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International Max Planck Research School
on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy

Elena Bogdanova

Valuing the Past: The Constitution of the Antiques Market in Russia

Studies on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy. IMPRS-SPCE, Cologne 2011.
Valuation and assessment of antiques are in the focus of the thesis: the symbolic and narrative character of these objects of the past makes them a special case among other singular goods. Their value develops over time into a number of orders of worth (Boltanski and Thevenot 2006) where antiques are conceptualized as historical, cultural, aesthetic, sentimental, and financial assets. As objects of art, antiques are not standardized: in some cases they have been produced as unique and single objects; in other cases the process for becoming a valued antique has varied. Moreover, many antique objects have their own histories relaying evidence of the unique circumstances under which they were produced, exchanged, possessed, lost and found again. As a result, there are almost no antiques that can be assessed using one given set of criteria. In market terms, such characteristics translate into high uncertainty about the quality for these goods. In light of this, the central question of the thesis is: How are antiques valued given the uncertainty of product quality and the context of unstable macro-structures in Russia? The main goal is to find market devices that help to solve this problem. An inquiry into the possible devices is presented in the empirical study of the antiques market in Russia as well as in research on the history and nature of unstable macro-structures that influence valuation. The process of valuing antiques that involves appraisal and attribution is an ambiguous one: market actors need specialized knowledge in the field of decorative art and art history in order to make the correct judgments. Discontinuities in historical records mean that this specialized knowledge is often open to debate. What is more, specialized knowledge may be inaccessible to some market actors, or be too difficult for them to grasp in order to be able to make proper use of it. The past has to be taken into account, but it is also inherently uncertain. Thus actors in the antiques market have to cope with more than the traditional problem of uncertainty regarding the future: the discoveries of new artifacts, or just historical facts, can significantly influence the valuation of objects.


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