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Dr Sean Williams takes a first-class journey through the enduring contradictions of luxury. Luxury appeals and appalls - yet it has endured revolutions and recessions.

Dr Seán Williams takes a first class journey through the enduring contradictions of luxury, exploring its deep historical roots and its ever-present potential to provoke social and political discord.

Visiting fine hotels and expensive boutiques, Seán seeks to understand what constitutes luxury and why it's so problematic.

As Seán discovers in a rich soundscape which takes us from present-day Bond Street to Ancient Rome, luxury is present in every period. And in every era it's been rhetorically explosive – a ‘weakness for luxury’ has marred the reputations of political leaders throughout history from Emperor Nero right through to President Macron.

Among those Seán visits is artist Raqib Shaw. Shaw says that his multi million pound paintings - filled with allusions to luxurious lifestyles - mock the super rich buyers whose houses they adorn. Luxury is nothing if not a paradox - it appeals and appals in equal measure.

Yet luxury has endured revolutions and recessions. It’s wholly illogical. Part craftsmanship, part smoke and mirrors – luxury promises escape just as it condemns others to a gilded cage.

Dr Seán Williams is Lecturer in German and European Cultural History at the University of Sheffield and a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker.

Producer: Laurence Grissell

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44 minutes

Broadcast

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