The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, March 02, 2007

NAMU - Great conference - but are we repeating ourselves a little?

(Mette originally posted this yesterday morning, but as there's such a good discussion going on, I don't want it to get lost among the photos, so I've moved it back to the top of the pile! Amy)

From the 26-28 February about 50 museum enthusiasts were gathered in Linkoping in Sweden for the first out of six conferences on National Museums. The series of conferences is supported by Marie Curie and organised by Leicester University, Oslo University and Linköping University. (http://www.namu.se/)
Entitled ‘Setting the Frame’ this conference consisted of 3 key note speakers, around 40 small presentations following comments and discussions and lots of dialogue between museum academics or professionals from around the world. And how did it go? To be honest Im still trying to figure it out. There were definitely good things and great experiences. The context was perfect, with catering, organizers and facilities being perfect as well as the luxury of meeting peers that had come from all over the world. Personally my paper presentation went well and I received some really relevant and useful comments, I met some inspiring people also working with active audiences and I hope there is basis for forming a sort of research group across countries, which will support and follow and challenge each others work. All in all I did walk away with lots of good ideas and experiences.
But there was also something that kept nagging me the whole conference - and maybe it was because this was the first conference and we never really did anything but scratching the surface of the different presenters’ ideas. I think one thing we really need to be aware of in this field is to renew our selves. Use new concepts, new words, new theory, new perspectives and challenge fixed assumptions. In a way it is a paradox. Museum Studies has been cross disciplinary from the start and draws per definition on different academic theories. But it is not so new anymore and I think that it is clear that a foundation of a very settled academic tradition is taken shape. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become sleepy and characterized by routines if we do not challenge this foundation all the time. Properly if we had more time to discuss each paper or if the theme has been more focussed this little feeling of repetition would disappear…it is great that we have 5 other conferences to do this! Anyway this is just my oppinion - lets hear from others!!

7 comments:

Anna said...

Hi Mette. I was interested to read your review and I have to agree with you. It will be very interesting to see how the conference concept develops from here I think. It was of course deliberately broad so that the 'Frames' were set. But I thought an interesting point someone raised was about actually considering how representative of the 'frames' we really were. I felt perhaps that it would have been nice to have a bit more input from people actually from National Museums. Don't know what others think about this?

Mette said...

There were actually quite a few from national museums including my self present at the conference, but you are right in the sense that no one used their experiences explicit. Maybe because when it comes down to everyday practice it is quite close to regional museum work - just added a bit more politics and bureaucracy and of course a larger budget. Im not sure what more case studies would have added to the discussion. I will think about it and then return - as I said in my review Im still trying to work out my opinion on the whole thing (:

Mary said...

I'm really interested in this idea of disciplinary stability leading to a dearth of new ideas. I guess the point is if you have to know the museum studies literature how are you going to manage to also be sufficiently up to date with developments in other fields? Is this an argument for more collaborative research with people from other disciplines? What's the solution, do you think?

Amy said...

Simon Knell has asked me to post the following response:

I agree with Mette that there is a need to move things on but I would also say that those presenting are all early career researchers - so rather more trying to find their feet than lead the field. We also need to take into account that in many parts of the world museum studies is only just being discovered or is now finding a place as a facet of another field. You will notice that neither of the other collaborating institutions is a museum studies department. The costs and benefits of all this are that in some cases people will be catching up but more positively it means we do get fresh insights and different perspectives. I took away from the meeting the tremendous sense of the enthusiasm shared amongst the researchers and, yes, as Mette says, a sense that we are all talking a similar language but also that there are lots of potential lines of investigation. There were no anthropologists there, no material culturalists, only one historian of science (me!), no proper scientists, no technologists, no educationalists, no mass communication people, and so on, so we need to do some work to expand our appeal. The rather packed programme gave everyone a sense of commitment and just about everyone had something to say. It is very much about developing PhD students and early postdocs. Anyway, it is our turn next! The Leicester meeting is now completely revised (though not yet on the web) - it will be an interactive, developmental, fieldwork-based event. More on this soon.

Mette said...
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Mette said...

Great to see other perspectives on this! I agree with Simon that most us presenting at NAMU are just finding our feet in the field and also agree that many countries do not have even have an established academic tradition for dealing with museums. Denmark is certainly one of them. And concerning the conference itself I not sure that I can expect to get more out of a conference than I did – a network of people working in my own field, response on my own research as well as new ideas. In that sense the point I raised in the previous post were not a concern directed only at the conference in Linköping, but a comment on the whole discipline. More and more case studies, articles and books are referencing museum studies academics and their interpretation of for example communication studies or sociology. And this is of course good and often very meaningful. But as Mary says I think it is important to keep using and drawing on the research done in other fields. Museums are by nature closely intertwined with several disciplines, which also move forward fast all the time. It is our precious task to keep up with this as well as applying it to museum. I know I am ambitious on behalf of the discipline and the material produced. To me the exciting part of the museum studies field is exactly that it entails the interaction between people, object and society and that it is changing all the time. I find it both very useful and exciting when a researcher such as Henrik Holm from the National Museum of Art in Copenhagen (where I also work – maybe I am biased?) make a performance where a wild theory of Deleuze is seen in relation to the museum. And he is not a museologist or a very experienced academic, in fact maybe because he is not this perspective came natural to him. It is a question of putting one self and ones ideas at risk when presenting and debating – not just playing safe!

Mary said...

Mette - I think your experience, as both a researcher and a practitioner, actually points towards a solution. Museums are, as you rightly say, exciting because they bring together objects, people, society and I would add, ideas. So renewal can come not just from an ongong dialogue with other disciplines - although this of course is important - but also from encounters with visitors, artists, colleagues etc. The example of Henrik Holm's intervention is an excellent illustration of this.