Museologists versus the museum profession?

I read this article in the Observer over the weekend. It's good to see museums being provocative and feeding into wider political and social debate. The great potential of museums, as far as I see it, is their fairly unique role in the creation of shared knowledge and identity. I have always imagined that they really can make a difference by challenging and confronting difficult issues. But am I just being a little naive? I completely realise that the reality at most institutions is a tad more conservative (with a small 'c'), necessarily, because of financial and, perhaps more pertinently, funding considerations.

I've always been aware of the perception that Leicester grads are a little radical in their approach to museums (just an impression formed by comments made to me by interviewers, etc!). Personally I feel that's something to cling to and be intensely proud of, but it begs the question, how are we museologists perceived by the museum profession? Are we imagined to be idealistic creatures firmly ensconced in our ivory towers, detached from the realities of the everyday grind? Or, does the research we produce (eventually?) filter down and effect changes? You may be able to tell that I'm struggling with the future 'usefulness' of my current research, i.e. exactly what is the point of putting myself through this hell?!! ;) Any comments/observations gratefully received.


Richard said…
I sometimes sense a similar hostility here in the U.S. between "academic" (read, useless navel gazing) and "practical" (get'n "real" work done) museum staff. Its actually a rather complex set of tensions that seems not only to run between museum v. university, but internally between say collections managers, curators and educators. The question has deep historical roots (see

I console myself with the "making a difference in the long term" argument.
Amy said…
Thanks for the link Richard. Made me smile. :) I guess museums are like any other institution. Back-biting, sabotage and one-up-man-ship exists everywhere. Human nature I guess!
Mette said…
Just a small input to this! I have just finished reading Lisa C. Roberts’ From Knowledge to Narrative, which in many ways deals with this aspect of museum work. The book is from 1997 and describes and analyses the history and development of museum education (in the US) touching on issues such as who has the right to produce the interpretative material and how is knowledge considered today. To me the book really sums up the shift in museum practice, which is still happening and unfolds the problems of power, knowledge and museums in a very intelligent way. (I am surprised that it is 10 yrs old..) A good read!

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