Call for book Chapter Proposals: "Valuing luxury. Controversial Collections, Divisive Displays, and Ethical Exhibits"

In an era concerned with social and historical injustices, of wealth inequality and exploitation, and increasing awareness of the anthropogenic ecological impact, the vast collections of luxury goods that fill museums seem at odds with the current political mood. Whilst luxuries have driven much of human development, our attitude towards justice compels us to ask the question: how should museums present their collections in a manner that celebrates humanity’s triumphs without erasing the injustices that fuelled them?

This interdisciplinary anthology focuses on the dark side of luxuries from Early Modern Empires, exploring the questions of how we should acknowledge, respond to, and represent their problematic legacies in the contemporary era in public and private collections. The book investigates the role and responsibilities of museums, our relationship with luxuries, and our duties to historical legacies, both good and bad.

We invite scholars to contribute case-study driven chapters which will see authors discuss the history, concept, and normativity of luxury status through the following thematic lenses:

Conceptualising Luxury: Focusing on the construction of luxury as a socio-political-cultural concept and phenomenon and how it changed in time and space.

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The quest for rarity, exoticness, and ostentatiousness in luxury status
  • How phenomena gain and lose their luxury status
  • The psychology of luxury status
  • How far we have gone for luxuries
  • Luxuries and austerity: desire and restraint

Decolonisation & Social Justice: Focusing on luxuries as representations of empires and tools for representing injustices as well as suppressed histories, perspectives, and cultures.

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What makes something an imperial acquisition
  • Oppression, slavery, and persecution: the human costs of luxury goods (e.g. metals, chocolate, pearls, gems, ivory, or sugar)

Environment & Sustainability: Focusing on the animal and environmental costs associated with the luxury market, and questions on if and how these should be presented alongside these treasures. 

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Bones, Furs, Ivory, Teeth and Food: Animals as luxury items
  • Deforestation, Mining, and Agriculture: the Environmental cost of Luxuries
  • The ecological cost-benefit analysis of Luxuries

Negative Heritage: Focusing on icons of ethically controversial times, individuals, and movements and exploring the question of if and how they should be preserved.

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Symbols of imperial, political, and/or religious domination
  • War trophies

Inequality & Excess: Focusing on presenting and celebrating symbols of excess from and during times of wealth inequality and poverty, as well as items that entrenched inequalities.

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • International trade, profit, human cost, and poverty from luxury goods     
  • Monarchical and Elitist symbols
  • Can you like luxuries and care about inequality?

Appropriation & Repatriation: Focusing on luxuries as commercial goods, exploring questions of ownership, transference, and theft, as well as the question of how these histories should determine where luxuries should be now.

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Is legitimate acquisition sufficient to justify retention?
  • The museum as a safe haven or a plunderer’s hoard
  • What do we owe to dead victims?

Luxury & Desperation. Focusing on when luxury status fails to save the object and the question of when people have sacrificed and should sacrifice luxuries.

Hypothetical topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What should we sacrifice to save luxuries?
  • When does luxury status lack significance?
  • If and when you can sell your (culturally significant) luxuries.

Abstracts should be no more than 500 words and should be submitted to by 15th March 2024. Authors should state which theme their paper should be associated with.

Please name the file as follow: Surname_THEME NUMBER_TOPIC

Successful abstracts will be called to submit the complete paper to the same email address on 1st November 2024, and will be subject to double-blind peer review prior to the submission of the anthology to the publishing house.

Priority given to submissions on objects created prior to the 20th century and to objects associated with the global south. We are also particularly keen to promote the work from underrepresented demographics in the scholarship, particularly women and scholars from the global south.


Editor's Bios: 

Dr Elisabetta Maistri: holds a Ph.D. in History of Art and Architecture from Durham University (2023), an MA in History of Early Modern Art (UniVe, 2017), a PgDip in Art Registration (IED, 2016), an MA in Arts Management (UniVe, 2015), and a BA in Economic Law and Administration (UniPd, 2012). During her doctorate, generously funded by the Northern Bridge Consortium, she focused on the role of Fine Arts Academies in the central decades of the 19th centuries, in particular the activity of Spanish painters and sculptors in Rome during their traineeship. She is interested in the history of art (in the Italian peninsula & Borbon Spain between the 18th and the 19th centuries), the history of luxury, and the history of reception (particularly the reception of European Early Modern Art in the 21st century). She currently works for museums in Trentino Alto Adige (IT).

Dr Rob Hanson: Lecturer in Moral and Political Philosophy at Groningen University. Researcher in applied philosophy for public policymaking, specifically in the areas of archaeological and anthropological ethics. Member of Durham’s Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage and the Centre for Humanities Engaging in Science and Society, and Centre for Ethics and Law in Life Sciences, Groningen’s Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Research Network, and Durban’s BRICS Research Network. Currently working on his monograph Being Good with the Past: Aristotelian Perspectives on Heritage Ethics.



This proposal is due on March 15th 2024.

Page last updated on January 16th 2024. All information correct at the time, but subject to change.