Museums and Modernity: Art Galleries and the Making of Modern Culture

By Nick Prior | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Artistic development towards autonomy progressed at different rates, according to the society and field of artistic life in question.

(Bourdieu, 1983: 113)

Rather than summarise or reiterate previous chapters, I want to conclude by teasing out five implications from this study. This will, of course, include the process of summarising, but in combination with a spirit of opening out the book to broader and current concerns in the field. Comment will therefore be made on the status of historical comparison and models of museum development that, in turn, raise questions of contemporary significance respecting the status of the museum, space and social inclusion.

Firstly, only by recognising relational social determinations, both structures and dispositions, can the socio-cultural history attempted in this book succeed. Such an awareness promotes a balanced understanding divested of the distortions of excessive national feeling that is better placed to deal with ‘the particularities of different collective histories’ (Bourdieu, 1998: 3). The claim that Scottish social development wound a totally different path to that of England's, for instance, replaces an ‘us too’ sociology with a ‘not us’ sociology (McCrone, 1992) based on just such distortions. At a political-economic level, the terms ‘client’, ‘periphery’, ‘domination’ and ‘colony’ have readily been applied to understand Scotland's industrial growth and voting behaviour (Dickson, 1989), while, at a cultural level, Scotland's distinct civil society has been posited as the ground on which radical national divergence is fostered and consolidated, giving rise to specificity across a range of cultural and ideological forms. In Beveridge and Turnbull's account (1989), recovering Scottish distinctiveness is, hence, a matter of cutting through cultural inferiorism and revealing independent national practices unsullied by English culture.

The search for core national attributes, however – the emphasis on a ‘democratic intellect’ (Davie, 1961), intransigent Kirk or unique empiricism – has a tendency to morph into an introspective search for a national geist that says more about a historiographical and political present than it does about a social history of the past. While ‘truculent exceptionalism’ might be a useful corrective to over-generalised

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