This week, I’ll start teaching a master level course in museum mediation and museology. And although I’m also looking forward to being able to focus fully on writing my dissertation, I’m actually really excited about this course. Deciding on the format (kind of the crammer course I wish I could have had when I was a master student wanting to specialise in museums) and setting the curriculum has been interesting, and I really hope to get some good debates going with a bunch of dedicated and curious students. Also, in stead of writing an exam paper at the end, the students will need to run a blog of their ongoing reflections (which is why I felt I ought to update my own bog, too). It’s going to be interesting to see how that works as a didactic tool. We’ll be starting out by discussing functions and definitions of museums, addressing the framework set out by the Danish museum act and ICOM’s ethical guidelines for museums, but also the more philosophical discussions about the nature and purpose of museums outlined in articles by a.o. Francois Mairesse and Élise Dubuc. Ideally, this will also give me a chance to reflect on and discuss some of the issues that I am writing about. For instance, preparing my lecture, and reading about ‘musealisation’ in ICOM’s Key concepts of museology (some of which I have included in the course reading), I realised that this is the concept I need in order to reflect on cultural/fashion objects outside the museum, and how they may or may not be made to ‘function’ as museum objects.
Six weeks research visit at the CoDesign cluster is coming to an end, and I’m wrapping up and taking leave of the rather wonderful Holmen HQ. Fortunately, it’s not really goodbye, as I have joined the cluster’s mini study-circle on mapping, and will thus be coming back in January to discuss interactions, map-making, (counter) cartography and more in connection with Paya Hauch Fenger’s PhD research into co-design of geo parks.
Of course, this is a little out on a tangent in relation to my own research. But if there’s one thing that’s been very clear from working in this environment, it’s the value of collaborative learning in research. I’ve surely benefited from this when presenting my own project, and from enlisting the group in an Interaction Analysis session around my video material. But I have also learned a lot from engaging in other people’s projects, from discussions over lunch and from simply listening in on the ongoing meetings and weekly round table catch ups. Of course, I have experienced such benefits before, but the way that it’s such an integral part of the work processes here is new to me. The group’s dedication to sharing knowledge, insights and uncertainties, not only in the projects they are collaborating on, but also when in comes to engaging in individual research conundrums, was something that struck me when I first came, and still something that seems to me a unique quality of this cluster. Which is sad, really, that it should be a unique quality and not a more widespread approach to research. I for one would love to see this kind of academic interaction spreading, and will definitely see if I can plant a seed back at my own institution.
A couple of weeks ago, for example, the weekly meeting was followed by a group discussion about an early paper draft by Mette Agger, Tuuli Mattelmäki, Kirsikka Vaajakallio and Eva Brandt for next year’s PDC conference. Opening up the process at a stage where the outcome still wasn’t fixed, led to some very interesting discussions about methodology, academic writing, audiences and the many very different forms that this paper could still take; or rather multitude of papers that could be written from this material to share either empirical results, theoretical assertions, how-to applicabilities etc. I believe that the authors were given some useful input to inform their continued writing, and I will be looking forward to reading the finished article. But also for us as participants, considering the value of various contributions to the field, the craft of making an argument and of course the ideas put forth in the paper, was very inspiring.
So it’s this discussive and collaborative approach, along with the new insights into my own project, that I will be taking with me, and for which I wish to send a great thank you to the whole CoDesign team and their affiliates!
Looking through the video documentation from my workshops with Designmuseum Denmark, in preparation for today’s collective Interaction Analysis session, has given me a fresh view on the material. And whereas the observations and comments made by the other participants were very useful, as they either inspired me to reconsider or served to back my own interpretations, the real revelation in verbalising what could be seen in the footage, was that showing, and then telling, is obviously the key to explaining how this method worked.
Watching the interaction without sound, accelerated to 4X normal speed, gave a good feel of the flow and of how the cards served as reference points in the discussion. As was my impression when doing the workshop, I could see that they served their purpose well, but I could also observe the downsides – me having perhaps too many cards to keep track of; the set-up not allowing the participants to take control of the cards and introducing new combinations; all the cups and sweets and whatnot getting in the way. Perhaps also that this type of interaction spoke to some participants more than others.
Of course, actually finding the right form for presenting this in my dissertation is still a challenge, and writing through this analysis still quite a task. But at least I’ve got a way in now, with a visual anchor for my readings.
This week, I attended the 10th Nodem conference, this year held in Stockholm. And although I must admit that I was a little puzzled by a couple of presentations, I also took away some wonderful talks and some great conversations as well as new contacts and plenty of food for thought.
I myself presented a poster (and had a paper included in the proceedings, which is also available from the digital repository), and although I had not been pinning too high hopes on the outcome of that, it actually turned out to be a great format for generating conversations. As expected, most people just offered a quick glance, if that, but some were intrigued enough to ask for an explanation/demonstration of the probes, journal and concept cards that I had brought along. And some even stuck around for good long chat about design research, museological methodologies, cultural policies or digital mediation, to name a few topics. I had a great long conversation with Richard Sandell, professor of museum studies at Leicester University, following up on the conference there last month, and sharing thoughts about museum trends as well as methods and interests in museum studies. And artist/researcher at Aalto University Maarit Mäkelä also got really engaged with my material, posing some very good questions and suggesting I explore the notion of situated knowledge in order to reflect on my approach. This really struck a chord with me, and I will definitely follow that lead.
As of last week and until the end of the year, I have moved quarters and am now a visiting researcher at the CoDesign research cluster at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, School of Design (aka KADK).
Last week was mainly spent acclimatising, but also on attending visiting researcher Tuuli Mattelmäki’s presentation on probes and other research methods for a group of new CoDesign students, and parttaking in the cluster’s weekly meetings, which last week included a visit from TV producer Ane Skak, sharing her experience with user involvement in cross media/ cross institutional projects. The presentations, the meetings and the projects presented or referenced were really inspiring – there’s some interesting things happening in this field and some interesting approaches taken. And one thing that is also clearly emerging is a very collaborative, engaged and openly conversational research environment. People take the time to talk with each other and savour the opportunity to share their questions and knowledge. So on top of drinking in the creative ambience of the design school environment (where all the work-in-progress mess, inspirational material and prototypes cluttering up the studios bring back sweet memories of being a fashion student, now a decade ago), I also enjoy this friendly and curious academic atmosphere and find this attitude to research and professional collaboration very appealing (even though I inevitably still feel like an outsider).
And Wednesday it was my turn to present my project to the group. As it turned out, however, the other PhD students in the group were all working from home (being in the final stages of writing), whilst another researcher was doing an all-day workshop elsewhere, meaning that I ended up presenting to a small group of senior researchers: Eva Brandt and Thomas Binder from the CoDesign group and Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University. Of course it would have been great to get responses also from the other group members, but I also felt very privileged to get this kind of triple ‘master class’ attention on my project. And kick myself for not having recorded their insightful comments, but here’s trying to draw out the essence.
Although I deliberately went for a flexibly handheld rather than a slick ppt-ey presentation, reasoning that my objective was not to sell my project but to lay out my uncertainties, I had actually really tried to think through my process and problems related to my research-through-design methodology, and to work out what I needed to tell and get feedback on. Honestly, I had. Running through my notes and material, writing up a chronology, pinpointing central ideas and uncertainties. But my presentation was still all over the place. Because now that I finally had the chance to discuss my approach and concerns with someone who could give me critique from within the design research field, I wanted to share everything. And since it’s all interconnected – what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and what I make of it; what I think I know and know I don’t (and think I ought to find out about); inspirations and outcomes – it’s hard to stick to a single narrative. Even when I have actually been following a relatively well-planned process. The mindmap shown above, which I made the day before to try to get an overview and piece together which references and questions belong to which aspect of the research, I guess illustrates my state of mind fairly well (mind you, this is only a representation of the methodological aspects of the project; museology, media and fashion hardly enter into the equation here. So in total it’s even messier. Which I sort of think it should be and sort of think it shouldn’t be at this stage (two years in, one to go), but either way it’s a bit scary).
I’ve come to CoDesign to try to make meaning out of this mess, to find out where to situate my design oriented research within the field, find the right language to describe what I have done and what it means. Because I have been getting a bit lost in considerations about methodology, and how it reflects my own preconceptions and preoccupations, since failing to make a clear case for my approach at the Nordes doctoral consortium this summer and taking to heart J. Lee’s notions about the necessity of reflexive method making. And I still believe this is both relevant and interesting, and that I must necessarily be able to account for my methodology in my dissertation. But the supposedly-good-but-still-a-little-hard-to-get-my-head-around news coming out of today’s meeting, is that I should stop trying so hard to pin it down, at least for now. Stop trying to work out what my method is – the relevant question is not whether my concept dominos could be described as a form of game, or not, but what this particular approach has shown me. ‘Make the beast talk’ as Thomas BInder put it, and beware that my project does not fall into fragments.
(And yes, I guess that at the end of the day these reflections on a personal process of ‘enlightenment’ are mainly of interest to myself, and should be largely purged from the dissertation. However, as I find it useful to write them out of my system, the blog will still have to stand for a whole heap of confused confessions of this type.)
Referencing Donald Schön’s assertion that ‘one thing is what you do, another is what others make of it’, Thomas addressed the (common?) pitfall in justifying one’s position, and urged me to avoid longwinded meta-level deliberations on method. Rather than speculating about what I’ve done, I should trust it – this notion was seconded by Eva, who acknowledged the designerly takes and sensitivities in my material, and pointed to the richness of the journey taken – and focus instead on understanding how the generated material talks back to me and show what it can say about the world.
It’s still a delicate balance, as my project and process is hermeneutical rather than empirical – again, Thomas emphasised that I should stay true to this outset and consider my material as text rather than data, to look at the readings and writings, and rereadings, a spiralling movement of interactions with the material and the partipants around the designerly material I have written in the process.
(I promptly took out Gadamer’s Truth and Method from the library. Perhaps being in my bag will give it a competitive edge over Foucault’s The Order of Things and Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, not to mention Baumann, Giddens, Latour and all the other seminal works currently sat on my shelf that sadly all to often end up simply collecting dust. So many things I want to read, and so hard, sometimes, to decide what is relevant for the project and what is just an inspiring detour, which I don’t have the time to indulge in. For which aspects will a superficial understanding suffice, and for which is deep knowledge essential?).
So what can I say about the world? I guess I have been hesitant to claim that I can really say anything, given my narrow samples/studies and being conscious of my subjective approach. And perhaps this hesitancy has led me to become too guided by ‘agenda’; my gripe with mobile museum mediation. As Tuuli suggested, I need to consider to what extent I have actually sought to draw out the participants’ viewpoints, and how much I have simply been exploring my own ideas, or mainly been receptive to reflections of my own views. So while it is relevant to reflect on which assumptions about fashion, mobile media and museums I have been working from when designing these tools, I should also be aware of how they have narrowed or skewed my participants’ interpretive space.
Tuuli also commented that while at first she did not see the critical inspiration in the material – which admittedly was not very noir - my description of a process where I retained a strong sense of authorship, rather than staging a truly co-creative process, was indeed indicative of a designer-led approach akin to that taken by critical designers, also working to an agenda as much as exploring the field.
My probes, for instance, combined tasks for self documentation (e.g. mobile photography) with activities that were more akin to prototyping of early designerly guesses (e.g. the Pinterest and Polyvore assignments). Similarly, the dominos were designed to explore later stage guesses. Then again, these tools also served to disprove my guesses – heuristics, hypothesis, if you like – as when the online activities were rejected by the participants. The realisation that even this very digitally literate group were not inclined to engage with museum-related activities via social media sites was thus not so much a confirmation of my scepticism as a source of it. And while my studies are too small to make any results indicative of general patterns, the outcome has definitely informed my thinking. (As well as the other way round, and round, and back into the hermeneutical spiral we go).
One very concrete suggestion coming out of the workshop, from Thomas, was to initiate a collective Interaction Analysis session, and enlist the other researchers here to help me analyse interactions in and outcomes of my workshops from the video material. Until now, I had only kept the videos as documentary backup, whilst transcribing the procedures from the audio recordings. So actually just looking at the videos again feels like a fresh view into my process. And even though the footage is not great (in workshop II the camera shows what goes on on the table, but not the faces, in workshop III the camera is set to show the group, but not the table, and two people have their back to the camera (a result of experimenting with methods I’m not trained in, but at least I’ve got footage, so there)) it will be interesting to see what can be learned from it. Whereas the transcripts have been useful for drawing our central themes and problems regarding (the museum professionals’ perceptions of) mobile mediation, perhaps collective analysis of the visible interactions can uncover perspectives that I have hitherto been blind to.
Jordan & Henderson, in the 1995 article ’Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice’ (in The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4(1), pp. 39-103), imply as much, stating that ‘Collaborative viewing is particularly powerful for neutralizing preconceived notions on the part of researchers and discourages the tendency to see in the interaction what one is conditioned to see or even wants to see’. (44)
I really hope that the researchers here will be able to find a couple of hours to engage in this work, as I am sure I would learn an awful lot from partaking in such a collective session. And even though I intend to turn my attention to the outcome, to what this material tells me about the world, another look at the videos could perhaps also provide some answers as to how to understand my method, and how to describe it, as ‘accounts of methods cannot be separated from accounts of findings and that the best way to talk about method is to show instances of the actual work.’ (ibid. 42).
So it all comes together, getting what I came for, but in a different manner than I could worked out myself.
Last week I attended a conference on ’museum metamorphosis’ at Leicester University. The conference was organised by PhD students at the Museums Studies programme and was focused on PhD and early career research, however, as the programme is so well respected, it still drew an international attendance and included some very interesting presentations and workshops. Jenny Walklate did an impressive job at liveblogging her way through two intense days of presentations, so anyone interested in a conference recap can visit http://msphdconf.blogspot.co.uk - her summary of my presentation is to be found here.
For me, the conference theme was an inspiration to explore a fashion perspective on museum change, which I had the idea for whilst at the Bard Graduate Center this spring. Although it may not be much of a claim, suggesting that museums, like any other field, are not only developing according to rational ideas, but are also susceptible to the mechanisms of fashion, I have not come across that perspective before. And in light of the latent tendency to elevate the changes that are taking place – strongly implied in the concept of metamorphosis, with its evolutionary or mythological connotations, but also apparent in the general rhetorics around museum change – I believe it is relevant to point to the more frivolous processes that are also at play. I therefore aim to submit a revised version of the paper for the upcoming issue of Museological Review, the programme’s peer reviewed journal, so that at least the review can inform the final version I intend to include in my dissertation.
Overall, I think the presentation went well, and I had a fine response to my paper presentation, so some people seemed to take it on board. Especially my story about Shoe Obsession seemed to go down well, but I also think I heard notions of fashion and trends being dropped into conversation a few times in later Q&A sessions. But there was very little time for questions, so the critical discussion that would have been really interesting to have didn’t happen. It was only on twitter (#mmeta2013) that I found a couple of critical comments, one from keynote presenter Sharon Heal (@sharonheal), saying “institutional ideals like fashion come and go. I don’t agree. There are fundamentals if you look for them.” and from @lfcrossley, asking “Do we always search for ‘the new’ in museums? I wish we did. The profession isn’t always great at transforming itself”. I agree with both, in certain aspects, but also believe that my argument is valid, in others (and thought I made it clear in my introduction that I did not claim for this perspective to be all encompassing). I therefore very much welcome these comments, and feel I ought to respond here.
Yes, there are fundamental values and ideals in museums, that are consistent over time – the educational purpose, for instance. But the understandings about how and whom to educate has changed over time, and the current day strategies for inclusion and participation is different from the authoritative education that was formerly the order of the day. Therefore the current ideal will also not necessarily prevail, and is no more inherently right than what came before or what we might see in the future. Likewise with the nationalistic origins of many museums, which today have given way to pluralistic, globalised and post-colonial perspectives. I believe Mario Schulze’s presentation on historical shifts in exhibition design centered around the material turn, and Joel Palhegyi’s presentation on the changing narratives in Croat museums during the socialist and post-socialist periods, respectively, could both be said to illustrate such tendencies, even though the changing ideals that they recounted were anything but frivolous. As for the question about the profession’s ability for transformation, I agree that there is a lot of resistance. But I also see the wish that @lfcrossley expresses as an equally strong force in the field. So even though it is sometimes a battle, change is happening. And moving with the times can be used as a very persuasive argument when it comes to winning people over.
The conference thus provided a good focus and forum to share my research, but the chance to learn from the research of others and engage in debates about museum change was of course as important. For me, some of the most inspiring take aways included:
Arienne Karp’s Electric Elephants workshop, exploring (and questioning) the narrative potential of exhibitions, by use of toy animals. Good fun, and some very good points made by Karp too.
Nick Winterbotham’s workshop on Leadership, resilience and learning, which taking inspiration in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, asked us to consider which changes we wanted to make as well as considering the impact and prioritisation of different kinds of interventions.
Emily Pinkowitz’ presentation on the Kitchen Conversations programme at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, in which she talked about the false binary of authoritative and questioning spaces (implicated in Duncan Cameron’s 1971 ‘The Museum. A Temple or the Forum’), suggesting instead that as per Bauman’s notion of liquid identities, we are easily able to toggle or shift between these positions
Jane K Nielsen’s introduction of the concept of the transformative museum, a (post) postmodern institution characterised by flexibility, participation, inlfluence and a world wide (web) perspective, as inspired by futurist Richard Salughter’s theory on the transformative cycle
David Francis’ use of Bakhtin’s heteroglossia concept to describe dialogic discourse in museums (as well as his sharp questions)
Stephanie Bowry’s wonderful examples of metamorphic objects from pre-modern cabinets of curiousities, and her point about how these objects may have been transposed to the modern museum, but their system of representation and taxonomies have not. Also her point about the revival such cabinets have en current culture reminded me of my own experience seeing Mark Dion’s installation and Dan Vo’s IMUUR2 in New York, picking up on this trend but not knowing what to make of it.
Erin Bailey’s inspiring talk about her in progress Queering the Museum project, exhibiting LGBTQ history in Seattle, and making a very strong case for the social impact and responsibility of museums and of public involvement.
Judith Dehail’s insightful presentation on the role and challenge of musical instruments in museums, based in part on visitor interviews and in part in theory. Of special interest to me was her point about how objects in museums must loose their practical function to obtain instead a symbolic function, a notion stemming from Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, which sounds like a good source for my own investigations into the relationship between commercial and museal objects.
Mario Schulze’s presentation, mentioned above, also had some interesting points about the role of or ideas invested in museum objects, as well as showing how exhibition practices have come full circle in the last few decades.
Judith & Mario’s presentations also reminded me again of the differences in the continental vs. anglo american traditions, with the former being more grounded in theory and philosophy, whilst the latter is more concerned with visitor studies, impact, economics and the social responsibilities of museums. As my own research interest is leaning more towards the continental approach, I had a talk with both of them afterwards, and got some good references. Now I hope that I will actually be able to read them…
Finally, it was great to hear Laura Liv Weikop presenting her Exhibition Lab project, currently on show at Designmuseum Danmark, and get more insight into this great project and its reception in the museum. Also it was a real pleasure spending a few days together and be able to share perspectives. Good to know that we can carry on the conversation in Copenhagen.
A most inspiring couple of days, then, and a really great arrangement by the organisers. Cheers all!
Yesterday I attended a one day national conference on ‘The Hybrid Museum’, arranged by the Danish consortium for museum research, to address these issues:
In recent years, the boundaries between institutions of informal learning have become increasingly diffuse. Hybrid forms have appeared through the dissociation and recombination of exhibit genres, audience perspectives, curatorial practices, sponsorship opportunities, managerial competencies, organisational structures, and societal relations, leading ultimately to the genesis of the Hybrid Museum. What are the consequences of this for present-day museums, experience centres, and science centres? How can research be adapted to account for this tendency? How will museums further public engagement in the years to come?
The morning session included some very interesting presentations by prof. Gayle McPherson (University of West Scotland) on the digital visitor experience, and associate prof. Katja Lindqvist (Lund University) on taking a service management perspective on the museum. The hybrid addressed here was thus mainly the one of public service cultural institutions with/as commercial enterprises.
Based on her extensive research into changing museums policies in the UK over the last three decades, McPherson argued that ‘education and entertainment are no longer the uneasy bedfellows they used to be’, and that by embracing digital engagement and working cleverly with commercial strategies, museums could offer better experiences for ‘museum consumers’, thereby also meeting policy goals. She’s right, of course, but I couldn’t help asking if, by the logic of commercial entrepreneurship, museums might not risk losing their USP (unique selling point) if they come to resemble commercial enterprises too much?
This blurring of identities also surfaced in my first workshop with Designmuseum Denmark, in which one of the curators rhetorically asked ‘What is the church of the day, and who is the preacher of the day? Where is today’s museum and where is today’s shopping experience?‘ (Hvad er dagens kirke, og hvem er dagens præst? Hvor er dagens museum og hvor er dagens shoppingoplevelse?). Similarly, I found a strong resemblance between the Shoe Obsession exhibition at the Museum at FIT and the shoe department of the (exhibition sponsor) Saks Fifth Avenue, where the commercial shoe display emulated a museum style, while the museum unabashedly showcased commercial products currently on sale. Shopping may be a favorite past-time in the 21st century, but will this development just continue ad infinitum, or might we see a backlash against commercial culture where museums could become the ‘new black’ havens of material rather than materialistic culture? (Aren’t we already seeing the dawn of this political shift, or am I just a dreamer?)
Katja Lindqvist, who came to museum studies from an MBA background, had some interesting things to say about the mixed economy model of modern day museum, where public funding and sales profit together form the basis of museum management. While museums can – and have to – learn a lot from commercial enterprises, she also cautioned awareness of some of the assumptions behind popular business models which may not be applicable in a museum context, such as economies of scale or strict for-profit thinking. She also pointed out some of the effects of recent public sector reforms on museums, such as growing ‘projectification’ and a looming tendency to manage for audit resulting from more formal control and the need to constantly assert the institution’s relevance for society. Both scholars have published some interesting articles in Museum management and curatorship, which I will be sure to look up.
To my regret, I’d missed out on an affiliated PhD course the previous day, having overlooked this option on the website. Not that I’m short on ECTS points, but it would have been an interesting forum for presenting and discussing some of the issues I wish to address. Instead, I plunged into the debate in yesterday’s workshop on the impact of the concept of the hybrid museum on museums’ organisation and self-image, but left feeling unsure if I’d missed the mark a bit, raising the wrong kind of questions for this context or just explaining the points I was trying to make badly. However, the way that my suggestions were dismissed by McPherson (it’s not that I don’t get that publicly funded institutions have public obligations, it’s just that I’m sometimes a bit sceptic when it comes to getting with the program. In my book, questioning universal assumptions is one of the finer tasks of academia) gave me some food for thought about challenges in international discussions about museum issues.
For instance, my remark about how the strong focus on initiatives for engaging children might cause museums to overlook the commercial potential of and inadequately service the older audience they already have (by example, the national museum of art last year curated a fine exhibition theme about death aimed at children, but wouldn’t it also be interesting and relevant to curate the same topic for, or in collaboration with, the elderly?!) somehow morphed into a discussion about special events for museum friends and patrons. But the needs and interest of the stereotypical Danish museum-goer, a fifty-something female teacher, is not necessarily compatible to those of the equally stereotypical lady-who-lunches who supports the upkeep of an institution like the Met. Likewise, the circumstances in the US, the UK and in Scandinavia or continental Europe are not identical. We may be heading more and more towards a neo-liberal model of the welfare state, but we also still have other strands to our cultural DNA, and, I believe, still have the political right to question whether we want to model ourselves on the institutional changes brought on by post-Thatcher/ New Labour ideals or American trust fund sponsorships. (The omission of Asia, Africa and South America here is deliberate, as it is a different point I’m getting to, however, the general overlooking of non-western perspectives in this debate is indeed significant).
And yet we are constantly looking west when trying to understand the state and future of museums, to the great institutions and prominent museologists in America, Canada, England and Australia (not west, I know, but you get my drift). Myself very much included, because I, like most of my peers, have come to rely almost solely on the English language publications that I can confidently read. I used to read German and struggle through French (as this is part of standard education in Denmark, not because I was some whizz kid), but must admit that I very rarely bother these days. Even articles in the other Scandinavian languages I tend to pass over, heck, I’m not even up with the writings of my fellow Danes. Unless they have published in English. A brief conversation with senior museologist Ane Hejlskov Larsen, who could tell me that the flourishing tradition for museology in former Eastern Europe used to have a greater influence on the Nordic museum thinking, confirmed that I am alone in leaning heavily on the Anglo-american sources for inspiration and insights; this is a general trend. So what good points might we be missing out on, what ‘truths’ remain unquestioned when we’re all reading from the same script, listening to the same gospel?
My concern for academia here of course goes well beyond the field of museum studies, and ties in with a general shift towards an English-centric and Anglo-Saxon tradition of scientific publication (which again is linked to the publish-or-perish culture of new public management, I presume, but I’m admittedly a little out my depth here. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the downfalls of trying to be an academic in a second language, not only with regards to my own work, but what it will mean for the cognitive processes and academic prospects of future generations of scholars).
I know better than to try to tackle these meta level conundrums in my current project. But my concerns about how this narrow view affects the academic field of museum studies and, more importantly, the evolution of museums, is perhaps an issue to pursue in a post-doc project? In fact, it would make a lot of sense to carry out such a project at my current institution, the Royal School of Library and Information Studies, and team up with bibliometricians and cultural policy researchers. Perhaps I’m turning into an information scholar after all?
In reply to tweet from Prof. McPherson
I’m not trying to pick a fight, so please read this as a respectful clarification. I just feel badly misquoted – perhaps due to the exceedingly poor audio conditions at yesterday’s event – and given that I responded to professor McPherson’s tweet, I feel I now owe an elaboration, even though she luckily doesn’t seem further affronted. (added note: perhaps she just never saw my reply, or simply hasn’t been interested in hearing my response.)
As explained in the above post, my initial point was about not forgetting the value and needs of the existing museum audience. I was here referring to the typical museum goer, who, in the Danish demography-oriented research is described as a 50+ year old female teacher, i.e. educated middle class, but often somewhat dismissively referred to as a ‘hattedame’ (lit. ‘hat lady’). As the female educated middle class is also overrepresented in the museum professions, it is often seen as problematic that museums are only catering to their own kind. I strongly agree that museums need to be inclusive rather than elitist, but I don’t think that gives reason to disregard the visitors who enjoy the institutions.
When the term ‘hattedamer’ was subsequently translated for the benefit of the international participants in yesterday’s discussion, it was described as ‘ladies who lunch’ (i.e. upper class), which led into a discussion about the special events for friends and patrons at major American museums. I therefore found it necessary to differentiate between the stereotype of the retired teacher and the stereotype of the lady who lunches, whom I blunty described as a woman who had married into money. I apologised then, and apologise again for this crass and politically incorrect stereotype, but it wasn’t really the time or place to go into details – the point was to make an on the fly comprehensible distinction between the two groups.
As for children in museums, I remember making the point that the current middle aged museum goers – including both of the above groups – had come to be interested in museums even if perhaps the museums of their childhood were not making special arrangements for children. The argument about needing to grow the next generation of museum goers does in other words not necessarily imply making special interactives for children, even though that is how it is often translated. Another point I made later about how activities tailored for one group could potentially collide with interests of other visitors – where I quoted one of my students for saying that sometimes, the presence of ‘someone glueing in the corner’ could be a distraction. This utterance came from a young person, and was addressing participatory activities in general, not activities for children in particular.
I know I can get carried off in a debate. I know I still have a lot to learn about museums and academia and, well, life, and that too often I stick out my neck in unfortunate ways. We may disagree on certain aspects of museum strategies, but I did not mean to be brash and offensive. And to the best of my memory (then of course, I could simply be blind to my own misconceptions), I wasn’t, as it was another point entirely I was trying to make, but which apparently didn’t come across clearly and was therefore condensed into a very different argument. Hence this correction.
With the very best regards,
… and then: