Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

18

Inclusion and the power of representation: South African museums and the cultural politics of social transformation

Khwezi ka Mpumlwana, Gerard Corsane, Juanita Pastor-Makhurane and Ciraj Rassool

Introduction

In Britain, over recent years, the discussions about making museums more responsive to societal concerns and accessible to wider layers of society have taken place around the question of ‘inclusion’. This approach is connected to wider concerns in Britain and Europe about forms of social disenfranchisement, marginalisation and cultural deprivation that are referred to as ‘social exclusion’. 1 Indeed, museums in Britain have been seen to hold potential as ‘agents of social regeneration’ and ‘vehicles of broad social change’. 2 Some museums in Britain have approached this question as nothing more than an access dilemma, while others have embarked on a more controversial approach, which ‘requires museums setting aside existing agendas and rethinking their role and purpose’. 3 In essence, this latter approach means that museums need to go further than simply looking at the public services provided. Instead, they need to go right back to their foundations and consider transforming and reconfiguring themselves from deep within.

This paper seeks to contribute to debates around the social role and purpose of museums by referring to the challenges, achievements and tensions of the processes of museum and heritage transformation that have been started in South Africa. It is hoped that this discussion of the South African experience will help stimulate thought in other countries, especially those with colonial legacies. The aim of the chapter is to introduce what must be the critical, long-term success factor of museums and heritage transformation - the democratisation of the profession and its thinking. 4 Alongside this theme, the chapter will also consider certain initiatives that have already started to reshape the values, purposes, roles, services, functions and activities of museums and heritage management, thereby making them more inclusive.

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