Is Luxury Worth Considering? An anthropology of luxury Publication date : April 25, 2018
Marc Abélès is one of the most eminent French anthropologists. Working under the guidance of Claude Lévi-Strauss, he devoted his early work to the political practices of a social group in Ethiopia. Director of the Laboratory of Anthropology of Institutions and Social Organizations at the CNRS and director of research at the EHESS, his research focuses on political practices and institutions, in France and Europe.
Marc Abélès undertakes here a true anthropological investigation into luxury. He shows that it should be the object of intellectual questioning, and should no longer be looked at simply through an economic lens. Granted, luxury is situated within capitalist logic and attests to a global economy. But it is also the manifestation of a fundamental aspect of human beings: a desire for the immutable, the pure, for what transcends monetary value. Sociologists, in the lines of Barthes or Bourdieu, have studied fashion, more rarely luxury, but always in terms of domination and legitimation: the imposing of taste and the division between distinction and vulgarity. Luxury has always invoked controversy and criticism.
Marc Abélès proposes his own definition: luxury refers to what has no price and thus projects beyond the world of value. It transcends the universe of necessity. He also highlights the paradox of luxury: its products, considered to be exceptional, inaccessible, rarely remain the privilege of a minority. It was thus with tea, which, first consumed only by the British aristocracy, later became the beverage of workers. The same phenomenon can be seen with brands: luxury is threatened by trivialization. It must constantly reinvent itself. The luxury industry thus represents a space of creativity.