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Peggy Levitt on the globalization of museums

Peggy Levitt discusses the effects of globalization on museums.
First of all, museums around the world are often located in cities that are becoming increasingly diverse. So even in places like Singapore or Qatar, which are still very much about national citizens, there are more and more migrant workers, both professional workers and labour migrants, who are there and involved in the nation-building process. Also when you talk about museums in Europe and the United States, they’re also often located in cities that are increasingly diverse or super diverse. But at the same time, the people inside the museums don’t look enough like the people outside museums.
And so to stay alive, to stay relevant, to stay vibrant in the 21st century, all of the museums that I went to around the world were really thinking about how to bring more diverse populations in. But the second piece of this is that there is kind of a package, what I called in the book a global museum assemblage. It’s a way of doing museums that you see kind of replicated around the world.
So we see that when we go to museums anywhere and there are blockbuster exhibits, or we expect that there’s going to be a gourmet restaurant or a cafe or a bookstore, that there is going to be public programming, that educational programming looks the same, the ways of explaining, that you have access to audiovisual materials, that you have stuff on your iPhone. This is the package of ways of doing museum that travels around the world. And wherever a country is in the global cultural hierarchy, it either contributes a lot to that package and is very much influenced by it or operates pretty far from its orbit.
And so you have this kind of struggle between the globalisation of museum practise and then local, municipal, and national cultural politics that gets worked out. And an additional piece of this is the transnational class of museum professionals that are part of this assemblage but are also carrying it with them each time they travel. So I met lots of people who had circulated within the museum world in Asia or in the Gulf region. And these people are both part of that package but they take it with them and they change it. And so they’re part of its dissemination and circulation.

Peggy Levitt, from Wellesley College and Harvard University, discusses the effects of globalization on museums.

She draws on research she has conducted on museums in Europe, the United States, and Asia. She stresses the global circulation of museum professionals and argues that the profiles of people working in museums can differ greatly from those living near them. She proposes the concept of “global museum assemblages” to discuss the global homogenization of museums, referring to the “package” that they are now expected to provide.

What is your opinion?

Do you think that the global circulation of museum professionals accentuates the divide with local communities? Can such circulations contribute to the diminution of prejudices against foreign cultures in museums?

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Cultural Diversity and the City

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