On Commodities: An Essay Collection



McDonald, Ryan

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A memoristic essay collection that investigates the intangible aspects of economic and social life surrounding a different specific concrete thing, a commodity, each chapter. On an individual level, our pursuit of commodities ensures the stability and security of our wealth and standard of living. Buying a tank of gas gives you access to work, leisure, and other amenities. But at the same time, on a collective, societal level, our pursuit of commodities is dooming, unsecuring, and destabilizing our shared future. Burning through tank of gas contributes to global warming and climate change, putting the production of many other needed commodities at risk, putting our being at risk. This essay collection approaches such high stakes not by highlighting profound possibilities we face, but by analyzing the mundane, simple commodities we’ve taken for granted, whether it be crude oil, sugar, water, or wood, the things that are mundane because they are significant. Given the broader context of late stage capitalism, globalization, and being at a time in our country where our standard of living is the highest it’s ever been—where on average we each possess more things than ever before—but our quality of life—our health, well-being, and happiness— is in decline, it’s valuable and compelling to revisit these simple questions: What exactly do we want and need from our things? What are we’re already getting? How should things support and improve our lives?


This thesis has been embargoed for 10 years and will not be available until April 2028 at the earliest.


Commodities, Materials, Production, Consumption