Creating space to listen: museums, participation and intercultural dialogue
AuthorHenry, David Owen
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. David Owen Henry
This thesis examines the emergence, practice, and social meaning of intercultural dialogue as participatory programming in museums. While intercultural dialogue takes many forms in museums, the thesis focuses on projects that invite participants to create digital content in response to one another on topics related to identity, cultural diversity, and racism. The thesis presents a central case study of a contemporary anti-racist museum project – ‘Talking Difference’ – produced by the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, which facilitated, documented, and presented dialogue between participants. It draws on the personal experience of the author as a previous staff member on Talking Difference, as well as written and visual documentation, interviews with project staff, and analysis of content produced. Engaging with the field of museum studies, the thesis argues that dialogue projects like Talking Difference have come to prominence as museums adapt their traditional governmental role to contemporary societies where engagement with institutions is characterised by reflexivity and participation. Given this, the thesis argues that participatory programs should challenge the idea that museums can provide neutral forums for dialogue. Instead, dialogic museum practice may be more transformative if museums embrace their role of promoting social justice as third parties in the dialogue they facilitate. This entails not only encouraging participants to produce affecting personal accounts but also facilitating engagement with the complex social and historical contexts within which these accounts emerge. To this end, museums should prioritise listening, and facilitate the negotiation of conflicting perspectives in addition to providing platforms for their co-presentation. In acknowledgement of the field of practices within which such work takes place, the thesis argues that these interventions should be part of a broader suite of efforts to decolonise museum practice.
Keywordsmuseums; participation; interactivity; multimedia; dialogue; interculturalism; racism; identity; Immigration Museum; Melbourne; Australia
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