Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Council for Museum Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: The Political
Museums work as technologies of the self in as much as they are spaces that work toward materializing and solidifying group identity. Through the work of collecting, classifying and ordering the museum can effect the social world as governmentality. The proliferation of museums in the 19th and 20th centuries was undoubtedly linked to the works of the imagination (Anderson 1983) because it was closely bound up with the formation of the nation-state, be it European, colonial, or post-colonial. But the early 21st century brought a period in which these identities of the past became increasingly irrelevant through the emergence of new identity formations (e.g., ethnonationalisms, diaspora, regionalisms, lifestyle movements, etc.). Also new forces, such as global corporations and supranational organizations became increasingly influential on the global scene in which social identities are increasingly played.
To ‘have a museum’ or a museum-like site can be seen as a performative utterance of having an identity. Also, the appearance of museum-like places goes hand in hand with the emergence of their publics as consumers of the representation on display. In fact, museums and museum-like places, by virtue of the materiality on display, are experienced by their audiences as factual when instead they are a work of the imagination where often the role of the anthropologist-fieldworker as mediator between collective identities and the techniques of self-representation is still often at play. As such, this panel aims at gathering papers that address the relation between anthropologists engaged with specific communities and the poetics and politics of identity representation in the context of a present where neoliberal conditions impinge strongly on the heritage regime.
The papers in this panel present ethnographically-grounded instances that illuminate the increase in rights‐based discourses and practices—the new forms of culturalized politics (Coombe and Weiss 2015)—as objectified in museum or museum-like places and their practices (i.e., the representational systems used and/or of the places’ actual or intended audiences). The aim is to reflect on the processes whereby new or marginalized social identities and imaginaries (the voices that were kept in the dark) are emerging and performatively engaging in resisting and/or adapting through museum-like practices of representation.