- The democratic horizons of the museum: Citizenship and culture
- Book title
- The international handbooks of museum studies. - vol. 1: Museum theory
- Pages (from-to)
- Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
Change is sweeping through the world of museums, technologically, financially, and ideologically, impacting on the sociocultural evolution of their roles and status. We seek to contribute to ongoing reflections by offering a conceptual framework that links museums with democratic theory, to citizenship and its practices - a domain that is also in notable transition. We connect concretely with the current research on museum communication based in Tartu, Estonia, which focuses on three key streams: public dialogue and debate, content, and processes.
We see the raison d’être of museums as situated in a force field between culture - including "popular" culture - and the ambitions, rights, and duties traditionally associated with the role of the citizen. These domains are increasingly overlapping with each other. Our analytical horizons consist of two complementary perspectives. First, the perspective of civic cultures underscores the cultural prerequisites for civic participation, underlining such dimensions as knowledge, spaces, practices, and identities. Second, cultural citizenship is a trajectory that elucidates the democratic character of popular culture - its accessibility, its inclusiveness, its offers of "community." From these two vistas, museums become sites that can - via their cultural activities - serve to promote, or hinder, cultural citizenship.
Integrating these two orientations, we look analytically at the three streams of museum communication identified by the Tartu group. Public discussion and debate involve civic participation beyond the confines of the museum's space, that is, in the larger society. Here museums have the potential, for example, to stimulate a reflexive interpretation of history and collective identities. Processes relate not least to actual communicative strategies; museums are moving away from the unidirectional "transfer" of knowledge and are encouraging the negotiation of meaning in regard to society, culture, heritage, and so forth. As museums shift toward contemporary cultural mainstreams, options for active communicative efforts emerge, for example, "remixes" of established works or perspective, multivalent messages, and dialogical interaction with visitors. From our outsider perspective, our contribution aims to be descriptive and analytical but also normative. We argue that museums have an important and growing role to play in the development of democracy and its civic cultures.
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