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Luxury, Corruption, and Illicit Elite Economies

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

LUXCORE Workshop

Organized by Tereza Østbø Kuldova, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University and Joanne Roberts, Winchester School of Art

Time: December 9, 2021, 09:00 – 15:00 Oslo time

Passcode: 139420

This workshop will explore the relation between luxury, corruption, and illicit elite economies, spanning a wide range of issues from the global trade in luxury ancient art and illicit antiquities, the role of media and fiction in art crime, via freeports and the financialization of luxury, the criminogenic and luxurious features of global regulatory capitalism, to luxury revelations in anti-corruption campaigns in Russia and elite power dynamics in China.


09:00 – 09:10


Tereza Østbø Kuldova

9:10 – 9:55

The Ethics of Illicit Antiquities and the Structural Violence of the Global Trade in Luxury Ancient Art

Simon Mackenzie

Professor of Criminology, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Collection and display of antiquities is a cultural pursuit that has for a long time been associated with perceptions of high social status, luxury and wealth. The international trade in antiquities supplies this market, and it has a dark side: looting. In this, it is comparable to many other global markets where consumption in rich countries hides distant harm in the countries of production. The commodification and collection of ancient art is a social and economic activity tainted with allegations of physical destruction and theft in source countries and the symbolic violence of the appropriation of other people’s cultural objects. We will discuss the shape and routines of the grey market in illicit antiquities with a particular focus on how market actors talk about their involvement in crime. We will think about the ways in which breaking the law can be integrated into the normative ethics of free markets in luxury goods.

9:55 – 10:00 Break

10:00 – 10:45

How Fiction and the Media Inadvertently Inspire Art Crime

Noah Charney

Professor of Art History and Founder of ARCA

Art crime is distinctive in that fiction ‘informs’ and inspires criminals, who know as little in terms of fact about art crime as the general public. But understanding the limited and skewed knowledge base of criminals has helped detectives recover stolen art by posing as the Dr No-style criminal art collectors that criminals expect from fiction and film, but which have almost never existed historically (a few dozen exceptions - including Pablo Picasso - aside). This is mirrored by how criminals use the media to provide proof of authenticity of works they stole and to estimate value, with the media as unknowing accomplices. This talk will take an introductory look at these two phenomena and how they have affected art crime through time.

10:45 – 11:00 Break

11:00 – 11:45

The Emperor’s Empty Palace: On the Addictive Hollowness of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Populism

Jardar Østbø

Professor at Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies

By far the most prominent leader of the Russian opposition, Aleksei Naval’nyi has for a decade been challenging the ruling elite, using blog posts and YouTube videos to expose their ill-gotten riches. This is an integral part of his strategy to reach his self-declared goal of becoming Russia’s president. The endlessly repetitive ‘revelations’ of the corruption of the Russian elite are, however, strikingly void of content, other than demonstrating, again and again, what the Russian people already know: that their leaders live in opulent luxury. This paper explores this paradox.

11:45 – 11:50 Break

11:50 – 12:35

Regulation and Luxury: Repetition, Excess and Layering of Emptiness

Tereza Østbø Kuldova

Research Professor, Work Research Institute, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University

This talk will explore the criminogenic features of the global technocratic governance by numbers, guidelines, standards, and other proxies, arguing that this regulatory architecture stimulates evasion and fraud through different forms of ‘layering of emptiness’ and repetitions that aim to cover over the emptiness at the core while generating their own excesses. Not only has regulation come to mirror the logic of luxury, but the actual making of transnational regulation has itself become a form of luxury, accelerating wealth inequality, and consolidating power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

12:35 -13:10 Lunch Break

13:10 13:55

The Ideological Dimension of Anti-corruption Discourses in Colombia, Ecuador and Albania

Blendi Kajsiu

Assistant Professor, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

The paper will present the main arguments and findings of the book ¿Corrupción pública o privada? La dimensión ideológica de los discursos anti-corrupción en Colombia, Ecuador y Albania (Bogotá: Tirant lo Blanch, 2020). In the book I compare the official anti-corruption discourses of president Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) in Colombia, president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) in Ecuador and prime minister Edi Rama (2013-present) in Albania. I argue that although these three countries face very similar levels and perceptions of corruption their governments articulate this phenomenon differently due to their distinct ideological positions. While the neoliberal governments of Santos and Rama define corruption primarily as abuse of public office and locate it mainly in the public sector, or in its interaction with the private one, the government of Rafael Correa, which embraced the 21st Century Socialism, defines corruption primarily as a problem of the private sector that captures and distorts the public sector. The implication of my research is that when analysing and evaluating an anti-corruption discourse one has to pay close attention to two elements. First, it is necessary to identify the ideals or political suppositions that inform it. It is important to ask, which political, economic or social ideal will be realized through the elimination of corruption? Second, it is important to assess the extent to which the anti-corruption discourse is utilized in order to obscure or spell out such political, economic or social ideal.

14:00 – 14:45

Elite Networks, Luxury, and Corruption in Xi's China

John Osburg

Associate Professor and Chair of Anthropology, University of Rochester

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping has launched the largest anti-corruption campaign in the history of the PRC. One of the key targets of this campaign has been the visible forms of luxury consumption practiced by the business and political elite. This talk examines the intended and unintended effects of this campaign and its effects on elite power, corrupt practices, and luxury economies in China and beyond.

14:45 – 15:00 Concluding Remarks

This event is funded by The Research Council of Norway under project no. 313004 – Luxury, Corruption and Global Ethics: Towards a Critical Cultural Theory of the Moral Economy of Fraud (LUXCORE).


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