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Cosmopolitanism and the city: urban production and consumption 1600-1800

International Conference on Urban History, Lyon, 27th - 30th August 2008

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Published on Wednesday, September 19, 2007 by Sylvain Lesage


La session a pour objet d'étudier l'impact des échanges interculturels et des conflits ou contradictions engendrés par l'essor, aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, du commerce mondial, en particulier la circulation croissante des biens de consommation de luxe orientaux, américains, européens : quelles furent les relations entre ville, cosmopolitisme, nationalisme, production et consommation ? Trois thèmes seront abordés plus précisément : le poids grandissant des importations exotiques sur la consommation européenne ; les influences du cosmopolitisme sur les producteurs et les consommateurs (langage, lieux, identités...) ; les conflits ou contradictions culturels, politiques et économiques induits.


Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, production and consumption moved onto an increasingly global stage. The older-established trade in European luxury goods such as Spanish chairs, Flemish tapestries and Venetian glass, and non-European products including Turkish carpets and Chinese silks, was overlain by a burgeoning supply of novel and exotic goods from the Orient and from American colonies. These comprised the ‘world of goods’ seen as central to the birth of a consumer society from the pioneering work of McKendrick, Brewer and Plumb (1982), to the recent analyses offered by Woodruff Smith (2003) and Maxine Berg (2005).

Historians have long been aware of the importance of global trade and imported goods in stimulating social and economic change in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe: consumption practices were transformed; innovations made in product lines, and production techniques were sometimes revolutionised.

However, relatively little regard has been paid to the impact of cultural interchange and conflict which this trade brought with it. Even here, we know much more about the ways in which imported and exotic goods were viewed, marketed and consumed than about their wider impact on the language and spaces of consumption and production, or the identity of individuals and places. And there is very little work on the inter-relationship between cosmopolitanism, nationalism, production and consumption.

Accordingly, this session will seek to address three related aspects of urban consumption and production in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

First, it seeks to chart the rise of international influences on consumption during this period in different parts of Europe: were imported goods viewed differently in different countries and at different times? In north-west Europe, notions of fashion and taste were often closely linked to the consumption of overseas goods: to what extent were these motivations consistent through time and/or mirrored in other parts of Europe? We thus welcome papers that explore the dynamics of these processes, and particularly: (i) the extent to which exoticism or particular cultural associations were used to promote imported goods, and (ii) the ways in which the meanings and uses of such goods were manipulated by arbiters of taste.

Second, we wish to explore the wider influences of cosmopolitanism on producers and consumers. On the one hand, this encompasses familiar ground such as the rituals through which exotic goods were consumed, but also the language used to describe goods, and the ways in which public and private space was shaped around new goods and new forms of consumption. On the other, it means focusing on the impact which international trade had on production, both in terms of making goods for export (for example in China and India, but also in Lyon and Venice) and the copying of ‘exotic’ goods by domestic manufacturers. Of particular concern here are the ways in which the production and consumption of internationally-traded goods served to shape the cultural identities not just of individuals, but also of places – that is, those cities where such goods were produced and consumed. We therefore welcome papers that seek to investigate the construction of cities as cosmopolitan places, building on Jane Jacobs (1996) argument that identity is shaped by awareness of self and other.

Third, and building on this, we want to look at some of cultural conflicts and contradictions which this interchange of goods brought with it. At the level of the individual, this means thinking about issues such as what Turkish carpets did in the minds of catholic city dwellers; why the Dutch and English were happy to adopt French fashions whilst fighting wars against them, or what Chinese and Indian manufacturers thought of the Europeans that bought their silks and porcelains. At a broader level, it also involves exploring the reactions against cosmopolitanism and at the impact that changing political alliances had on consumption practices and attitudes to certain imported goods. Is it possible, for example, to identify a growing nationalism in cultures of consumption or the emergence of national schools of production through the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries? Again, we welcome papers that investigate ideas of cultural conflict or convergence, or the impact of patriotism, perhaps in promoting preferential consumption of goods produced in the motherland or even in growing colonial empires boasted by a number of European nations.


  • Ecole normale supérieure (lettres, Lyon)
    Lyon, France


  • Thursday, October 18, 2007


  • ville, économie urbaine, consommation, cosmopolitisme, commerce, production, Europe, Asie, Amérique, XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles


  • Stobart #
    courriel : jon [dot] stobart [at] northampton [dot] ac [dot] uk
  • Coquery #
    courriel : natacha [dot] coquery [at] wanadoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Natacha Coquery
    courriel : natacha [dot] coquery [at] wanadoo [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Cosmopolitanism and the city: urban production and consumption 1600-1800 », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, September 19, 2007, https://calenda.org/193517

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