Jean Baudrillard (born in Reims, France in 1929) is a cultural theorist and philosopher. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism. He studied German at the Sorbonne University in Paris and became a professor for German in a Lycée (1958-1966). He worked as a translator and critic and continued to study philosophy and sociology. In 1966 he completed his Ph.D. thesis: "Thèse de troisième cycle: Le Système des objets" under the tuition of Henri Lefebvre. From 1966 to 1972 he worked as Maître Assistant (Assistant) and Maître de Conférences en Sociologie (Assistant Professor). In 1972 he finished his habilitation "L'Autre par lui-même." and started teaching Sociology at the Université de Paris-X Nanterre as a professor. Since 2001 he is a professor of philosophy of culture and media criticism at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he teaches an Intensive Summer Seminar. He continues to support the Institut de Recherche sur l'Innovation Sociale at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. From 1986 to 1990 Baudrillard served as Directeur Scientifique (Scientific Director) at IRIS (Institut de Recherche et d'Information Socio-Économique) at the Université de Paris-IX Dauphine.
Jean Baudrillard is famous for his investigations into hyperreality, and in particular hyperreality in America. According to Baudrillard, America has constructed itself a world that is more "real" than Real, and where those inhabiting it are obsessed with timelessness, perfection, and objectification of the self. Furthermore, authenticity has been replaced by copy (thus reality is replaced by a substitute), and nothing is "real," though those engaged in the illusion are incapable of seeing it. Instead of having experiences, people observe spectacles, via real or metaphorical control screens. Instead of the real, we have simulation and simulacra.
Shortly before the Gulf War, Baudrillard predicted that the war would not actually happen. After the war, he claimed he had been correct, and that no war had taken place. The reality of the war, where people fight for a cause and are killed, had been replaced by a 'copy' war that is delivered to televisions across the world where no fighting is taking place. America was engaged in an illusion that it was fighting, much as the mind engages with a video game, where the experience tricks the consciousness into believing it is an active participant in something that is not happening. So while the combat may have been real, only a few people experienced it and they were on the other side of the world. The 'war' that was broadcast on television, and therefore the war as it is understood by the majority of people, was not actually real.
Baudrillard's Object Value System
Baudrillard was heavily influenced by the work of Karl Marx. Like many other philosophers of consumer society, Baudrillard was particularly influenced with Marx's discussion of commodity fetishism, and much of his earlier work was an attempt to re-articulate the logic of commodity fetishism through a post-Marxist frame of reference that took seriously twentieth century developments in linguistic structuralism. Part of this rearticulation involved what Baudrillard called the "four logics of objects." He developed four categories for the value of commodities:
The functional value of an object is its instrumental purpose. (A pen writes. A diamond ring adorns an otherwise empty hand.) This is what Marx referred to as the "use-value" of the commodity.
The exchange value of an object is its economic value. (A pen is worth three pencils. A diamond ring is worth three months' salary.)
The symbolic exchange value of an object is its arbitrarily assigned and agreed value in relation to another subject. (A pen represents a graduation present or a speaker's gift. A diamond ring symbolizes a public declaration of love between two individuals.)
The sign exchange value of an object represents its value in a system of objects. (A pen is part of a desk set, or a particular pen confers social status. A diamond ring has sign exchange value in relation to other diamond rings, conferring social status to the person with the biggest or prettiest ring.)