Accepted paper:

Beyond Critique: Rebuilding Museum Ethnography in a digital world


Chris Wingfield (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Museum Ethnography is a fundamentally creative pursuit, through which civilization and a myriad of cultures have been constructed, rather than simply displayed. This prompts reflection on the ways in which digital technologies make it possible to rebuild culture and civilization in new forms.

Paper long abstract:

In a recent paper on 'The Museum as Method', Nicholas Thomas has noted that the poachers have turned gamekeepers, with many former critics of museum ethnography now its curators. This paper will ask whether in continuing to critique museum ethnography for its perceived complicities with colonialism, contemporary critics are aiming at the wrong target. In asking why critique has run out of steam, Bruno Latour has argued that academics have not been quick enough to prepare themselves for new threats, new dangers, new tasks, new targets. By continuing to focus on the colonial, this paper will suggest that both critics and curators of museum ethnography have ignored its ongoing complicities with a global financial and political system that continues to do considerable harm to the very people with whom museum ethnographers appear to be most concerned. This paper asks whether museum ethnographers of the twenty-first century can embrace their role as creators and inventors of culture and civilization, and retool, utilizing an expanded arsenal of digital technologies to reimagine human life in ways that unite people around the world in the face of new dangers, rather than continuing to emphasise the distinctive cultural practices that divide them.

panel MUS01
A museum ethnography: decolonisation, reconciliation and multiculturalism