Mapping Culture and the Poetics of Political Museology

Laura Osorio Sunnucks (British Museum)
Anthony Shelton (University of British Columbia)
Archives and Museums

Short abstract:

This panel critiques the geo-classifications and disciplinary divisions employed in anthropology museums, and explores how museum research and programming can be mobilised to counter the cultural and territorial nostalgia deployed in recent political campaigns.

Long abstract:

Major global social and political changes, including the increased movement of people worldwide, have meant that the established relationships between disciplines, collections and their institutional divisions in museums are undergoing an ever-deepening intellectual, ethical and political crisis of confidence, which demands the development of new inclusive and heuristic perspectives. Meanwhile, certain governments have in recent times been able to mobilise popular support through a misrepresentation of contemporary societies; by fostering an imaginary unproblematic pre-global era, in which cultures were pure, non-hybrid and inhabited specific geographical areas. This panel will look at the ways in which geo-classified collections discourage museum research and exhibitionary practices that explore the disarticulated layering of geography with culture that has resulted from imperialism, colonialism and globalisation. It will look at the role of museums in contemporary society, and propose that they might have an ethical responsibility to disturb rather than reinforce the cultural and territorial nostalgia that has been deployed in recent political campaigns. Furthermore, the panel will consider the relationship between anthropology and geography, in which the former has traditionally been associated with locality and the latter with universality and unity. We question whether geography is the last vestige of support that inscribes anthropology and anthropological classifications with the possibility of universalism, thereby maintaining its status as a science.