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CuratopiaMuseums and the future of curatorship$
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Philipp Schorch and Conal McCarthy

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781526118196

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526118196.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MANCHESTER SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.manchester.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Manchester University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MSO for personal use.date: 17 May 2022

Concerning curatorial practice in ethnological museums: an epistemology of postcolonial debates

Concerning curatorial practice in ethnological museums: an epistemology of postcolonial debates

(p.44) 3 Concerning curatorial practice in ethnological museums: an epistemology of postcolonial debates

Larissa Förster

Friedrich von Bose

Manchester University Press

Based on our experience as editors of a debate on ethnographic museums in a German journal, we analyse the conditions and limits of the current debate on the ‘decolonisation’ of ethnographic museums in the German-speaking context. Strictly speaking, the German debate lags behind a bit in relation to the Anglophone debate, but in the face of the re-organisation of the Berlin ethnographic museum as ‘Humboldt-Forum’ it provides crucial insights into the epistemology of unfolding postcolonial debates. We diagnose certain pitfalls of this discussion, e.g. a tendency towards antagonisms and dichotomisation, an overemphasis on the topic of representation and on deconstructionist approaches, an underestimation of anthropology’s critical and self-reflexive potential and too narrow a focus on ethnographic collections. From our point of view, decolonisation must be a joint effort of all kinds of museum types - ethnographic museums, art museums and (natural) history museums as well as city museums, a museum genre being discussed with increased intensity these days. As a consequence, we suggest a more thorough reflection upon the positionality of speakers, but also upon the format, genre and media that facilitate or impede mutual understanding. Secondly, a multi-disciplinary effort to decolonise museum modes of collecting, ordering, interpreting and displaying is needed, i.e. an effort, which cross-cuts different museum types and genres. Thirdly, curators working towards this direction will inevitably have to deal with the problems of disciplinary boundary work and the underlying institutional and cultural-political logics. They eventually will have to work in cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional ways, in order to reassemble disparate collections and critically interrogate notions of ‘communities’ as entities with clear-cut boundaries. After all, in an environment of debate, an exhibition cannot any longer be understood as a means of conveying and popularising knowledge, but rather as a way of making an argument in 3D.

Keywords:   Anthropology, Ethnology, Museum, Curating, Germany

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