“A mad exuberance”: The globalization of luxury

Marc Abélès


The issue of the circulation of luxury commodities and of the evolution through which it is going becomes fully meaningful when addressed within the context of an anthropology of globalization that analyzes the nature and impact of flows on contemporary societies. In this article, I explore the ways in which globalization not only affects the luxury economy but also reshapes its cultural and political dimensions. The first part of this essay examines the definition of luxury and its close link with such notions as scarcity, superfluity, and expenditure, and reviews the theoretical debate on luxury and the development of capitalism. The second part is focused on the global expansion of the luxury market, especially its opening to Chinese consumers. A consequence of this appropriation of luxury goods on a large scale is the permanent threat of banalization in a domain in which scarcity and exceptionality are so essential. In this context, the close connection between luxury firms and contemporary art can be interpreted as an antidote against this process of banalization.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/708668