© 2009 – Routledge
Are Museums Irrelevant?
Museums are rarely acknowledged in the global discussion of climate change, environmental degradation, the inevitability of depleted fossil fuels, and the myriad local issues concerning the well-being of particular communities – suggesting the irrelevance of museums as social institutions. At the same time, there is a growing preoccupation among museums with the marketplace, and museums, unwittingly or not, are embracing the values of relentless consumption that underlie the planetary difficulties of today.
Museums in a Troubled World argues that much more can be expected of museums as publicly supported and knowledge-based institutions. The weight of tradition and a lack of imagination are significant factors in museum inertia and these obstacles are also addressed. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, combining anthropology ethnography, museum studies and management theory, this book goes beyond conventional museum thinking.
Robert R. Janes explores the meaning and role of museums as key intellectual and civic resources in a time of profound social and environmental change. This volume is a constructive examination of what is wrong with contemporary museums, written from an insider’s perspective that is grounded in both hope and pragmatism. The book’s conclusions are optimistic and constructive, and highlight the unique contributions that museums can make as social institutions, embedded in their communities, and owned by no one.
'Ultimately, in sounding this warning so loudly and clearly, Museums in a Troubled World is a courageous book. It is Janes’ gift to a field that has frustrated him for decades but for which he still has great passion and hope.’ – Museum Management and Curatorship
'Intelligent, passionate and provocative, Janes reminds us all that the museum can – and must – play a leading role in building a sustainable future.' – James M. Bradburne, Director General, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy
"I can’t remember when a book has so engaged, enraged and encouraged me. Jane’s book provides a challenging guide for all of us who continually agitate and seek to understand the consequences of our actions, renewing and refreshing a museum’s position in its community." --Museum
'I commend the book to anyone who wants to share in iconoclastic and original thinking about museums and their roles in society now and in the future.' – Suzanne Keene, Reader Emeritus at University College London, UK
'Robert Janes is not only one of Canada’s most distinguished museologists but a fine writer. Museums in a Troubled World reaches far beyond the exhibition gallery to become a wise and witty critique of the forces that threaten the cultural health of our civilisation.' – Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress
'Museums in a Troubled World, lays out the challenges facing the museum field in the 21st century and issues a clearly crafted, articulate charge for museums "to help create the future, grounded in their unique blend of the past and the present." This is an important work that should be read, and enjoyed, by museum professionals everywhere.' – Ford Bell, President of the American Association of Museums
'First, a hot tip. Save yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars on museum conferences for the next year or two by buying and reading this book. It explores all the issues that any conference will cover, and more. These are the issues that museum people and many others should debate vigorously if a sustainable future
for museums as meaningful contributors to society is to be found.' – Stuart Davies, Curator: The Museum Journal
Prologue Time Immemorial The Willow Lakers The Curator The Exhibit Technician The Chief Executive Officer The Future 1. Museums and Irrelevance Troubling Questions Sobering Assumptions Uncertainty, Elitism and Myopia 2. A Troubled World The Absence of Stewardship A Troubled World Our Lethal Footprint A Virtual Impression Killing Our Relatives – Close and Distant Enter Museums Homogenizing the Ethnosphere Diagnosing the Assault on Stewardship 3. It’s a Jungle in Here: Museums and their Self-Inflicted Challenges The Three Agendas The Fallacy of Authoritative Neutrality The Lone Museum Director Management Myopia The Consequences of Hierarchy: Learning from Hunters Museum Exhibitions: Ploughing Old Ground Collections: Museums as Consumption 4. Debunking the Marketplace Corporatism Has Arrived Back to the Beginning A Clash of Values The Anatomy of Failure Courting the Corporatists: A Cautionary Tale Business Literacy Methods Aren’t Values 5. Searching for Resilience? Resilient Innovators Why Resilience? Resilient Values Assuming Responsibility 6. The Mindful Museum Mindfulness Museum Chatter Thinking Orthogonally Museum Mindfulness Museums for a Troubled World 7. Museums: Stewards or Spectators? A Brief Retrospective The Consequences of Ignoring the Present Renewal – Denial is Not An Alternative In Praise of Museums
Museums have undergone enormous changes in recent decades; an ongoing process of renewal and transformation bringing with it changes in priority, practice and role as well as new expectations, philosophies, imperatives and tensions that continue to attract attention from those working in, and drawing upon, wide ranging disciplines.
Museum Meanings presents new research that explores diverse aspects of the shifting social, cultural and political significance of museums and their agency beyond, as well as within, the cultural sphere. Interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and international perspectives and empirical investigation are brought to bear on the exploration of museums’ relationships with their various publics (and analysis of the ways in which museums shape – and are shaped by – such interactions).
Theoretical perspectives might be drawn from anthropology, cultural studies, art and art history, learning and communication, media studies, architecture and design and material culture studies amongst others. Museums are understood very broadly – to include art galleries, historic sites and other cultural heritage institutions – as are their relationships with diverse constituencies.
The focus on the relationship of the museum to its publics shifts the emphasis from objects and collections and the study of museums as text, to studies grounded in the analysis of bodies and sites; identities and communities; ethics, moralities and politics.