Oral Presentation Session
Invited by: Council for Museum Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Teaching
Secondary Theme: Materiality
This session explores the “pragmatic imagination” of university anthropology museums through examples of current practice that ingeniously combine inventiveness (the possible) and practicality (the actual) in ways that move our field forward. Last year’s AAA’s featured an executive session “Looking Ahead: University Anthropology Museums Matter,” in which leaders in the field shared some of their institutions’ recent successes and failures: reinvention as sites of contemporary and applied anthropology; politicization as spaces of social activism; disruption as stages for art practice; animation in new interdisciplinary networks. Despite such efforts, some maintain that university anthropology museums are changing slower than the rest of the discipline. Perhaps—as collections are galvanized by turns material, relational, and ontological—they are instead changing differently? This session proposes that university museums are, in fact, "changing the anthropological imagination." In light of this conference theme, their diverse initiatives can be seen to express a common "pragmatic imagination," sensu Charles S. Peirce and John Dewey. It is a way of operating in which “the actual [is] reinterpreted and reconstructed in the light of the possible,” and imagination itself becomes constitutive of action (Thomas Alexander 1990, "Pragmatic Imagination," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society). At university museums, decolonization and social relevance are this work's goals, and transformation emerges from the strategic application of theory to practice. The resulting imaginative, pragmatic museum anthropologies aim to engender both representational and structural change, inspired by shared stewardship of human-material relationships across time and setting.