Luxury and Labour


Globalization has a long history. Though it is hard to pinpoint the exact start of glob­alization, we can safely say that at least in the past four hundred years large scale circulations of people, ideas and commodities took place, leading - amongst other things - to shifts in labour relations worldwide. Many historians share the idea that consumption plays an important role in the production of these commodities and therefore also in shaping labour relations.

The Dutch/American economic historian Jan de Vries further developed this idea by looking specifically at the consumption of luxury commodities in Western Europe and colonial North America in the long eighteenth century. In his view, household economies changed in this period, because members of the household started to reallocate their time and manpower to be able to buy exotic luxury products such as coffee, tea and sugar. As a conse­quence, they performed less subsistence labour and more wage labour for the market. Where De Vries sees the 'Industrious Revolution' in an exclusive European and North Atlantic context, world historians nowadays signal the interconnectedness between changing consumption patterns in Europe and changing production processes elsewhere in the world.

Up until now, studies on the effects of the globalization of luxury commodities are mostly confined to commodities that turned into 'every day luxuries' in the 18th century, such as coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa and tobacco. As a first step in a new direction of research on global luxury consumption and production, this case study wants to analyze the effects of the globalization of a durable luxury commodity on labour relations worldwide. We have chosen diamonds because they, more than any other luxury commodity, have a long history of globalization, characterized by few though often changing centres of production, manufacturing, trade and consumption, each strongly interconnected. Central question of this research project will be how the globalization of the diamond trade and finishing industry - spurred by increasing consumer demand - affected labour relations in this sector worldwide. Thereby we will look at all segments of the transformative chain 'from the mine to the finger' for the whole period from the 16th to the 19th century.

The proposed project will contribute to various fields that are all attracting much attention in current international scholarship: (a) the history of consumption (Konsumgeschichte), (b) the global history of labour and labour relations, (c) the historical study of globalization, in particular that of global commodity chains, (d) by extension, the cultural history of the use of diamonds.

  • Fach Geschichte
Name Finanzierungstyp Kategorie Kennziffer
Fritz Thyssen-Stiftung Drittmittel Forschungsförderprogramm 474/10
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Laufzeit: 01.10.2010 – 30.09.2012