Posted to the Ethnos Project by on November 15th, 2015

Impelled by globalization and decolonization, many museums today seek to position themselves within a global frame of reference which is more genuinely inclusive than was the modernist construct of the “universal” museum. Yet in their renewed encounters with the world, museums are also being challenged to recognize the particularity – and the peculiarity – of Western institutional structures that segregate different forms of expressive culture into separate spaces of realization and display. Most world traditions, in contrast, are grounded in a natural and necessary integration of visual arts, music, dance, performance, narrative, and language. This paper draws on examples from African and Indigenous North American arts to argue the need for a “transitive museology” that not only responds to the needs of increasingly pluralist Western societies but also enhances the representation of Western cultural heritage. It also urges that the re-activation of tangible and intangible heritage through performance is inherently political. By realizing the dynamic relationships that link things, people, and technologies, museums become active agents of democratization in the sense urged by recent theorizations of actor-networks and material agency.

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