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Research Students - Material Culture
Peter Oakley  
Peter Oakley  

PhD project: The Creation and Destruction of Gold Jewellery (AHRC funded).
Started Sept 2008; thesis submitted Sept 2012


I am researching how gold's complexity as a material influences goldworking practitioners' perceptions, praxis and technological choices. This is being achieved through an analysis of gold flows, focusing on the production, reclassification and destruction of gold objects and the handling of indeterminate masses of gold. I am also examining 'ethical gold' as a newly developing material categorization.

My field sites included assay offices, gold refiners, production jewellers, and gold retail and exhibition venues in the UK. Preparation included training as a precious metals assayer at the Birmingham Assay Office (supported by the UCL Graduate School Research Projects Fund).

Institutions that supported my field research included The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the Birmingham Assay Office, the London Assay Office, the British Jewellers Association, the Responsible Jewellery Council, the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, Tate Britain, CAFOD and the Fairtrade Foundation. Research has also entailed field trips to operational and preserved gold mining sites in Alaska, California, Sweden and Wales.


  • The social identities and classification of materials
  • Praxis, tacit knowledge and performed identities in technologies of production
  • Sustainability and ethics in sourcing materials for luxury goods manufacturing
  • Mining sites as material culture (as working sites and as tourist destinations)


Research Lead for the School of Material, Royal College of Art (since Sept 2012)


‘Presenting Mining Sites as Social Heritage: the impact of institutional and cultural frames on interpretation strategies’ (working title). In: Reaminating Industrial Heritage. Left coast Press, in press for 2013

‘Containing precious metals: hallmarking, minting and the materiality of gold and silver in medieval and modern England’ In: Itineraries of the Material. Oxbow Books, in press for 2013

‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material World’ with Susanne Küchler. In: A Routledge Companion to Objects and Materials. Routledge, in press for 2013

‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practices’ In: Making Futures Vol.1. ISSN 2042-1664, 2010

‘Praxeological Subjectification: the hidden power of practical activities’. In: Design Pedagogy Research, Kate Hatton ed., Jeremy Mills Publishing Ltd. 2008

‘A Roof with a View’, Material World 20/10/2008,

‘The Politics of Paradise: managing cultural heritage at the Polynesian Cultural Center’. In: Bournemouth University Partnership Conference Proceedings (2007), Bournemouth and Poole College, 2007


‘Reflections on Ethical Gold’ In: The Goldsmiths’ Company Technical Bulletin 2012. London: The Goldsmiths’ Company

Exhibition reviews for Benchpeg:
Charmed Life at the Wellcome Collection’ in Benchpeg 23-30 Oct 2011

Event Reports for Benchpeg:
‘Event Report: Sustainable Luxury Forum’ in Benchpeg 13-19 Mar 2011

‘Event Report: Fairtrade Gold Launch’ in Benchpeg 20 Feb – 26 Feb 2011

The Ethical Gold Series for Benchpeg:
1 ‘Introducing Ethical Gold’ in Benchpeg 9th-15th May 2010

2 ‘So What’s Wrong with Gold Mining Anyway?’ in Benchpeg 13th-19th June 2010

3 ‘Industrial Mining and Anti-Mining Campaigns’ in Benchpeg 25th-31st July 2010

4 ‘Why is ASM Different?’ in Benchpeg 29th Aug- 4th Sept 2010

5 ‘Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold’ in Benchpeg 31 Oct - 6 Nov 2010

Benchpeg Almanack Articles:
‘Ethical Highs and Lows of 2011’ In: Benchpeg Almanack 2011, Winchester: Benchpeg Ltd

‘So what is Ethical Gold?’ In: Benchpeg Almanack 2010, Winchester: Benchpeg Ltd


‘Creating, Communicating and Implementing an Ethical Code for your Business’ and ‘Ethics and Sustainability 2011-2012 and Beyond’ (Panel Chair) part of the seminar programme at International Jewellery London, 2-5 Sept 2012 run by International Jewellery London

‘Ethical Jewellery: Issues, Hazards and Opportunities’ part of International Jewellery London seminar series, 4-7 Sept 2011 run by International Jewellery London

‘Fairtrade Gold and Sustainability’ part of the Sustainable Luxury Webinar, 28 June 2011. run by the Sustainable Luxury Forum, Lausanne.

‘Ethical Jewellery, what does it really mean?’ part of the Goldsmiths’ Company’s ‘Getting Started’ course, 17-21 Jan 2011. run by The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

‘Industry Led Ethical Initiatives’, part of the Eco-workshops for Jewellers: 7 July, 2010; 3 Nov, 2010; 19 May 2011. run by JewelleryConnects.


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