1st Edition

Exhibitions for Social Justice

By Elena Gonzales Copyright 2019
    212 Pages 45 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    212 Pages 45 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Exhibitions for Social Justice assesses the state of curatorial work for social justice in the Americas and Europe today. Analyzing best practices and new curatorial work to support all those working on exhibitions, Gonzales expounds curatorial practices that lie at the nexus of contemporary museology and neurology. From sharing authority, to inspiring action and building solidarity, the book demonstrates how curators can make the most of visitors’ physical and mental experience of exhibitions.

    Drawing on ethnographic and archival work at over twenty institutions with nearly eighty museum professionals, as well as scholarship in the public humanities, visual culture, cultural studies, memory studies, and brain science, this project steps back from the detailed institutional histories of how exhibitions come to be. Instead, it builds a set of curatorial practices by examining the work behind the finished product in the gallery.

    Demonstrating that museums have the power to help our society become more hospitable, equitable, and sustainable, Exhibitions for Social Justice will be of interest to scholars and students of museum and heritage studies, gallery studies, arts and heritage management, and politics. It will also be valuable reading for museum professionals and anyone else working with exhibitions who is looking for guidance on how to ensure their work attains maximum impact.

    List of Figures

    List of Tables

    List of Abbreviations



    Chapter 1: From Empathy to Solidarity

    Chapter 2: Physical Experiences – Building Memories and Empathy

    Chapter 3: Inspiring Action

    Chapter 4: Welcome, Inclusion, and Sharing Authority



    Elena Gonzales is an independent scholar focusing on curatorial work for social justice and the roles of museums in society. She received her doctorate in American Studies at Brown University in 2015 and her Master’s in Public Humanities from Brown in 2010. She has curated exhibitions since 2006 and has taught curatorial studies since 2010, becoming a 2012 Ford Dissertation Fellow and a visiting scholar in American Studies at Northwestern University from 2011–2015. She is co-chair of the exhibitions committee at the Evanston Art Center and co-editor of Museums and Civic Discourse: History, Current Practice, and Future Prospects, a digital public humanities project.

    "This is one of the finest works published in the field of museum studies in recent years. In this exhaustively researched book, Elena Gonzales maps out the current state of museum practice as it relates to the work of social justice. This book needs to be in the hands of scholars and practitioners alike as they seek to transform museums and inspire social change in the 21st century." – Amy Lonetree, University of California Santa Cruz, USA

    "Elena Gonzales’s Exhibitions for Social Justice is a valuable handbook on museums that mount exhibitions explicitly engaged with social justice. Not intending to rationalize the need for this kind of work, Gonzales instead seeks to provide support and evidence-based examples for people working in this field. By drawing a bit on neuroscience, Gonzales focuses on how best to engage viewers; what leaves the most lasting impression with them; and how that can lead to an array of impact and actions over time" - Sarah J. Seidman, Curator of Social Activism, Museum of the City of New York