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In search of excitement and sensation: participating in the global illicit cultural property trade

Sat, Nov 16, 9:30 to 10:50am, Foothill F, 2nd Level

Abstract

The trade in art and antiquities, so-called cultural property, is a global, multibillion-dollar illicit trade, and often categorized as a type of transnational, organized crime. Much like other illicit trades, it is based on exploitation of the Global South by the Global North. Cultural property is used to convert economic capital into cultural capital, and in turn, mediating social capital through material culture. Not much is known about the motivation of those participating in this illicit trade, such as dealers, middlemen and traffickers, beyond the pursuing of financial gain. This paper explores the motivations expressed by participants when describing their participation in the illicit cultural property trade, which often result in verbalizations of physical pleasure. It is based on a year-long fieldwork project in Hong Kong, China, the UK, the USA, Belgium and the Netherlands. This paper will argue that participants are in search of excitement and sensation, which functions as a stimulant towards deviance: the ‘will’ to offend in search of excitement construes a directive motivation. This argument complements previous theorizations of drift, where the concept of ‘will’ was left largely unexplored, by providing an understanding of the will and motivation to participate in a global illicit trade.

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