Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition

Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition

Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition

Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition

Synopsis

Timothy W. Luke is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Excerpt

Even though the electronic media are acquiring tremendous clout, and entire television channels are devoted solely to culture, history, nature, and technology programming, museums today are still critically important educational institutions. in playing this role, they also possess a power to shape collective values and social understandings in a decisively important fashion. This book is my attempt to highlight this reality, because most American social scientists are not especially open to considering the workings of cultural power, institutions, or conflict in museums. Indeed, most are shocked when they find truly heated political struggle at museums, and even then they do not take these conflicts seriously. in fact, museums rarely are regarded as affording rich opportunities for political analysis, and those that do exist are, all too often, consigned by professional prejudice to cultural studies departments at best or to the style sections of big urban newspapers at worst.

I see this blindness in mainstream political science as a tragic flaw. Today museums are venues where many key cultural realities are first defined; and, in this process of definition, the personal becomes political, and the political cannot be divided easily thereafter from the personal. Different social forces—to the left, on the right, and at the center—all are intent on defining what reality is, will be, or has been, and major museums quickly can become embattled bastions of resistance or threatening outposts of invasion in the cultural war that these social forces wage against each other. What is accepted as knowledge, and the power to which many accede, are both easily articulated and constantly affirmed . . .

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