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Museum acts: the performative culture of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC

Levell, N.; (2010) Museum acts: the performative culture of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Within museological studies, the changing relations between anthropology museums and their differentiated publics, which intensified in the second half of the twentieth century, are typically apprehended through material cultures, through objects, collections and exhibitions. From a different perspective, this thesis argues that the shifting politics and relations–engaging anthropology museums, source communities and the broader sphere of cultural production–are equally, if not more, pronounced in performance culture. Such collaborative frictions are concentrated, enacted and iterated in ‘museum acts,’ which frame and centre human actors, rather than objects. Based on a critical and diachronic ethnography of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) (1976–2008), this analysis focuses on a diverse range of museum acts covering: artists’ residencies, exhibition openings, unveilings, cultural performances, memorial services and symposia. It demonstrates that, despite their ephemerality, such acts or intangible representational practices are crucial indices and constituents of museum space, discourses and histories. Central to this argument is the theory of performative acts, which is drawn from the disciplinary folds of linguistics and philosophy. Like their linguistic counterparts, it is argued, museum acts are intersubjective media that possess a dual agency; an illocutionary force that enables them concurrently to signify and constitute social ‘realities.’ Or to be more specific, as the case studies illustrate: through their intersubjectivity and “performative parallax” (Hastrup 1995, 97–8), museum acts operate to index and iterate relations and identities; to enact and validate artefacts and memories; to mediate and assert or alternatively contest and reclaim cultural knowledge and knowledge of culture. In this way, museum acts are central to the production of the anthropology museum as highly textured and sedimented, hybridized and indigenized, political and contested monumental space.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Museum acts: the performative culture of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/19494
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