Museums, Prejudice and the Reframing of Difference by Richard Sandell

By Richard Sandell

How, if all of it, do museums form the ways that society is aware distinction? In contemporary many years there was becoming foreign curiosity among practitioners, lecturers and coverage makers within the position that museums may play in confronting prejudice and selling human rights and cross-cultural knowing. Museums in lots of elements of the area are more and more involved to build exhibitions which symbolize, in additional equitable methods, the culturally pluralist societies during which they function, accommodating and interesting with transformations at the foundation of gender, race, ethnicity, classification, faith, incapacity, sexuality etc. regardless of the ubiquity of those traits, there's however constrained figuring out of the social results, and attendant political results, of those purposive representational recommendations. Richard Sandell combines interdisciplinary theoretical views with in-depth empirical research to deal with a few well timed questions. How do audiences interact with and reply to exhibitions designed to contest, subvert and reconfigure prejudiced conceptions of social teams? To what quantity can museums be understood to form, no longer easily mirror, normative understandings of distinction, acceptability and tolerance? What are the demanding situations for museums which try and have interaction audiences in debating morally charged and contested modern social matters and the way may those be addressed? Sandell argues that museums body, tell and permit the conversations which audiences and society extra greatly have approximately distinction and highlights the ethical and political demanding situations, possibilities and duties which accompany those constitutive traits.

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The exhibition showing during this research project, Grensgevallen (translated by the museum as Out of Line) (Fig. 5), is especially relevant as it is not only concerned with racism but also seeks to address prejudice based on sexuality, disability, religious faith and so on. Out of Line makes use of interactive, multimedia presentations to invite visitors to respond to contemporary, ‘real-life’ dilemmas where basic human rights (specifically, the right to freedom of expression and the right to protection from discrimination) come into conflict with each other.

Difference is conceived of in hierarchical terms – prejudice is directed against members of those communities who are believed to be not only different from but also inferior to the dominant group. This approach to understanding prejudice therefore acknowledges that the particular targets of prejudice will inevitably vary from context to context and over time to suit locally situated political and social ends. The ubiquity of matters of ‘race’, national identity, immigration and multiculturalism has ensured that the myriad causes and consequences of racism have received the greatest attention, both in the literature on prejudice and in terms of policy and practice aimed at tackling the problem.

How, and in what ways, might a museum visit affect the content, intonation and constitutive purpose of visitors’ accounts? Though the questions I pose here are museum-specific, they are nevertheless versions of more generalised lines of enquiry that have been addressed elsewhere. Discourse analysis (applied to the investigation of prejudice) has sought to explain the relationships between the formal, institutional, dominant (or ‘elite’) text and talk emanating from the realms of politics, education, business and the media (through, for example, government policy and parliamentary debate, newspapers and television and educational curricula) and the informal conversations and prejudicial utterances of everyday life.

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