Critical Museum Theory/Museum Studies in Canada

Lianne McTavish with Susan Ashley, Heather Igloliorte, Kirsty Robertson, and Andrea Terry. “Critical Museum Theory/Museum Studies in Canada: A Dialogue,” Acadiensis 46.2 (2017), pp. 223-41.

In 2017 I had the chance to be a part of this co-written conversation about the state of museums in Canada.

“CANADIAN SCHOLARS HAVE BEEN CRUCIAL in shaping the active field of critical museum theory/museum studies, with anthropologists, sociologists, historians, art historians, and curators working to challenge and reimagine the educational function, social role, politics, and pedagogy of museums while expanding the very notion of what a “museum” has been in the past and could become in the future. The trajectory of this endeavour has been examined at length in university courses, essays, and handbooks, which all highlight arguments made since the 1960s about the powerful role of museums in reinforcing class distinctions, creating narratives of national identity, and glorifying colonial attempts to subjugate Indigenous peoples as well as more recent considerations of how museums foster the active contributions of visitors, promote varying modes of intercultural exchange, and enable affective encounters with memory.1 In an effort to reflect on the current state of this field in Canada and share some of its diversity, Lianne McTavish decided to pose questions to leading scholars and invite their response. Her goal was to highlight the issues of particular interest to Canadian museum scholars, which have developed alongside but also in distinction from the burgeoning literature on museums stemming from the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia – all centres of research on museums. In September of 2016, McTavish approached another specialist of Canadian museums, Andrea Terry, who helped create a group of participants able to address pressing concerns from a variety of backgrounds, including cultural studies, art history, and communications. What follows is the e-mail conversation that took place among the five co-authors, although some of them have also met in person to exchange ideas. This discussion moves far beyond a narrow, bricks and mortar conception of museums to include the effects on museum practices of government policies, shifting funding models, the 2015 report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the celebration in 2017 of Canada’s 150th “birthday.””

More information here.

About Kirsty Robertson

Kirsty Robertson is Associate Professor of contemporary art and Director of museum and curatorial studies at Western University, Canada.
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