comment on museums and orgtheory
Dirk vom Lehn is a lecturer in marketing, interaction, and technology at King’s College London. He is very interested in ethnomethodology and interactionism. He wrote this short comment about museums.
The Organization of Museums
Dirk vom Lehn (King’s College London)
It’s holiday season and many of the readers orgtheory.net are going not only to the beach but also to museums, galleries and science centers. It therefore is just right that orgtheory.net runs a series of posts concerned with museums as organizations giving us some ideas of what to look out for, apart from the fun and entertainment of the sites. In organization studies and related disciplines there has been of course a long-standing interest in museums as organizations. Many of these disciplines however primarily focus on museums as organizations that deploy technologies to collect, archive, preserve and exhibit original objects. They curiously show little interest in studying exhibitions and the organization of actions through which the general public, including us, the readers of orgtheory.net in our leisure, gain access to and make sense of the original objects on display. Whilst there is considerable sociological and applied research in the area of audience and visitor research in museums, it largely either re-evaluates the intellectual access to museums using Bourdieusian concepts – see for example Tony Bennett’s (cf. 2009) excellent analyses – or conducts evaluation studies that aim to improve the ‘effectiveness’ of museums in providing people with physical and intellectual access to science, culture and the arts. These evaluations of ‘effectiveness’ are of limited use to museums and are in fact, as a recent report by Maurice Davies and Christian Heath (2013, p.3) suggests, “seen as a necessary chore, part of accountability but marginal to the work of museums” (Davies and Heath 2013a, p.3). For organization studies however, it would seem that this concern of museum managers with ‘effectiveness’ could be a starting-point to intervene and conduct studies on the exhibition floor. Rather than starting from educational measures and indicators of learning from exhibits that often are deployed by exhibition evaluators and museum educators, organization studies could flip perspectives and instead investigate how those acting and interacting on the exhibition floor, orient to effectiveness. So, when on our vacation we visit museums we might want to consider if we (and our family and friends) see our engagement with the original objects in the exhibitions as ‘effective’ and in what way. What would have helped our experience with the exhibits? What hindered it? Questions like these might give us a starting-point where to start and expand organization studies’ perspective on museums on our return to the office. Until then, enjoy your vacations and the museums you visit.
Bennett, Tony, Mike Savage, Professor of Sociology Mike Savage, Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva, Alan Warde, Modesto Gayo-Cal, and David Wright. 2009. Culture, Class, Distinction. Routledge.
Bittner, Egon. 1965. “The Concept of Organization.” Edited by Roy Turner. Social Research 32 (3): 239–258. doi:10.5449/idslu-001091498.176.
Davies, Maurice, and Christian Heath. 2014. “‘Good’ Organisational Reasons for ‘ineffectual’ Research: Evaluating Summative Evaluation of Museums and Galleries.” Cultural Trends 23 (1): 57–69. doi:10.1080/09548963.2014.862002.
Garfinkel, Harold. 1956. “Some Sociological Concepts and Methods for Psychologists.” Psychological Research Reports 6 (October): 181–195.
Heath, Christian, and Dirk vom Lehn. 2008. “Configuring ‘Interactivity’: Enhancing Engagement in Science Centres and Museums.” Social Studies of Science 38 (1): 63–91. doi:10.1177/0306312707084152.
vom Lehn, Dirk. 2014. Harold Garfinkel: The Creation and Development of Ethnomethodology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.