Decolonizing and Reassembling the Museum: A New Anthropology of Museums
Ethnographic and universal museums are increasingly in crisis. Critical questions about how such museums came to hold their collections, and the colonial conditions of their accumulation are being asked alongside other concerns for appropriate display, collection management and community engagement. Through a lens where decolonization is understood as a call for ethical and equitable transformation of the museum, its objects and its ‘subjects’, this course explores “the museum” as a site of ethnographic inquiry itself, examining it as a social institution embedded in a broader field of cultural heritage that is perpetually under negotiation. We reflect on how museum principles of classification, practices of collection and exhibition, uptake of media, technology, and archiving have influenced the ways in which knowledge has been formed, presented, and represented; and interrogate the role of museums as significant social actors in broad anthropological debates on power, materiality, value, representation, culture, nationalism, circulation, aesthetics, science, history, and “new” technologies. The movement to decolonize the museum is only increasing and in this course we will explore what this means at a theoretical and practical level with a focus on how the museum can respond and indeed transform for the future.