contemporary interpretations that intend to undo such separation. First, we start with Sigmund Freud’s critical comments about the animistic practices of indigenous people and Karl Marx’s comments about commodity fetishism. According to Peter Stallybrass (2009), Marx would not be antagonistic to the fetish as a possible cultural form, but solely a critic of the commodity fetish in capitalist societies. Losing its harmful character, the fetish reappears as a potential agent of relations between human and non-human bodies, according to Latour (2005). Finally, we speculate on the commodity-object to reactivate the interlacements between subjects and objects in contemporaneity.

Author Biography

Ian Schuler, University of the State of Rio de Janeiro

Ian Schuler, is a filmmaker, video artist and researcher. He holds a PhD in Visual Arts from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and Master in Communication from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).


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How to Cite

Schuler, I. (2023). Beyond Fetish and Animism: Interpretations of the Autonomy of Commodities. AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, (30), 219–229.