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Does “pointing at” in museum exhibitions make a point? A study of visitors’ performances in three museums for the use of reference as a means of initiating and prompting meaning-making

Christidou, D; (2012) Does “pointing at” in museum exhibitions make a point? A study of visitors’ performances in three museums for the use of reference as a means of initiating and prompting meaning-making. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

My research acknowledges and explores the social interaction unfolding in the museum space by investigating the sociocultural ways through which museum visitors direct and enhance their personal and co-visitors’ meaning-making. My research analyses the visitors' performances and the sociocultural means used in the context of their joint encounters with seven exhibits across three case studies so as to explore the ways these performances and means were further mediated through the personal, physical, sociocultural and institutional context of each encounter. The three case studies selected were the Courtauld Gallery, the Wellcome Collection, the Horniman Museum and Gardens, all in London, UK. Audio and video-based research was conducted from March 2010 until August 2011. Conversation Analysis and Ethnomethodology led the analysis, highlighting the collaborative, sequential, and performative dynamics of meaning-making at the exhibit-face. Three patterns of performances have been identified: attracting an audience; telling and tagging and animating through “displaying doing”. “Attracting an audience” includes those performances used to attract someone’s attention and subsequently broaden a personal encounter with an exhibit by inviting others. “Telling and tagging” refers respectively to the pivotal performances of narrating and showing something to someone else. “Animating the exhibit through “displaying doing” refers those visitors’ embodied performances that bring aspects of the exhibits into life, aiming at seeing the exhibit in a more vivid and specific way. The analysis revealed two additional dynamics of performing in the museum concerning visitors’ sequence when encountering the exhibits: arriving at the exhibit second and, seeing through another person’s eyes. These categories reflect back to the performativity entailed in meaning-making in museums while highlighting the importance of using deixis, especially pointing gestures, for sharing content and context, directing and anchoring attention to an exhibit and for getting a conversation started in ways that language cannot alone do.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Does “pointing at” in museum exhibitions make a point? A study of visitors’ performances in three museums for the use of reference as a means of initiating and prompting meaning-making
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: Museum, meaning-making, sociocultural theory, video, ethnomethodology
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1370989
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