Commodification Shrugged

Are 'callous cash payments'1) now so widespread that the utopian idyll of a free 'yoga community' open to everyone is cracking as the brittle triumph of the 'free market' marches on?

When his earlier landscape series, A.O.N.B., which centred on Tintern Abbey, attempted to confuse the simplistic dualism of nature/culture, there remained the suspicion that[…] human debris was violating the idyll. A.O.N.B. (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), Keith Arnatt (1930‑2008) Collection:TATE in Keith Arnatt Jeremy Millar - frieze magazine Issue 10, May 1993

At Hindu and Sikh temples, Buddhist monasteries, local arts centres and community halls, donations are still preferred to cover the costs of the space and sometimes a little extra, while at well-resourced fitness training franchises and upscale resort spas, duty managers are busy insisting that yoga practitioners promote their activities along similar lines to pole-dancing, cheerleading, scuba-diving or golf.

The willingness of some groups to intimidate and inhibit others is remarkable. Many seem to think that imposing arbitrary restrictions on who can participate, with vendor-specific certifications, tied insurance mediation and other sophisticated Vendor Lock-In's2) are hallmarks of yoga. They are not. Rent Seeking3) is a typical market weakness suggesting cash payment may not be the most worrying problem for practitioners. Reported profits accumulating within some training support networks, many of which are privately owned at such a rapid rate with very little signs of appetite to target those resources to help the wider community is another worrying sign that not all is love and light in yoga in society.

Poor, mediocre and even wildly transformative sessions are delivered for a high price and gratis, so the cash exchange value (or commodification) is perhaps the most unreliable indicator of quality when it comes to hiring a yoga practitioner for support. The commodification doctrine articulates a kind of suspicion that a once 'pure' idyll is being tainted, while the grand, Vedic doctrine is entirely agnostic on the peculiar and ephemeral problems concerning today's practitioners. After all, (up until around the early 20th century perhaps), no yogi's were in the least bit concerned with pricing a curriculum, booking a weekend 'yoga retreat' online, or getting a good deal on public liability insurance.

The social context of money, such as in ritual exchange describes many ways money is used, making the Marxist critique of commodification look too simple. It fails to properly account for the symbolic aspects of (for example) 'dāna' where the gift and market economies seem to collapse into each other; or the ways in which money is linked to ideas of 'social capital'; or the new ways transactions are being made manifest with crypto currencies like Bitcoin4).

We do know charging high fees attracts people with similar values and assumptions about life, and we also know narrow socio-economic reproduction engenders insufficient breadth of experience in the student intake. The idea is to make the initiated feel 'special'… by making 'outsiders' feel unwelcome. Charging a high fee makes things less accessible and over-charging inhibits people that might otherwise join, because of worries about affording the ongoing fees and the 'right' equipment and clothing.

Commodification then may explain how some people want to create a sense of distinction through promoting a more aristocratic, cosmopolitan aesthetic, a taste for exotic locations and expensive apparel and adornments.

However, another method of signalling class distinctions is training certification, where practitioners occupational status are maintained using brands that run their own registers.

The clearer practitioners are about how best to distribute benefits under these conditions, the more likely innovative solutions will come through to encourage others to afford course fees and invest in course materials and so a balance needs to be struck between working to suppport disadvantaged people while avoiding the tendency to accumulate private capital and advantages.

No matter whatever people are expecting or prepared to pay, arbitrary criteria and standards are being distributed that are (at best) a tax on the well-intentioned and at worst, offer benefits only to venture capitalists in the sports and fitness sector, so far removed from the vast majority who would rather yoga training had nothing to do with sport, or fitness training franchises.

1)
Commodification refers to those processes through which social relations are reduced to an exchange relation, or as Karl Marx refers to it in the Communist Manifesto, as callous cash payment Goldman, Robert et al 1998
2)
Vendor lock-in is the restricted or proprietary use of a technology, solution… This technique can be disabling and demoralizing because customers are effectively prevented from switching to alternate vendors. –techopedia.com
3)
People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena. They typically do so by […] getting a special regulation that hampers their competitors. –David R. Henderson, Rent Seeking. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. 9 July 2014. <http://econlib.org/library/Enc/RentSeeking.html>
4)
See: Singh, S., 2000. Electronic Commerce and the Sociology of Money [WWW Document]. URL http://socresonline.org.uk/4/4/singh.html (accessed 9.2.16).

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