The High Within and the Low
Without: The Social Production of
Aesthetic Space in the National
Gallery of Scotland, 1859–70
I.2a. Outside (or out of) the place mentioned or implied; especially outside of the house or room; out of doors.
III.8a. In a state of not possessing; not having (as a possession of any kind, a part, an advantage, etc.); in want of, destitute of, lacking.
Without (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989)
The idea that history begins at the layers of individual spatial experience, ‘at ground level, with footsteps’ (de Certeau, 1985: 129), has been crucial to some contemporary forms of social, geographical and cultural enquiry. The work of the new cultural geographers, Harvey, de Certeau, back to Simmel, Benjamin, Lefebvre and the Situationists, has opened up the spaces, forms and activities of everyday life to a rich social analysis that deals with the interfaces between our experience of space and its social context. Some of these propositions have been applied to the environment of the museum. The recent turn towards a social or political ‘anthropology’ of museums, in particular, has concentrated on the spatial arena itself as operating to fulfil certain ‘ceremonial’ programmes or ideological ‘scripts’ (Karp and Lavine, 1991; Sherman and Rogoff, 1994; Pearce, 1992; Duncan, 1995; Vergo, 1989). The visitor, here, is inscribed in a web of sequenced spaces and arrangements of sounds, colours and objects that provides a ‘stage set’, shaping and structuring the visit according to dominant aesthetic and social interests.
Museums, under such scrutiny, are symbolic sites which circulate ideological effects. Through their systems of installation, the layout of their rooms, the labelling of their objects and their iconographic schemes, museums have been claimed to produce colonial identities (Coombes, 1988), confer artistic value on objects (Bourdieu, 1993) and authorise state ideologies (Duncan and Wallach,