Lim Chong Yah Professorship Lecture – Luxury and its Discontents


The production of an expanding range of consumer goods and luxuries is generally seen as one of the main engines driving the global economy. Contemporary consumer culture and media advertising reveal an endless fascination with the luxurious lifestyles of celebrities and the super-rich. If luxury is central to social life today, we should be aware that for much of western history up to the eighteenth century, luxury has been depicted as a dangerous thing, corrosive of morality and social order.

The lecture will examine a number of luxury dynamics, some of which point not merely to the control of luxury, but to the transformation of luxury, to potential moves beyond luxury. If the moral containment or eradication of luxuries has historically been a powerful dynamic, there are a number of other vectors to be considered. These include: the democratisation of luxury; austere luxury; connoisseurship; the shift from material to immaterial luxuries; the move from sensual pleasures to more contemplative recollections and mediations. The various dynamics in their different ways, seek to acknowledge, play with, or go beyond, the imputed power of the luxury object and the crossovers between art, luxury, imagination and everyday life.

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