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Museums and Community Engagement: The Politics of Practice within Museum Organisations

MORSE, NUALA,MARIE (2014) Museums and Community Engagement: The Politics of Practice within Museum Organisations. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Community engagement (CE) is a key focus of UK museum policy and practice, increasingly used as a strategy to democratise museums and position them as social agents. However, the practices of CE have not evolved far beyond what I call the ‘contributory museum’, which focuses on how communities can benefit the museum. In this thesis I propose the distributed museum as an alternative contribution to museological theory and practice, and call for a conceptual and practical reconfiguration that focuses on how museums can benefit communities.

This concept arises from a deep investigation of the politics of CE practice at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The research takes a unique organisational perspective, focusing on museum professionals’ perspectives to examine how CE is constructed and managed across the museum’s different departments, and highlighting varying practices, competing meanings and discourses, and the operational and cultural barriers to this work. Using a novel collaborative-ethnographic methodology, the research examines how the museum’s Outreach Team negotiates institutional barriers, and how their practices have evolved towards more collaborative ways of working with community organisations and localities.

Arising from this close examination of practice, the thesis finds evidence for the distributed museum in some elements of current Outreach practice, but it is yet to be realised across the whole museum institution. It suggests that two distinctive practices make the distributed museum: care and craft. These practices are analysed drawing on the geographies of care literatures, and actor-network and assemblages theories. Critically, this thesis presents a politics of practice that works from within the logics of the museum and therefore attends to the competing demands that are currently placed on museums. I argue that if CE is reconfigured in these ways – as a practice of care and as craft – then community engagement will enable a new basis for collaborative practice with communities. The thesis ends with implications for museum policy and practice, and further research.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:community engagement, museums, practice, participation, care, craft, co-production, relational accountability, museum geographies, organisational ethnography
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:19 Nov 2014 15:29

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