Working title: Mobile Mediation of Fashion by Museums

After a two year hiatus, a new project is finally on the horizon. As of December 1st I will be a Ph.D. fellow at Det Informationsvidenskabelige Akademi/ Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I will be doing research into the interplay of museums, mobile media and everyday culture online.

Once again, I intend to use this blog as a sketchbook for the process, and so, to get started, here is an introduction to my field of research, as stated in my project proposal:

As our daily lives and social interactions are increasingly permeated by our use of social and mobile media (Ling 2004, 2008; Castells 2007; Katz 2003) so our interactions with cultural products, -events and -institutions are also increasingly filtered through the same media. Accordingly, museums must learn to inspire and engage with a networked audience through these channels, and adapt their communication strategies to include social media and mobile applications (Tallon & Froes 2011; Petrie 2010). Still, to move beyond the current status, where social media is used as little more than marketing channels, and mobile applications catering to an adult audience are practically non-existing, a better understanding is needed of existing user patterns and of how to design for interaction with cultural heritage through new media.

For cultural history museums, particularly institutions dealing with design and applied arts, social media also represent a rich source of knowledge as the public chronicles online everyday life and their reception and use of cultural products. Within the field of fashion (Bourdieu 1993; Rocamora 2002), for instance, amateur bloggers have become key players, and uploads to social media networks convey the transitory nature of cultural artefacts, as collection pieces are mixed with vintage and high street items into personal looks. By tapping into existing social media platforms such as fashion blogs, forums or groups on Facebook and Flickr, or by inviting their audiences to contribute personal content to the digital archives , museums may gain a deeper understanding of the context and significance of their collections, as well as an opportunity to enrich the presentation of the artefacts with user generated storytelling. Furthermore, such calls for participation may help connect the audience with the objectives of the institution (Simon 2010).

This type of interaction is a perfect fit for the modern day museum, striving to replace the former unassailable voice of authority with unique, personalized and engaging experiences (Skot-Hansen 2008; Weil 2002; Kulturministeriet 2006; Baggesen 2009). Inspired by changes in demands and expectations posed by the experience economy (Pine & Gilmore 1998), by influences from new media and not least by a new understanding, refered to as a ‘New Museology’ (Vergo 1989) the current philosophy of museum mediation follows the essentially phenomenological view that the essence and purpose of the museum lies in the personal experience, i.e. in the visitor’s interaction with and perception of the institution’s subject matter (Teather 1998; Pallud 2009; Ingemann 2000).

Yet the cultural interest that motivates an adult audience to visit museums, is not confined to the museum context. Consequently, we need to understand engagement outside the formal institutional framework. A key question of this project is therefore: what sparks the motivation for engagement with cultural heritage, i.e. fashion design and –history? And how does the audience pursue this interest through new media? Similarly, museum mediation need not be limited to enhancing an exhibition, but could also enrich the audience’s interaction with cultural heritage in general by unlocking the provenance and significance of the cultural artefacts they encounter and consume in everyday life – a potential for fulfillment of that museological eutopia; Malraux’s ‘museum without walls’ (Arvanitis 2010; Schweibenz 2004).

In this context, the priviledged position as personal media along with the unique affordances of smart phones, makes the mobile an attractive platform for museum content. The challenge is how to leverage these affordances to create relevant and attractive cultural experiences. This research project will investigate how museums may harness the potential of mobile media to connect audience interactions with cultural artefacts in the museum, online and elsewhere in everyday life. The objective of the project is to understand what makes users engage with everyday objects that also form part of our cultural heritage (such as clothing and fashion) through social and mobile media, and to use this knowledge to improve and design the use of mobile media formats in cultural institution contexts.

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