BritCult 2021

Investigating the Super-Rich: Representations of Great Wealth in British Cultures

Programme

On this page:

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Time Indicator Primary Track Secondary Track
Postgraduate Lounge Social
Opening Addresses Academic
Keynote 1: Joanne Roberts Academic
Break or Lounge Social
Panel 1: The One Percent Academic
Break or Lounge Social
Panel 2: Victorian Nobility Academic
Break or Lounge Social
Panel 3: (Post)Colonial Wealth Academic
Get-Together Social

Select a schedule entry on the left to see details.

Time
1–2 pm
Event
Postgraduate Lounge
Room
Social
Description

In the lead-up to the conference, four PhD students had the opportunity to gather feeback on their written project reports from other BritCult members through the Association's website. In this open lounge session, conference participants are invited to discuss the projects with their authors or other participants.

Performing Reproductive Rights in (Non)Theatrical Spaces: Contraception, Abortion and Performance in Britain and Ireland, 1970-2020
Eva-Maria Kubin (Salzburg)

This project traces the relationship between reproductive rights and performance in Britain and Ireland since 1970 through the lens of space. One major contribution of the project, therefore, is uncovering and collecting a variety of performances that address the issue of access to contraception and/or abortion, and that link it to larger social questions and/or the legal context. These performances are situated on a continuum from theatrical performance to activist interventions. Due to the diverse types of performances and the covered time span, I employ a combination of archival research, interviews with performers, close-reading, and production analysis to present a history of reproductive-rights performances and their various spatial layers. Space offers a productive frame for thinking about reproductive-rights performances in context: First, the impact that geographical location has on people seeking access to contraception or abortion has led to performers paying increased attention to space on the level of both content and form; and second, the spaces where these performances take place – ranging from highly public spaces (e.g., streets, squares, public transport) to more contained spaces like dedicated theatre buildings – not only contribute to the meaning-making process but also reflect the performers’ activist intentions, the potential efficacy of these political performances, and the socio-cultural context. After giving a brief overview of the status quo of my project, I will present examples to illustrate what I mean when I propose to apply a spatial lens in telling the (hi)story of reproductive-rights performances in Britain and Ireland since 1970.

The Value of UK Literature Festivals
Judith Robinson (Bath/Berlin)

My PhD research project aims to address the lack of understanding of actor relationships (cf. Wilson et al.) in the UK literature festival field. This field has grown significantly over the last decades, resulting in a rich but not fully explored cultural field. In addition, the ongoing pandemic presents organisations with unprecedented challenges and uncertainties, providing further impetus for research in this particular field. The project aims to explore the relationship between UK publishers, as highly influential actors (Stewart 267), and UK literature festivals, as well as the perceived value publishers and festivals organisers respectively place on festivals.

Conceptually, the project will build on Bourdieu’s field theory, and value frameworks developed by Morean and Strandgaard Pedersen as well as Throsby, amongst others. This project aims to make visible the “structures of relations” between two key actors in a defined field, by analysing their evaluation of literature festivals, thus grasping existing “doxa” (Bourdieu 166) and creating a space where new approaches to the concept of literature festivals can be uncovered.

As the project is in its early stages, my presentation would provide a brief exploration of the field in question, including an overview of the history of UK literature festivals and outline of key issues within the field. Furthermore, I would elaborate on the proposed methodology, as well as the theoretical frameworks in relation to the research question and objectives.

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge UP, 1977.
  • Moeran, Brian, and Jasper Strandgaard Pedersen. “Introduction.” Negotiating Values in the Creative Industries: Fairs, Festivals and Competitive Events, edited by idem, Cambridge UP, 2011, pp. 1-35.
  • Stewart, Cori. “The Rise and Rise of Writers' Festivals.” A Companion to Creative Writing, edited by Graeme Harper, Wiley, 2013, pp. 263-277.
  • Throsby, David. The Economics of Cultural Policy. Cambridge UP, 2010.
  • Wilson, Juliette, et al. “Expanding the Domain of Festival Research: A Review and Research Agenda.” International Journal of Management Reviews, vol. 19, no. 2, 2017, pp. 195-213.

Burglars, Bandits, Buccaneers: The Young Criminal in Popular Penny Fiction, 1865–1885
Carolin Sternberg (Braunschweig)

With an increasing literacy rate and technological advances in the printing industry, the 19th century saw a rise in mass-produced serial publications. Sold at the price of one penny, sensational “penny bloods” which told stories of notorious criminals and evil aristocrats enjoyed great popularity among an urban working-class readership for whom literature used to be a luxury reserved for the educated middle and upper class. From the 1860s onwards, penny fiction targeted a younger readership and was mostly read by working-class boys. With young criminals as adventurous (anti-)heroes who often resembled their readers in terms of gender, age, and socio-economic status, the derogatorily labelled “penny dreadfuls” led to a surge of moral outrage among the middle and upper class. By glamourising the lives of burglars, bandits, and buccaneers, these texts supposedly encouraged imitation and incited working-class children to criminal behaviour as well as disrespect for authorities. Dissenting voices ascribed the rise in juvenile delinquency not to “pernicious reading” but social evils and classified penny fiction as a mere form of escapist entertainment. With reference to the moral discourse that surrounded the publication of penny fiction during the second half of the 19th century, my dissertation examines selected penny dreadfuls that have scarcely been researched in detail yet. Taking textual information as well as socio-historical factors into account, my aim is to approximate the cognitive and emotional processes involved in the reception of these criminal characters based on the literary theory of cognitive narratology.

Walk Like a Victorian: Neo-Victorian Video Games and Their Interactive Engagement with the Nineteenth Century
Sarah Beyvers (Passau)

The neo-Victorian project is often discussed within the context of play and an attitude of playfulness (e.g., Heilmann and Llewellyn 175), but the “game called neo-Victorianism”, as Nadine Boehm-Schnitker and Susanne Gruss put it (16), is ‘played’ in a variety of media, even though scholarship focuses almost exclusively on non-interactive texts. My dissertation project is concerned with the role of spatial explorability and interactivity in video games that reimagine the Victorian age. Such games employ immersive, interactive, and haptic means of engaging with a reworked past. My aim is to put the ‘play’ back into neo-Victorian playfulness by arguing that interactive exploration constitutes a neo-Victorian mode of its own.

My project revolves around spatialised discourses of race, gender, and class in neo-Victorian video games because space is arguably among the most relevant aspects of narrative games. The explorability and virtual materiality of video game space, and the player’s presence within it, make the interaction with a fictional world a tangible experience. After all, as Henry Jenkins explains, “[g]ame designers don’t simply tell stories; they design worlds and sculpt spaces” (56). Additionally, the spatial explorability of video games renders possible an investigation of the reworkings of the Victorian preoccupation with space – their spatial problems and solutions, from the ideology of separate spheres to the spatialised dynamics of racism and class discrimination – which leads me to my overall research question: How are Victorian spaces and spatialised discourses of gender, race, and class reworked in narrative video games and in what way does their interactive explorability constitute a neo-Victorian mode?

  • Boehm-Schnitker, Nadine, and Susanne Gruss. “Introduction: Spectacles and Things: Visual and Material Culture and/in Neo-Victorianism.” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, 2011, pp. 1–23.
  • Heilmann, Ann, and Mark Llewellyn. Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999-2009. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Narrative Spaces.” Space Time Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level, edited by Friedrich von Borries, Steffen P. Walz, and Matthias Böttger, Birkhäuser, 2007, pp. 56-60.
Time
2–2:30 pm
Event
Opening Addresses
Room
Academic
Description
Introductory remarks, the BritCult Award ceremony, and a few housekeeping announcements. The full list of speakers will be added closer to the date of the conference.
Time
2:30–3:30 pm
Event
Keynote 1: Joanne Roberts
Room
Academic
Description

Representations and Realities of British Luxury Culture
Joanne Roberts (Southampton)

This keynote paper will explore British luxury culture through an examination of its representations and realities. The idea and cultural significance of luxury will be considered before it is situated in a British historical context. The place of luxury in twenty-first century Britain will then be elaborated and the significance of the luxury sector as a source of economic activity will be outlined. It will be shown that the marketing of British luxury goods and services often refers to British socio-cultural structures and institutions or historical periods and locations. In this way, for instance, luxury companies evoke connections between their products and services and the aristocracy, most notably the Royal family, or the creativity for which the nation’s capital city is renowned. Luxury companies from Floris to Lock & Co. Hatters proudly display their Royal Warrants while others including Burberry and Gieves & Hawkes make much of their Britishness or connection to London. Representations of British luxury culture will be contrasted with the realities of the democratisation and globalisation of luxury promoted by the commercial imperatives of luxury companies.

Time
3:30–4 pm
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
4–5 pm
Event
Panel 1: The One Percent
Room
Academic
Description

The Super-Rich as Technological Fixes
Sebastian Berg (Bochum)

My paper will look into discourses around a specific type of philanthropic activity some of the super-rich engage in: saving humanity and the planet. Individuals such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson have intervened into debates on environmentalism and on promising measures to ameliorate climate change for some time now. Their suggestions on technological fixes such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the generation of electrical power by nuclear fusion mirror their economic and entrepreneurial activities and are characterized by a belief in their own sheer unlimited possibilities. Thus, I will show that their philanthropic interventionism is based on the same ideological premises as their business activities. In addition, I would like to discuss the following: that their interventions are taken seriously in British and American society (and elsewhere), testifies to the hegemony of a couple of ideological imaginaries: the effectiveness of simple solutions for large-scale problems, the superiority of the knowledge of ‘experts’, the indispensability of powerful and successful business people for the solution of global problems, the compatibility of capitalism and an ecologically-friendly reorganization of economic activity, the possibility to keep or increase current levels of wealth while saving the biosphere needed for human species survival. I will argue that a different evaluation of the super-rich and, more generally, of global wealth differentials and class antagonisms in essential for a more realistic project of societal and technological transformation. Hence, the paper will invite to a reappraisal of class analysis and an alternative hedonism (Kate Soper) that moves beyond the mixture of envy and admiration that often accompanies representations of the super-rich.

Super-Villains or Idealists? Representations of the Super-Rich in the Contemporary Public Sphere
Carolin Gebauer (Wuppertal)

In popular culture, the super-rich are often presented as villains. As different as the antagonists of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes may be, they all share one particular feature: they have money, and lots of it. A similar bias manifests itself in public discourses: The BBC documentary The Super-Rich and Us stages the top 0.01 percent of British society as the egotistic ‘other,’ and an opinion feature in The Guardian accuses them of “hav[ing] made Britain into a nation of losers” (Chakrabortty). ‘Common’ British people seem to agree that the global super-rich have a negative influence on society in that they cause the middle class to stagnate while elitist wealth increases.

The economic elite, however, defend themselves against such reproaches, emphasizing their contribution to the public good: Not only does their consumerism help society to prosper (trickle-down effect), but they also seek to improve the world. Most recently, for example, billionaires such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos have repeatedly made headlines for submitting various “plan[s] [of how] to save the world from the climate crisis” (Milman and Rushe).

This paper seeks to explore the differences between auto- and altero-representations of the super-rich in British media. By analyzing selected examples – i.e. written newspaper features, documentaries, and Tweets – I will show that the narrative strategies used in both identity discourses (e.g. the “battle” metaphor or the opposition of “us” vs. “them”) challenge the notion of social cohesion and thus widen the social and cultural gap between the rich and middle class. Such divisive rhetoric, I will argue, hinders the fight against inequality as it maintains an ideology that lies at the heart of what Colin Crouch has termed “post-democracy.”

  • Chakrabortty, Aditya. “The Super-Rich Have Made Britain into a Nation of Losers.” The Guardian, 6 Aug. 2019.
  • Crouch, Colin. Post-Democracy. Polity, 2004.
  • Crouch, Colin. Post-Democracy after the Crises. Polity, 2020.
  • Milman, Oliver, and Dominic Rushe. “The Latest Must-Have among US Billionaires? A Plan to End the Climate Crisis.” The Guardian. 25 Mar. 2021.
  • Peretti, Jacques. The Super-Rich and Us. Episodes 1–2, directed by Chris Boulding, BBC Two, 2017.
Time
5–5:30 pm
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
5:30–6:30 pm
Event
Panel 2: Victorian Nobility
Room
Academic
Description

The Richest Man on Earth: Between Centrality and Marginality
Rainer Emig (Mainz)

Even experts on British Culture might not have heard of John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900). Nonetheless, he was regarded as the richest man on earth in the 1860s. He was instrumental in completing Cardiff Docks, which turned a small town in Wales into the world’s most important export hub for coal. His wealth was thus not merely inherited, but entwined with the global Industrial Revolution.

At the same time this central figure in emerging modern capitalism was by no means undisputed and “centric”. He converted to Catholicism aged 21, which shocked his contemporaries and persuaded Benjamin Disraeli to model the eponymous protagonist of his novel Lothair (1870) on him. Crichton-Stuart himself also published widely as an amateur scholar. He amassed money, but also spent it liberally, especially on Neo-Gothic buildings, including parts of Cardiff Castle and nearby Castle Coch. A keen traveller, he nonetheless retained ties with both his Scottish origins and his Welsh home. Cardiff elected him mayor and his Scottish hometown Provost twice. Besides making South Wales a global centre of Industrialisation, he also supported Scottish Home Rule.

A Cultural Studies positioning of this phenomenon must be intersectional and cover history, economics, politics, religion, but also art history, architecture, literature, and popular culture. Yet can this model provide answers to the question how someone so central to his time can simultaneously be so marginal? Does privilege provided by ancient titles and newly acquired wealth hold together the dissimilar parts? Or can Crichton-Stuart’s eccentricity teach us how culture finds ways of “integrating” even basic contradictions into acceptable and established patterns – when there is an interest and will to do so?

Victorian Interiors and the ‘Noble Arts’: Morris & Co. at Clouds
Stefanie John (Braunschweig)

To the Victorian designer, manufacturer, poet, socialist and proto-environmentalist William Morris, tapestry was “the noblest of the weaving arts” (Morris 17). The pictorial tapestries made by his company Morris & Co. at the turn of the century belong to the most spectacular (and expensive) handmade textiles to emerge from the Arts and Crafts Movement. In spite of Morris’s socialist principles, they decorated the homes of the wealthiest members of society. This paper takes its impetus from one such textile work, the Greenery tapestry, a verdure panel commissioned for Clouds House in Wiltshire and designed by Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. in 1892. I will approach the tapestry as both an artwork and a product of material culture and argue that its fabrication and texture are laced with late Victorian ideas of class and commodification, decoration and taste, interiority and environment.

Starting out from Morris’s notion of “the noblest” craft, I will discuss the tapestry’s luxurious design and contextualise Greenery as an object custom-made for Clouds, the country home of Sir Percy Wyndham and his wife Madeline. Morris’s furnishings helped to stage the home as spectacle, in line with the notion of the “house beautiful” celebrated by aesthetes of fin-de-siècle England. But they also represent the pinnacle of Morris’s somewhat utopian effort to improve working conditions and to think carefully about materials and their function and environment. Like the history of Clouds House itself (it was designed by Philip Webb and, in the course of its existence, burned down, was rebuilt, bequeathed, sold and resold; today it houses a treatment centre for recovering addicts), Morris’s tapestry serves as a reminder that notions of wealth, the home and “the elite” must be thought of as a multi-layered, contradictory and historically changeable phenomena.

  • Morris, William. “Textiles.” Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society: Catalogue of the First Exhibition, edited by the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, 1888, pp. 17-29.
Time
6:30–7 pm
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
7–8 pm
Event
Panel 3: (Post)Colonial Wealth
Room
Academic
Description

“… all the gold / coin’d in rich Barbary”: Oriental Wealth and English Diplomacy and Trade on the Late Elizabethan Stage
Marcus Hartner (Bielefeld)

In 1591, the Moroccan ruler Ahmad al-Mansur launched a risky but highly profitable invasion of the West African Songhay Empire. After managing to cross the Sahara against all expectations, his troops defeated the unprepared Songhay army and captured the wealthy cities of Gao and Timbuktu on the Sudanese trade route. When the Songhay Empire collapsed as a result of this victory, local authorities not only submitted to send “a tribute of 100,000 pieces of gold and 1,000 slaves to Marrakesh” (Matar 147), but much of the wealth and gold from the trade route became subsequently diverted to Morocco, turning al-Mansur into one of the richest rulers on the African continent and earning him the title al-Dhahabī (the golden). The immense wealth flowing into Morocco immediately attracted the attention of European traders and politicians. In England, for example, the crown renewed its diplomatic efforts to draw the Moroccan ruler into an alliance against Spain. And “Marrakesh soon teemed with English, French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish merchants, each seeking al-Mansur’s favour and approaching him with requests for [trade] monopolies” (MacLean and Matar 55). Moreover, al-Mansur’s wealth and political influence captured the popular imagination and it found its way, for example, onto the early modern London stage.

My presentation will discuss popular representations of the Moroccan ruler, for example in Thomas Heywood’s popular play The Fair Maid of the West, Part I (c. 1597-1603) in the context of the emergence of what historians have referred to as “new capitalism” (Cerasano 15) and the increasing early modern expansion of international commodity exchange. I am going to argue that while the popular fascination with al-Mansur certainly draws on stereotypical notions of excessive Oriental wealth that had been a stock feature of the Western imagination of the Muslim world since the Middle Ages, the dramatic representation of the Moroccan ruler presents a polyvalent figure that both evokes and defies stereotypical notions of Muslim otherness.

  • Cerasano, Susan P. “Economics.” A Concise Companion to English Renaissance Literature, edited by Donna B. Hamilton, Blackwell, 2006, pp. 11‐31.
  • MacLean, Gerald M., and Nabil I. Matar. Britain and the Islamic World: 1558–1713. Oxford UP, 2011.
  • Matar, Nabil I. “The Maliki Imperialism of Ahmad al-Mansur: The Moroccan Invasion of Sudan, 1591.” Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations, 1500-1900, edited by Rajan Balachandra and Elizabeth Sauer, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, pp. 147-162.

Take Back the Playground of the Rich: Exploring the Public Opposition to Private Sport Clubs in Post-Colonial Hong Kong
Ha Chi Yeung (Hong Kong)

Exclusive private sports clubs with privileged membership are places that not only offer recreational and social activities but also reinforce social capital and network ties of the wealthy communities, contributing to the reproduction of social inequality. Public opposition and protests against the development of private sports clubs are not new phenomena and can be found throughout the world. However, the issue of provision of land for these affluent clubs is more contentious and complex in Hong Kong, a former British colony, because they have benefited from the government's preferential land policy, a colonial legacy of privilege. The civil society in Hong Kong has called for the resumption of these clubs for other more urgent and public purposes, such as providing public housing and parks. Such calls had since led to a series of protests. While studies have invoked the lens of political ecology, neoliberalism and environment movements to analyse these resistance movements, few, if any, attempts to view the phenomena as a colonial legacy.

This study aims to plug this research gap and explore the politics over these privileged clublands, over the controversies and public oppositions against the existing policy and their continuity. This study starts from tracing the colonial origins, development trajectory of these clubs and the culture of clubbability in Hong Kong. Various forms of protests and resistance against these private sports clubs will also be investigated and categorized. This study further explores the discourse of opponents and proponents of these clubs by analyzing newspaper reports and interviews with them.

Time
From 8 pm
Event
Get-Together
Room
Social
Description
Socialise with other conference participants in a casual atmosphere. Feel free to also talk to some of the speakers of the day or to approach colleagues attending the conference for the first time. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.

Legend

  • Blue: academic
  • Yellow: social
  • Red: members

All times are CET. The social room will remain open throughout the conference. Participants are asked to register for free and in advance.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Time Event Room
1–2 pm Postgraduate Lounge
  • Performing Reproductive Rights in (Non)Theatrical Spaces: Contraception, Abortion and Performance in Britain and Ireland, 1970-2020
    Eva-Maria Kubin (Salzburg)
  • The Value of UK Literature Festivals
    Judith Robinson (Bath/Berlin)
  • Burglars, Bandits, Buccaneers: The Young Criminal in Popular Penny Fiction, 1865–1885
    Carolin Sternberg (Braunschweig)
  • Walk Like a Victorian: Neo-Victorian Video Games and Their Interactive Engagement with the Nineteenth Century
    Sarah Beyvers (Passau)
Social
2–2:30 pm Opening Addresses Academic
2:30–3:30 pm Keynote 1: Joanne Roberts
  • Representations and Realities of British Luxury Culture
    Joanne Roberts (Southampton)
Academic
3:30–4 pm Break or Lounge Social
4–5 pm Panel 1: The One Percent
  • The Super-Rich as Technological Fixes
    Sebastian Berg (Bochum)
  • Super-Villains or Idealists? Representations of the Super-Rich in the Contemporary Public Sphere
    Carolin Gebauer (Wuppertal)
Academic
5–5:30 pm Break or Lounge Social
5:30–6:30 pm Panel 2: Victorian Nobility
  • The Richest Man on Earth: Between Centrality and Marginality
    Rainer Emig (Mainz)
  • Victorian Interiors and the ‘Noble Arts’: Morris & Co. at Clouds
    Stefanie John (Braunschweig)
Academic
6:30–7 pm Break or Lounge Social
7–8 pm Panel 3: (Post)Colonial Wealth
  • “… all the gold / coin’d in rich Barbary”: Oriental Wealth and English Diplomacy and Trade on the Late Elizabethan Stage
    Marcus Hartner (Bielefeld)
  • Take Back the Playground of the Rich: Exploring the Public Opposition to Private Sport Clubs in Post-Colonial Hong Kong
    Yeung Ha Chi (Hong Kong)
Academic
From 8 pm Get-Together Social

Friday, 19 November 2021

Time Indicator Primary Track Secondary Track
Lounge Social
Panel 4: Countryside Playgrounds Academic
Break or Lounge Social
Panel 5: Mastering the Realm Academic
Break or Lounge Social
Keynote 2: Roger Burrows Academic
Break or Lounge Social
Discussion Forum: Analysing Wealth Academic
Closing Remarks Academic Break or Lounge Social
BritCult Members' Assembly Members
Lounge Social

Select a schedule entry on the left to see details.

Time
9–9:30 am
Event
Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Get ready for the first panel of the day with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
9:30–10:30 am
Event
Panel 4: Countryside Playgrounds
Room
Academic
Description

In Between Cultural Heritage and ‘Playground’ for the Wealthy: The Evolution of the British Countryside
Felix Behler (Paderborn)

The history of the English countryside has never been just a history of style or taste. In early modern times, the English landscape began to change pivotally due to the nascency of magnificent châteaux and extensive gardens. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, these architectures developed an idiosyncratic style which eventually came to be known as the ‘English Country House’ and the ‘English Landscape Garden.’ In this paper, I will consider the evolution of these spaces from a socio-historical point of view, taking a closer look at the function|s and symbolism|s of country houses and gardens – both in the past and in the present. Surely, besides marking significant upheavals in English architectural history, these spaces have been – and still are – intimately interwoven with politics, culture, and identity. When throughout the 17th century an array of novel building projects began to change the looks of the countryside, the most essential function of these massive estates was to visualise the owner’s political and economic hegemony. After the establishment of a more potent parliament that sprang from the Revolution of 1688/9, “[m]aintaining a grip on the electoral system required not only high rank and wealth, but also that these should be made visible. A country house, garden and park […] would act as a visible confirmation of the owner’s spending power” (Jacques 118). Though, throughout the latter centuries, outright plutocratic tendencies declined, even today, the countryside remains a fairly ‘bourgeois’ space – at least in part. Nowadays, it often appears divided between sites of national-cultural heritage and ‘playgrounds’ for the wealthier sections of society. Beyond doubt, maintaining a historical estate constitutes a rather costly affair; that is why those ancient estates deemed to be ‘more important’ are most commonly (co-)owned by trust-organisations such as the National Trust (est. 1894) and thus opened to a wider public. Often opposed to the meticulous reconstruction of trust-funded sites – like, e.g., Newton (17th cen.), Stowe (18th cen.), or Polesden (19th/early 20th cen.) – other historical estates either decayed or remained in private hands, often modernised and converted into hotels and clubs, or still serving as private homes which are, as Clive Aslet puts it mildly, “larger than the national average” (par. 5). In addition to that, since the 1980s, there has been an ascent of new building projects. After a short period of suspected decline, the cult of the English country estate seemed to experience a renaissance, culminating in the beginning of the new millennium when, apparently, it had become de rigeur, especially for international super-rich, to acquire an ‘English arcadia’ (cf. ibid. par. 11). Specifically, in 2020, the year that was so decisively hallmarked by COVID-19, international billionaires appeared to develop an ever more growing penchant for retreats in the English countryside (cf. Tingle).

  • Aslet, Clive. “The Country House Today.” The New Criterion, vol. 38, no. 1, 2019, p. 13.
  • Jacques, David. Gardens of Court and Country: English Design 1630-1730. Yale UP, 2017.
  • Tingle, Rory. “Global Super-Rich Snap Up British Country Estates […].” Daily Mail, 12 Nov. 2020.

“Envied simplicity; venerable ignorance; plenteous poverty!” Fighting the Super-Rich in the Welsh Countryside
Sophia Moellers (Dortmund)

While the visibility of the super-rich has recently skyrocketed, the criticism of the affluence of a select few has been a central concern for socio-political activists for centuries. Catalysed by the capitalist exploitations of marginalised individuals in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and transgressively exceeding national borders in the spread of colonialist oppression, notions of anticapitalism and calls for a redistribution of wealth were already brought to public attention during the Long 18th Century. In London’s radical circles, predominantly in the heated debates of the London Corresponding Society during the 1780/90s (cf. Thompson 20), pre-Marxist ideas with calls for individual freedom took shape.

The proposed paper seeks to discuss the anticapitalist discourses of the 1780/90s with special reference to William Godwin’s often-overlooked Imogen, A Pastoral Romance, as the novella joins simplicity and virtue in a juxtaposition with immense wealth and consequential amorality. When the frugal maiden Imogen is kidnapped from the picturesque Welsh countryside by goblin magician and despotic ruler Roderic, inhabiting a wondrous kingdom full of excessive luxuries, the wits of industrious shepherds are tested in their opposition to and demasking of “superfluous riches” (Godwin 217). Celebrated for his Political Justice, Godwin’s early work already displays a poignant engaging with the devaluation and alienation of individuals in the face of immense wealth. Framed as a pastoral romance, Imogen satirises modern primitivism, the exploitation of the lower orders and the seemingly supernatural powers of the super-rich, as they employ their wealth to oppress the poor. Given its display of anticapitalist ideas, criticism of luxury and a call for redistributions of wealth, the text mirrors the discourses on property and individual value of the 1780/90s, which were essential in the development of Marxism and pathbreaking for the emergence of the working class (cf. Thompson 11, 271).

  • Godwin, William. “Imogen: A Pastoral Romance in Two Volumes from the Ancient British.” Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, edited by Pamela Clemit, Routledge, 2016, pp. 163-267.
  • Thompson, Edward P. The Making of the English Working Class. Vintage, 1966.
Time
10:30–11 am
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
11 am–12 noon
Event
Panel 5: Mastering the Realm
Room
Academic
Description

British Royalty: Celebrities between Duty and Money
Jürgen Ronthaler (Leipzig)

Masters of a Universe in Crisis: Neoliberal Financial Speculation and Collapse in (Ex-)Investment Bankers’ Confessionals
Ronja Waldherr (Aachen)

Time
12 noon–2 pm
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
2–3 pm
Event
Keynote 2: Roger Burrows
Room
Academic
Description

Bunkering Down? The Geography of Elite Residential Basement Development in London
Roger Burrows (Newcastle)

Much has been written about the “luxified skies” that, until recently, have been sprouting up across London; “high-rise”, “super-prime” housing for the very wealthy. Thus far, less attention has been paid to what has been happening to the subterranean city. The “luxified skies” are highly visible reminders of elite “verticality” but, what we might term, “luxified troglodytism” is also an important aspect of the changing geometries of wealth, power and architecture. In this paper, we map out in detail the emerging subterranean geography of residential basement development across London since 2008. The very wealthy, it turns out, have been “bunkering down” across certain parts of London, to an extent hitherto little understood. Some 7,328 new residential basements underneath existing houses had been granted planning permission up to late-2019. The majority, although often hugely costly to construct, are on a modest scale. However, over 1,500 of them are of a size and an architectural and engineering complexity that their locations might best be thought of as marking out a distinct urban geography of plutocratic London: a “basement belt” where, almost literally, the super-rich have been pouring huge amounts of money into the ground. The calculations are complex, but the volume of soil excavated by the wealthy in London in order to create their luxurious bunkers since 2008 – equivalent, perhaps, to a space that could be occupied by 12 St Paul’s Cathedrals – might be thought of as having a broad equivalence to the capacity of the new apartments built in the “luxified skies” over the same period. The movement of earth and the costs of construction have been considerable in both instances. The politics of elite verticality now moves both up and down.

Time
3–3:30 pm
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
3:30–5 pm
Event
Discussion Forum: Analysing Wealth
Room
Academic
Description

The Super-Rich through the Lens of Economic Criticism
Ellen Grünkemeier (Bielefeld), Nora Pleßke (Magdeburg), Joanna Rostek (Gießen)

#IchBinHanna: The Economics of Research and Teaching in Academia
Open discussion

Time
5–5:15 pm
Event
Closing Remarks
Room
Academic
Description
Brief closing remarks and a announcements. The list of speakers will be announced closer to the date of the conference.
Time
5:15–5:30 pm
Event
Break or Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time for a break away from the screen or, if you want, with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.
Time
5:30–7:30 pm
Event
BritCult Members' Assembly
Room
Members
Description
General assembly open to all BritCult members. Since this is a ‘private’ event, invitation and agenda are announced via the BritCult newsletter.
Time
7:30–8 pm
Event
Lounge
Room
Social
Description
Time to look back at the conference with other conference participants in our social hangout space. The social room will remain open throughout the conference.

Legend

  • Blue: academic
  • Yellow: social
  • Red: members

All times are CET. The social room will remain open throughout the conference. Participants are asked to register for free and in advance.

Friday, 19 November 2021

Time Event Room
9–9:30 am Lounge Social
9:30–10:30 am Panel 4: Countryside Playgrounds

  • In Between Cultural Heritage and ‘Playground’ for the Wealthy: The Evolution of the British Countryside
    Felix Behler (Paderborn)
  • “Envied simplicity; venerable ignorance; plenteous poverty!” Fighting the Super-Rich in the Welsh Countryside
    Sophia Moellers (Dortmund)
Academic
10:30–11 am Break or Lounge Social
11 am–12 noon Panel 5: Mastering the Realm
  • British Royalty: Celebrities between Duty and Money
    Jürgen Ronthaler (Leipzig)
  • Masters of a Universe in Crisis: Neoliberal Financial Speculation and Collapse in (Ex-)Investment Bankers’ Confessionals
    Ronja Waldherr (Aachen)
Academic
12 noon–2 pm Break or Lounge Social
2–3 pm Keynote 2: Roger Burrows
  • Bunkering Down? The Geography of Elite Residential Basement Development in London
    Roger Burrows (Newcastle)
Academic
3–3:30 pm Break or Lounge Social
3:30–5 pm Discussion Forum: Analysing Wealth
  • The Super-Rich through the Lens of Economic Criticism
    Ellen Grünkemeier (Bielefeld), Nora Pleßke (Magdeburg), Joanna Rostek (Gießen)
  • #IchBinHanna: The Economics of Research and Teaching in Academia
    Open discussion
Academic
5–5:15 pm Closing Remarks Academic
5:15–5:30 pm Break or Lounge Social
5:30–7:30 pm BritCult Members’ Assembly Members
7:30–8 pm Lounge Social