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Museums in a post colonial era have struggled with navigating the troubled histories of colonial collecting that inform most collections. From ‘contact zones’ (Clifford) to repatriation, this panel seeks to examine what it means to be an ethical museum institution in the contemporary world.
This panel seeks to unpack the theme of this conference: ‘responsibility,’ in the context of the modern-day museum institution. Ethnographic museums have particularly been criticised for the problematic arrangement and management of their collections but they - along with all types of museums - seem to only be gaining in popularity. We need to ask - how, then, can museums respond to the changing concerns of an ever-globalising public? Considering the difficult heritages for many of a museum institution’s objects, we ask what responsibilities these museums have to the outside world. How is knowledge produced in the museum (museum ontologies)? Whose voices are heard? Who gets to organise collections, write labels, etc? What new and emerging methods of display may allow for new ways of knowledge construction and dissemination (i.e. Clifford’s ‘contact zones’, or the ‘sensory turn’)? What responsibility does the museum as an institution have to the outside world? What responsibility does it have to the people from whom their collections stem (i.e. what does responsibility does the British Museum have to Athens, or to India), and vice versa? Do museums have a responsibility to respond to crisis situations/be social activists? We encourage any papers thinking about the ways in which museum institutions (not micromuseums) have and could respond to calls to responsibility; as well as papers exploring where a museum’s responsibilities come from and to whom they are directed.