Examining Museum Visits as Literacy Events: The role of mediators

Keiko Yasukawa, Jacquie Widin, Vic Smith, Karen Rivera, Michael Van Tiel, Peter Aubusson, Helen Whitty


Abstract

Museum exhibitions are literacy rich environments. Visitors may engage with a range of texts including texts that constitute the exhibition objects themselves, those that convey information about the objects and those that instruct visitors about how the visitors are expected by the museum to navigate through the exhibition. The ways in which visitors engage with these diverse texts are important defining factors of the visitors’ museum experience. For museums, understanding how texts in their exhibitions are influencing the museum experience, and the possibility of a museum experience for the broad public community is important in the fulfilment of their public mission as cultural and education institutions. In this paper, we adopt a view of literacy as a social practice, the perspective of New Literacy Studies (NLS), that offers a fruitful way for museums to consider the interactions between exhibition texts and their audiences. Such considerations, we argue, can inform museums’ approaches to broadening their visitor demographics to more strongly fulfill their public mission. We show that the goals of NLS resonate with some of the goals of the New Museology movement in museum studies, a movement that aims to democratize what museums represent and how. From NLS, we employ the concept of a literacy event to describe an exhibition visit through a literacy lens, and the concept of a literacy mediator to examine the literacy event not exclusively as an individual event, but a collectively produced event. The paper draws on data on how the literacy events of two groups of ‘non-traditional’ visitor groups were mediated in an exhibition, and show how they reveal the range of different literacies that visitors need to negotiate in a museum exhibition.

Full Text

PDF

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010) Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, Australia, 2009-10 (cat. no. 4114.0), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.

Barrett, J (2012) Museums and the Public Sphere, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex.

Barton, D (2007) Literacy: An introduction to the ecology of written language, 2nd ed, Blackwell, Oxford.

Barton, D and Hamilton, M (1998) Local Literacies: Reading and writing in one community, Routledge, London & New York.

Baynham, M (1995) Literacy Practices: Investigating literacy in social context, Longman, London & New York.

Bennet, T (1994) The Reluctant Museum Visitor: A Study of Non-Goers ...to History Museums ... and Art Galleries, Australia Council, Sydney.

Bennett, T (2006) 'Civic Seeing: Museums and the Organisation of Vision', in MacDonald, S (ed), Companion to Museum Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, Maiden, MA, 263-281.

Boast, R (2011) Neocolonial Collaboration: Museum as contact zone revisited, Museum Anthropology, vol 34, no 1, 56-70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1379.2010.01107.x

Brandt, D and Clinton, K (2002) 'Limits of the Local: Expanding perspectives on literacy as a social practice', Journal of Literacy Research, 34, pp 337-356. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15548430jlr3403_4

Clifford, J (1997) Routes: Travel and translations in the late twentieth century, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA.

Dicks, B, Soyinka, B and Coffee, A (2006), Multimodal ethnograhpy, Qualitative Research, vol 6, no 1, 77-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468794106058876

Fleming, D (2002) Positioning the Museum for Social Inclusion, in Sandell, R (ed), Museums, Society, Inequality, Routledge, London & New York, pp 213-224.

Grek, S (2006) Museums and the Unbearable Lightness of Inclusion, in Antikainen, A, Harinen, P and Torres, CA (Eds), In from the Margins: Adult education, work and civil society, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, pp 253-264.

Hackett, A (2012) Zigging and Zooming All Over the Place: Young children's meaning making and movement in the museum, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, accessed 20 April, 2013 at http://ecl.sagepub.com/context/early/2012/08/08/146879841245 3730.

Heath, SB (1983) Ways with Words, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

MacDonald, S (1995) 'Consuming Science: Public Knowledge and the Dispersed Politics of Reception among Museum Visitors', Media, Culture & Society, 17, pp 13-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/016344395017001002

MacDonald, S (1996) 'Authorising Science: Public Understanding of Science in Museums', in A. Irwin & B. Wynne (Eds), Misunderstanding Science: The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511563737.008

MacDonald, S (2006) 'Expanding Museum Studies: An Introduction', in MacDonald, S (ed), Companion to Museum Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, Maiden, MA, pp 1-12.

Munson, L (1997) 'The New Museology', Public Interest, Spring, 127, 60-70.

O'Neill, M (2002) 'The Good Enough Visitor', in R. Sandell (ed), Museums, Society, Inequality, Routledge, London & New York, 24-40.

Pahl, K and Rowsell, J (2010) Artifactual Literacies: Every object tells a story, Teachers College Press, New York.

Reder, S and Davila, E (2005) 'Context and Literacy Practices', in Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, pp 170-187. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0267190505000097

Ross, M (2004) 'Interpreting the New Museology', Museum and Society, vol 2, no 2, pp 84-103.

Street, B (1984) Literacy in Theory and Practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK & New York.

Street, B (2012) 'New Literacy Studies', in Grenfell, M, Bloome, D, Hardy, C, Pahl, K, Rowsell, J and Street, B (Eds), Language, Ethnography, and Education: Bridging New Literacy Studies and Bourdieu, Routledge, New York & London, pp 27-49.

Vergo, P (ed) (1989) The New Museology, Reaktion Books, London.

Witcomb, A (2003) Re-Imaging the Museum: Beyond the Mausoleum, Routledge, London & New York.