On the basis of the reading provided and any of your own reading you might choose to undertake, address the following question:

 On the basis of the reading provided and any of your own reading you might choose to undertake, address the following question:

Museums are often tied by their public role to ‘representing the interests’ of audiences. Why then is this role so often seen as problematic?

Length: no more than 2500 words not including citations. Need reference.


The aim of the work is to tangle with the problems of how museums have to balance the needs of so many different audiences, so this question is trying to get to the bottom of how this happens, and what it means to ‘represent’ someone’s (perceived) interests back to them. Museums have found themselves in trouble in the past when they have worked with outdated/patronising/wrong assumptions about what audiences’ interests are. Many scholars have also questioned the ways in which the process of representation can be used to reinforce the status quo, rather than to open up a debate in which ‘all’ can participate. Often it is government who decrees that museums must ‘represent’ the interests of tax payers, and museums are left dealing with a very subtle task that government perceives as straightforward. Today the task is less didactic than that, and involves conversations with communities (yes, how to choose which ones?) in order to devise more open ended ways of working. The central concern of this piece of work is the task of ‘representation’ and possible approaches might track some historical changes in the ways that role has been perceived. BUT be careful not to take the question too much a face value and think critically about the terms it uses steering away from black and white responses Some of the different roles museums have upheld for instance are (bear in mind many of these have operated concurrently in the same institutions). Also remember some approaches belong to particular moments in history and are not really current any more but are significant in the historical context. Museums as a means of educating the working people Museums as a means of encouraging self-regulation of behaviour Museums as symbols of national identity in which ideals of citizenship are set out Museums reinforcing the ‘rightness’ and often the privilege of existing social structures via their representation of class/gender and education norms (look at Bordieu here) Museums as facilitators (often in a community arts setting, e.g.certain immigration museum shows) Museums as civic service providers for the tax payer (often a bums on seats model) Obviously you wouldn’t be dealing with all these, it would cover too much ground, but this should give you an idea about material you might cover. Think too about the kind of museum you are discussing and narrow it early, i.e. don’t try to cover science, art and everything else between. Focus on one clear area.

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