Academic Anthropology and the Museum

Back to the Future

Mary Bouquet,

Academic Anthropology and the Museum: Back to the Future
 
 

The museum boom, with its accompanying objectification and politicization of culture, finds its counterpart in the growing interest by social scientists in material culture, much of which is to be found in museums. Not surprisingly, anthropologists in particular are turning their attention again to museums, after decades of neglect, during which fieldwork became the hallmark of modern anthropology - so much so that the "social" and the "material" parted company so radically as to produce a kind of knowledge gap between historical collections and the intellectuals who might have benefitted from working on these material representations of culture. Moreover it was forgotten that museums do not only present the "pastness" of things. A great deal of what goes on in contemporary museums is literally about planning the shape of the future: making culture materialize involves mixing things from the past, taking into account current visions, and knowing that the scenes constructed will shape the perspectives of future generations. However, the (re-)invention of museum anthropology presents a series of challenges for academic teaching and research, as well as for the work of cultural production in contemporary museums - issues that are explored in this volume.



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