This PhD project studies the repositioning of the former Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg to the Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) from 1990 to the present in order to analyse the changing institutional frameworks, debates and challenges that affect the present and future of the MARKK and ethnographic museums in general.
Since 2017, the MARKK started a major repositioning process led by director Barbara Plankensteiner. This process has included a new emphasis on German colonial heritage and coloniality/decoloniality, inclusiveness, and new approaches to provenance research and forms of participation. Starting with the symposium “Die Zukunft des Völkerkundemuseums” convened by former director Jürgen Zwernemann in 1990, and continuing through the subsequent directorship of Wulf Köpke (1992–2016), this dissertation studies the background story of the current repositioning processes. By historicising and ethnographically studying the museum’s institutional evolution between 1990 and 2020, I aim to illuminate how recent impulses generated through academic critique, postcolonial activism and the new function of museums in global and local (cultural) politics are channelled into the ongoing processes of repositioning. In doing so, the dissertation offers a historically grounded and ethnographically informed perspective on the current state and future potential of the MARKK. Given the fact that ethnographic museums have turned into highly contested arenas, this approach is of great relevance for understanding the past, mastering the present and reshaping the future of these institutions.