Museums and the utility of culture: The politics of liberal democracy and cultural well-being

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    Contemporary museums exist as variously configured sets of institutional coordinates that aspire to function as popular, demotic spaces dedicated to representing a variety of experiences and modes of citizenship. In some cases, they can be seen as gesturing toward Yúdice's formulation, whereby recognizing the value of culture as a resource may facilitate or enable a new episteme that is 'posthegemonic' (from the 'purview of the national proscenium') and predicated on the withdrawal of the state from the public sphere (which also redefines the parameters of social agency). This post-Habermasian take on publicity has real implications for museums, which are, by and large, still functioning within what is, according to Yúdice, an exhausted model of citizenship.This paper examines whether, in aiming to provide a much-publicized social advocacy role for indigenous peoples and source communities, the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa might be seen as producing open and inclusive public spaces that encourage debate about what constitutes citizenship in postcolonial multicultural societies. I argue that a neo-Habermasian realm of association and interaction may be provided by cultural centre-like museums. However, I qualify this point by adding that this suitability also reveals the double-edged role of culture at the NMAI and Te Papa - where it is unclear whether culture provides a key resource for the state's social management discourses, or whether it is connected to discourses of development produced by - or in consultation with - communities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)235-256
    Number of pages22
    JournalSocial Identities
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - May 2007


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