Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview
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7

The disciplinary museum

The revolution in France led to the conditions of emergence of a new museological programme which radically transformed collecting practices and subject positions. In the place of intensely personal, private collections housed in the palaces of princes and the homes of the scholars, public collections in spaces open to the whole population were established. The subject in the Renaissance had accumulated collections according to their individual choice (Foucault, 1986:26) in their own private, domestic spaces. Now the gaze that surveyed an extended geographical space initially for military purposes surveyed that same space for cultural purposes. Material things, ‘works of art’ (objets d’art), were deployed in the same way as other strategic commodities.

Modelled on the military deployment of resources, museums were established across Europe. An intersecting ‘curatorial’ gaze emerged that paralleled the contemporary medical gaze (Foucault, 1976:31); a ‘curatorial’ gaze constituted through a network of institutions articulating a constant, mobile, differentiated supervision. New technologies emerged to enable this large-scale supervision. Collections were gathered together, filtered, redispersed, and reorganised. In the name of the newly formed Republic, the spaces and things belonging to the king, the aristocracy, and the church were appropriated and transformed, at first in France and later across Europe.

The revolution in France marked the end of the society of the hierarchic and inegalitarian type, and at the same time the end of the old way of imagining the world, as a fixed order ruled by a theological-political logic (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985:155). The French Revolution was founded on the legitimacy of the people, which was something entirely new. For Napoleon, the state was the centralised, nationalistic state enhanced by the revolution and based on the social dominance of the bourgeoisie (Bronowski and Mazlish, 1970:461).

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