Berry: “One third of global luxury consumers are now from China”

06 Oct 2014

Glasgow Political Theory Professor Christopher J. Berry reflects on the growth of Asian burgeoning consumerism. He participated in the STI experts meeting Fashion, Image and Identity in 2004. He has been spending time in Asia lately.

STI Experts

Your work on luxury, which you expanded on in STI’s Fashion, Image and Identity Experts Meeting, is also relevant in Asia; is it not?

One manifestation of China's burgeoning consumerism is the prominence of luxury goods. One-third of global luxury consumers are now from China. Related to my STI participation, my book Idea of Luxury (Cambridge 1994) appeared in a Chinese translation just after the Fashion meeting (Century Press Shanghai, 2005), and I have lectured on Luxury in Beijing.

How is the topic of luxury analyzed by the scientific research around the globe?

The growth in the ‘luxury goods market’ has prompted increasing academic interest. A large portion of that is ‘business’ oriented, with much work on ‘brand management’, consumers’ perceptions and recently the impact of e-commerce. There has, though, also been growth in the number of works critical of this emphasis on luxury consumption.

On what do these criticisms focus?

These criticisms range from ethical concerns about the effects on individuals (placing a damaging emphasis on immediate and transient satisfactions), on society in general (devaluing communal activity) and on the environment (wasteful use of resources).

How does your work contribute to the debate?

It would seem that my work, because it covers both conceptual issues and provides some historical depth, has become a standard reference. Hence apart from citations in the academic literature, I have recently had interviews published in Brazilian, German, Spanish and US-Mexican outlets and been approached by a firm of consultants, based in Copenhagen and New York, for a project on Luxury that they had been commissioned to undertake. As an academic, I give a regular seminar at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan on their MA course in Luxury Goods Management and in 2010 I gave the keynote lecture in London to a Conference "In Pursuit of Luxury"; an amended version of which will be published in a forthcoming book entitled Luxuries (Edinburgh).

You have made several visits to China and Japan to give a series of lectures; these have chiefly been on the Scottish Enlightenment. 

The interest in China in Adam Smith and other Enlightenment Scots echoes that of Japan from an earlier period. That is, with the development of a (sort of) market economy, the Chinese are keen to know about the most famous articulation of a commercial society by Smith. In Japan, when it opened itself to the world in the Meiji era they looked around for models of development and the two most obviously available were one derived from Marx and one derived from Smithian premises.

Professor Berry’s book Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh 1997) was just translated into Chinese (Zhejiang University Press, 2013), and the more recent volume Idea of Commercial Society in the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh, 2013) is also to be translated into Chinese by Zhejiang UP, as well as into Japanese (Minerva Shobo).