New Research Seminar for January

Happy New Year! Things have been quiet here over the last few weeks, but we have some interesting plans shaping up for 2015’s seminars. I will post more information once we have confirmed the details of seminars for February and March. In the meantime, please join us in January for this seminar:

The museum as a space of social care: rethinking models of participation

Visiting speaker: Dr. Nuala Morse, Durham University

Wednesday, 21st January 1 – 2pm
Room 1.06, 18 Windsor Terrace
All Welcome- feel free to bring a sandwich

Participation and community engagement are a key focus of UK museum policy and practice, increasingly used as a strategy for securing the museum’s continued relevance and purpose in contemporary society. Over the years the dynamics of participatory practice have been interrogated in critical ways to highlight the complex issues arising from collaborative work.

This paper argues that so far, certain models of participation have dominated both theory and practice. Established models tend to prioritise institutionally-bound forms of engagement which benefit the museum first and where participation is imagined through certain codes, languages and knowledges that are expected as valid and valuable forms of contribution. Because participation is instigated and contained within the institution, despite its transformative rhetoric, such models ultimately maintain the museum institution as it is. The limits of such a model encourage us to explore other models that reconfigure the relationships between museums, culture and communities.

Drawing on ethnographic research at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, this paper puts forward the notion of care to develop a conceptual reconfiguration of community engagement in museums. The paper introduces the geographies of care literature as a starting point to examine the practices and ethics of care already existing in museum engagement work, and argues that considering museums as spaces of social care can help to shape new models of community engagement in and with museums. Care opens up a critical politics that reverses the terms of participation to benefit communities first, and has the capacity to reposition the museum within more distributed networks of engagement with communities.


Dr. Nuala Morse is an interdisciplinary researcher with a background in cultural geography and museum studies, and specializes in participatory research and practice. She recently completed a doctorate at Durham University in collaboration with Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, which examined the cultures of participation in museums – in particular, how museum professionals across different teams understand, practice and perform ideas of participation, as well as the organisational challenges for embedding participatory practice and democratising museums. Nuala’s research also focuses on the role of the museum as a space of social care, and the links between museums and wellbeing. She is also interested in the co-production of museum knowledge and exhibits and the distinctive nature of professional museum work.


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