Luxury and Corruption: Rethinking Design, Crime and Neoliberalism - Keynote Lecture at the Annual DH

On the 7th of September, I held a keynote lecture at the annual conference of the Design History Society this year entitled ‘The Cost of Design’ , a conference intent on exploring the complexities of the historic and contemporary relationship between design and economy. In my keynote lecture, I focused on the relationship between luxury and corruption – from the classical critiques of luxury and its association with moral corruption and societal and political decay to the role of the highly unregulated luxury industry in laundering of proceeds from corruption and organized crime. I explored the ways in which spectacular images of obscene luxury are strategically utilized in anti-corruption scoops and populist political campaigns that are increasingly focused issues of morality at the expense of politics proper in the context of rising inequality. In the process, I have shown how the logic of transparency, accountability, and audit emerges as a post-political phenomenon of neoliberal global ethics and global governance endorsed by a wide range of transnational actors (from UN, Transparency International, EU, IMF, World Bank, to OECD) precisely in opposition to luxury and corruption and their underlying logic of privacy and secretiveness. However, while these forces of transparency may appear at a first sight as forces of good – against the evils of corruption – I have argued that when we flip into the other extreme of transparency we risk as society of control where anything private is considered inherently suspicious and where privacy ultimately becomes a luxury that only few can afford and that becomes a new source of distinction rather than being a fundamental right.