Claire Bouillot

CNRS PhD Candidate


PhD student (CNRS doctoral contract). Hosted 20 months by CEFC Hong Kong.

Anthropology doctoral research, since 2016.


Email: [email protected]


EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) and Norbert Elias Center, Marseille.

Research field

  • Anthropology of globalization
  • Anthropology of objects
  • Museology, Art History, Art Market (law and institutions)

Thesis Summary

Circulation of objects and transmission of their values: the case of ivory between France, Hong Kong and Southern China.

This doctoral research is part of the ANR VIPOMAR project “The political Life of Commodities, Qualitative Approach of Transnational Flows” which aims to study globalisation and its societal, economic and political effects through the use of commodities.

Since the end of the 20th century, ivory objects have moved mainly from Europe to Asia, particularly to Hong Kong and Mainland China. Hong Kong has gradually become a hub for the ivory trade. This movement has been regulated at the international level since the 1970s as trade is accused of causing the disappearance of African elephants. This regulation is becoming increasingly strict, but ivory can still circulate if it has particular characteristics, especially if it is old. Europe and in particular France is a leading country in the implementation of this legislation. However, it is in Mainland China that the most restrictive law has been adopted, completely banning trade as of January 1, 2018. In Hong Kong this measure will take effect in 2021. This unification of practices questions the relationship to ivory objects. While in France this relationship is rather linked to a colonial heritage and leads to distant relations with these objects, in Mainland China ivory plays an important role in social relations, particularly to display social prestige, and is used in everyday objects, for example in the case of chopsticks. Nevertheless, ivory seems to be increasingly rejected for moral reasons, the same reasons that drive European countries. In Hong Kong, the phenomenon is very clear. By studying practices and treatment of objects in institutions that circulate ivory, i. e. auction houses and museums, a similarity appears between French and Hong Kong practices. Objects are circulating less and less, they are less and less visible, and this is not only due to the effect of legislation, but also to a posture towards these objects. It is characterized by a lack of interest or even rejection. The hypothesis is as follows: Western values, in particular illegality and morality, invested in ivory objects are gradually being transmitted to China through Hong Kong and its circulation institutions. These values find their place in a societal context in which environmental protection institutions and the press are favorable to them. This directly affects tangible and intangible cultural heritage in China and Hong Kong. This is evidenced by the gradual disappearance of the know-how of ivory carving recognized in the inventories for protection by UNESCO (not implemented), and which alternative materials, such as mammoth ivory, will not be able to save.

In order to understand the transmission of these values invested in ivory objects between France and Hong Kong, as well as their consequences, this research will be based on a 20-month multi-site ethnographic survey conducted between France, Hong Kong, and Southern China.


After master’s degrees in art market law, art history and museology of natural sciences, and after professional experience in several museums and auctions houses in France, Claire Bouillot initiated an academic career to question the balance between the preservation of both cultural and natural heritage, concerning works of art made with materials of animal origin.