Research Week - Day Two - Second Half

'What are the social roles of museums in contributing to cross cultural awareness and mutual understanding in an increasingly multiethnic and multicultural Ireland?'

I'm sensing a theme here, one of community representation and communciation. Coming directly after Serena's talk, Alan's presentation is particularly timely. But one of the things which he does acknowledge is that overarching social and political situations have a distinct impact upon the nature of research and the results, something he has particularly seen change over his three years as a distance learner. His approach has evolved over time, as he himself notes, but the case studies which he took on, the National Museum of Ireland, the Chester Beatty Library and the Waterford Treasures Museum have also shown that distinctive themes remain.

He was pleased to find out that 44% of his interviewees came from ethnic minority groups and that most of these were first generation arrivals. This is really great, becase it allows a deep analysis of the subtly different ways in which white Irish and ethnic minority communities used and negotiated the museums. Whilst for the former, his research seems to suggest, the engagement with the museum space was very much about the locating of Ireland in the wider world, for the latter it was a more about an internalisation of themselves within that Irish culture. One of the things which really interested me, actually, was this use of the museum space by the white Irish community as a space of alternative sprituality, in a world which has seen increasing secularisation.

Throughout his research, a theme has arisen regarding the deconstruction of Irishness and what that means. Difference and change is of course critically important, but it is this difference in a shared identity which is at the heart of Alan's research.

Something which Alan's research has thrown up is that community members don't go to museums on the basis that they are represented explictly within them. Rather, what they found excluding was the 'highbrow academia' which some museums represent. Can museums really be more proactive in the representation of community pluralism, and move from neutrality to promotion of pluralism.

In Ireland, it seems, the curatorial field is very closed to collaboration. Many visitors, in fact, thought their displays contained problems and errors. Perhaps this idea of collaboration needs to be addressed far more actively. It's an issue which I would like to see developed. Good luck Alan!


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