Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum

Overview

What goes on behind closed doors at museums? How are decisions about exhibitions made and who, or what, really makes them? Why are certain objects and styles of display chosen whilst others are rejected, and what factors influence how museum exhibitions are produced and experienced?

This book answers these searching questions by giving a privileged look ‘behind the scenes’ at the Science Museum in London. By tracking the history of a particular exhibition, Macdonald takes the ...

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Overview

What goes on behind closed doors at museums? How are decisions about exhibitions made and who, or what, really makes them? Why are certain objects and styles of display chosen whilst others are rejected, and what factors influence how museum exhibitions are produced and experienced?

This book answers these searching questions by giving a privileged look ‘behind the scenes’ at the Science Museum in London. By tracking the history of a particular exhibition, Macdonald takes the reader into the world of the museum curator and shows in vivid detail how exhibitions are created and how public culture is produced. She reveals why exhibitions do not always reflect their makers’ original intentions and why visitors take home particular interpretations. Beyond this ‘local’ context, however, the book also provides broad and far-reaching insights into how national and global political shifts influence the creation of public knowledge through exhibitions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum is a powerful ethnographic analysis of a major science exhibition that interrogates museum practices and applies the tools of social anthropology and organizational analysis to understanding the choices and constraints involved in the making of exhibits. Despite many calls for ethnographies of museums and cultural displays, Macdonald is among the very first to show how the complex process of exhibit making is truly contested terrain. Her account of audience response is among the most sophisticated available." —Ivan Karp , Emory University

"Studies of culture and media have often stressed the gap between authorial intentions and audience experiences, but have rarely given this claim any empirical substance. Sharon Macdonald's exemplary ethnography does this and much more; capturing wonderfully the state of key cultural and scientific institution at a critical moment of organizational innovation and political uncertainty." —Andrew Barry, Goldsmiths College

"Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum is a beautifully rendered ethnographic account of late twentieth century public culture. Macdonald describes the deep personal and institutional tensions that characterised the working lives of a group of contemporary museum professionals - the choices, compromises contradictions, passions and struggles that arose in the creation of a new gallery. It is an intimate and revealing account that in the best ethnographic tradition opens up far more than the workings of a well-loved public institution. For what we find behind the scenes at the Science Museum are fundamental debates about contemporary and cultural issues - about science and society; about organisational change, accountability and expertise; about the negotiation of knowledge, identity and power. The book brilliantly exemplifies how it is that ethnography can recover and present the complexity of cultural processes while remaining totally clear and accessible." —Professor Penny Harvey, University of Manchester

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781859735718
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
  • Publication date: 3/1/2002
  • Series: Materializing Culture Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Sharon Macdonald is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Sociology, at University of Sheffield.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures
Thanks and Credits
Taster 1
1 Admission: Going In 3
2 Cultural Revolution 23
3 A New Vision for the 21st Century: Rewriting the Museum 59
4 A 'Hot Potato' for a New Public: A 'Flagship' Exhibition on Food 91
5 'Reality Sets In': Managing and Materialising Dreams (and Negotiating Nightmares) 131
6 Virtual Consumers and Supermarket Science 157
7 Opening and Aftermath: Ritual, Reviews and Reflection 193
8 The Active Audience and the Politics of Appropriation 217
9 Behind and Beyond the Scenes 245
Appendix 263
Bibliography 267
Index 285
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