09 Jun 2022 - 10 Jun 2022  |  Philipp Schorch et al.

What can museum anthropology do in the 21st century?

Museum Fünf Kontinente in co-operation with LMU Munich

Museum anthropology is one of the oldest sub-fields of anthropology which was, especially in the German context, constitutive of the discipline itself. Yet it has, again especially in the German context, long been neglected in academic research and teaching. This symposium sets out to draw museum anthropology back into anthropology, to address specific museological and also general anthropological concerns. Museum histories, theories, methods and practices can be mobilised to expand on recent academic developments such as the material and ontological turns, hot topics such as colonial history and postcolonial critique, the indigenization of disciplines and institutions, and emerging methodological interactions between anthropology and the arts, as well as the increasingly important interface between academic research and the wider public.

The ongoing controversies around ethnographic museums show that material entities – through their transfer, presence and restitution – continue to gather people together. Far from being dead relics and static records of the past, they continue to live material lives of unforeseen potentialities, provoking human debate, contestation, conflict and, potentially, reconciliation and reciprocal knowledge production. Moving beyond the status quo, the symposium seeks to envision the different approaches and modalities, epistemologies and ontologies through which the ethnographic museum was conceptualised in the colonial past, is rethought in the (post)colonial present, and might function in the future. What happens if we rethink objects as material archives of indigenous knowledge to address environmental changes, consider collections as creative technologies to revitalise cultural practices, and use exhibitions as methods to conduct experimental research in aesthetic and spatial environments? What happens if we approach museums not only as cultures and structures of collecting, ordering and governing, but also as dynamic contingent processes, heterotopian spaces and living resources for creative interventions and utopian reimagining? In other words, when ethnographic objects, collections and exhibitions are used in the present and mobilised towards the future, how can we thus move from postcolonial critique to decolonial doing?

To address these pressing questions, it requires the development of particular skills and expertise, which urges us to rethink what museum anthropology can do in the 21st century. This symposium, which is organized in collaboration with the Museum Fünf Kontinente and LMU Munich's Center for Advanced Studies (CAS), is associated with the ERC-funded project Indigeneities in the 21st century and the research and teaching program in museum anthropology being developed at LMU.

More information:

  • Program of the international symposium
  • Registration (by 29 May 2022): This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • CAS research focus "Materiality – Museology – Knowledge"