Questions and Musings


Finally got round to actually working with the empirical material from my two workshops at Designmuseum Danmark. What’s more, I think I’ve found my handle on it too, after battling through uncertainties about how, and not least why I should do it.

There’s a back story to that uncertainty. Initially, I set out to explore how mobile museum experiences would tie in with more general pursuits of cultural/fashion interest via mobile and social media; a media ecology kind of thinking. But as I was also very keen on carrying on the design research approach I had developed in my master thesis, I came to realise that there was a mismatch between the questions I wanted to ask and what my methodology would let me answer. Methodology won out, sending me on a route that is more museology and less media oriented, i.e. asking about the implications of mobile museum experiences for the museum. And yet I felt that I still had to do some kind of empirical study, that I had to produce some data I could analyse and learn from and base my assertions on. Being an academic rookie, I lacked the confidence to stick to humanistic analysis with a design twist, thinking that it would not count as real science. So now I’m trying to make it count.

The concept of coding still feels a bit alien, like there’s some part of it I’m not getting because I never trained in social science. I’m a humanist, studied literature before moving on to design and digital culture studies. I have only a vague notion of grounded theory; ‘coding’ is not really my lingo. But it’s an aspect of analysis, right, it’s marking up your data (data is another word that feels wrong, cold somehow) to work out what’s in there, what the themes and discourses are, exposing contradictions and finding patterns, deciding what issues to pursue and how they relate to the material overall. At least that’s how I understand the process I’m going through.

After giving some consideration to coding software for qualitative data, reading about and checking out demo videos for Atlas.ti and Nvivo, I decided that a) spending time learning how to use the software would be a detour, given that my material is not that extensive, and b) the digital format somehow distanced me from the content, whereas an analogue approach gave me a better sense of what was there and what I wanted to do with it, as an iterative process rather than working to a preset design. Fairly grounded theory-esque, I guess. Keeping it handheld was also more consistent with my process so far – designing my probes and the design game for the workshops had been a very touchy-feely affair, and being able to paste the whole thing on my wall gives me a better sense of overview, something I’ve used in various stages of the project.

Concept/inspiration collage for development of workshop and design game

Concept/inspiration wall collage for design development

Coded transcripts from workshop II+III

Coded transcripts from workshop II+III

So through painstakingly adding hundreds of multi-coloured post-its (annotating and marking different strands and marvelling at how pretty it is) I have uncovered some interesting themes that I can unfold in my continued analysis and discuss in relation to other sources and observations and to theoretical positions in museology. These themes include commercial constraints and considerations (and how much the participating curators take these into account in their work); the importance of brand and branding; notions of institutional authority and curatorial ambitions; museological positions and practices; professional positionings; audience/user perspectives including UCG; pros, cons and contradictions re. cross-media communication; fashion as field and fashion as perspective; and more. Despite my recurring uncertainties about what this empirical study was really for, given that it is so limited that I cannot make many claims on this basis alone, it has actually served the purpose of illuminating some of the possibilities and conflicts in my field of study, as per my research design:

Diagram of research design

Diagram of research design

So it’s coming together. But will I also be able to make sense of it, as in valid scientific sense? Still grabbling with (and increasingly fascinated by) what science is, what makes it scientific, especially when pushing the traditional boundaries of science. I expect some would argue that what I do isn’t real science, and I know that making a solid argument for the validity of design research in general and of my study specifically will be one of the prime tasks in my dissertation. Which is why I ramble about it here, even if it also makes me feel exposed, to try to come to grips with what I’ve done and why. Thinking out loud, in print (and keeping my supervisors updated too). In this way, these slap-dash pontifications on the blog serve as rough sketches for the arguments I wish to make in my thesis, or sometimes just to off-load all the preamble, so that in my thesis, I can cut to the chase.

Martin Ludvigsen, in chapter seven: ‘Reflections on Interaction Design Research’ of his 2006 PhD dissertation Designing for Social Interaction does an excellent job of explaining the groundings of interaction design research in HCI and makes a strong argument for its scientific validity, which I will surely build on in my own thesis. (Actually, it’s the kind of writing that I wish I could do.) Conceding that ‘[f]undamentally it is difficult to accept design thinking as valid because of the intrinsic lack of logics and, when we delve deeper into it, the lack of scientific rigor with regards to reproducibility, falsification, objectivity etc.’ (2006:93) he moves on to expound the virtues of aesthetic reasoning as an alternative to logic. Rather than narrowly focusing on functionality and measurable results, ‘thinking aesthetically about an interactive artifact is to be conscious about its entire composition over time and the effect it has on the context and users’ (ibid.), Ludvigsen argues. Building on the German philosopher Baumgarten, as explicated by Kjørup (1999), he thus establishes aesthetics as an analytical discipline, and alternative route to enlightenment, as ‘conceptual discovery or epistemological evolution is a continual shedding light on new concepts’ (Ludvigsen 2006:94). Using our cognitive capacity for creative thinking and innovation as a way to understand ‘wicked problems’ (Buchanan 1995, in Ludvigsen 2006:90, 92), i.e. problems that can only be described in full through attempted solutions, and for aesthetic judgement as conducive for hollistic understandings of problems in context and for (un)covering conceptual grounds, should therefore be regarded as an invaluable supplement to logics-led scientific experimentation. As argued by Ludvigsen ‘The aestetic ‘track’ in the human mind is active. This should be read as a proposal for a foundation to talk about design thinking as equal – not subordinate to – logic and traditional scientific thinking’ (2006:97).

He then goes on to cite Latour’s normative definitions of science, which break with the traditional paradigm of Popperian falsification to build instead on the principles proposed by the Belgian philosophers Stenger and Despret. Without selling short the importance of rigor, the emphasis here is on scientific relevance, suggesting that sticking to tried and tested scientific activities does not in itself secure that a study is scientific, as, according to Stenger and Despret, scientific means interesting and risky (Ludvigsen 2006:100) – breaking new ground and making yourself vulnerable to seeing your hypothesis crumble. The aim of science then, rather than making absolute statements, is  ‘rendering talkative what was until then mute‘ (ibid.:101); to articulate propositions about the world, thus adding to what Latour calls the multiverse. This, obviously, ties in neatly with what I touched upon in my paper for the Nordes doctoral consortiumalso with reference to Latour, about the ability of design to articulate (museological) matters of concern, thus posing a constructive critique which allows for discussion of the current state and possible futures of the museum.

This sort of stuff is right up my alley. I’m really not much of an empiricist, finding theory and creative explorations much more inspiring and hence more productive for my cognitive process. My home brewed, half baked heuristic is that just like learning theory talks about different learning styles, different kinds of science speaks to different kinds of minds. So even though I can appreciate the significance of, say, quantitative data on patterns of mobile use in museums, it doesn’t necessarily push my buttons or satiate my curiosity about why these use patterns are as they are, why people were in the museums in the first place, the existential and social role of museums in society, what it all means and if it could be otherwise? So it’s truly great that other scientist will do the crucial studies that I don’t have the knack for, and that I instead get the chance to apply different methodologies to different types of questions (i.e. watered down versions of the questions above). Which I hold are worth pursuing, and which might speak to others with an interest similar to mine.

On Tuesday, the Nordes13 conference was dedicated to workshops, taking place at STPLN in Malmö. I had opted for the Experimenting with Design Experiments workshop, focused on ‘understanding of the underpinning mindsets, epistemological assumptions [of design experiments] and their implications as well as possibilities within the context of academic research.’ The workshop format revolved around the discussion of a series of dimensions, suggested by the organizers, related to the overarching concepts of involvement, control and purpose.

Nordes13 worskhop Anna Rylander, Dagny Stuedahl, Ramia Mazé and Timo Rissanen in conversation

Nordes13 worskhop
Anna Rylander, Dagny Stuedahl, Ramia Mazé, Dagmar Steffen and Timo Rissanen in conversation

Although some of the dimensions (e.g. artifact vs experience, lab/studio vs. field) were a little stiff  to work with, they still offered a framework for exchange, and especially the plenary discussion led to some very interesting shared insights. Notions about expertise, and how to understand and work with the expertise of participants was one such topic, another interesting conversation addressed the roles, types and involvement of stakeholders, and the respective problems in having many stakeholders vs. working solo. The suggested dimensions also gave us a chance to reflect on the dimensions that were missing, such as the relation between subjectivity (so strongly present in design research) and objectivity (held up as the ideal in other traditions), and on given vs. emergent evaluation criteria.


For me, the most inspiring part was the discussion around our apparatus; the methods, theories, motors and representations etc that we use to investigate our field. It was Dagny Stuedahl who introduced the notion of apparatus, but unfortunately I did not catch the reference. Her emphasis on the processual qualities of the apparatus however made me think of the difference between a hammer and hammering (my mental image being the tool of the silversmith, not the carpenter) – that it is not just the tool, but how you use it, and that the affordance of the tool therefore also depends on the user.

Speaking to my colleague Sara today, I also realised how this again relates to Latour’s notion of the shared agency / the network of man-and-machine, and there is of course also the common saying that when you hold a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

The metaphor of the hammer is however quite different from the looking glass suggested by the representation in the photo, where the relation is between lens and sight, and lens and looking (and of course the subject matter is also part of the relation). The hammer much more strongly suggests that we make something or change our subject matter, whereas the looking glass helps us reflect on the bias and partiality of what we see, the perspective we get of our field.

A very interesting paper presented by Jung-Joo Lee on Wednesday also reflected on the use and understanding of methods, suggesting that more analytic attention should be directed to the making phase of methods, rather than simply reporting on the name and template of the method and the data generated. (Lee, Jung-Joo ‘Method Making as a Method of Designing’ in the online proceedings: I look forward to reading the paper in full, as I am very keen to get down to describing and reflecting on my own methodology developed in this project.

Jung-Joo Lee presenting at Nordes13

Jung-Joo Lee presenting at Nordes13 – summary slide

My final take away was another great paper by Dagny Stuedahl and Sarah Lowe, relating ‘Design Experiments with Social Media and Museum Content in the Context of the Distributed Museum’ (also in the proceedings).

Dagny Stuedahl presenting

Dagny Stuedahl presenting – introductory slide

Their small-scale experiments with mediating museum matter via Instagram, their theoretical framework of the distributed museum (referencing Bautista and Balsamo 2011 (MW paper), but also reminding me of Proctor 2011 (also MW)) and not least their understandings around the notions of translation, alignment, enrolment and circulation of references, moving from the museum domain into the public domain of Instagram were super interesting and very relevant for my own research. However, despite valuable insights derided from the experiments, Stuedahl could report that museum practice had not changed, and that the output was still an app, not at continous engament on Instagram. Too bad.

At last, its time for the Nordes13 conference, starting yesterday with a very stimulating doctoral consortium. I have been looking forward to this opportunity to meet with peers and learn from seniors doing design research for a long time, as I do feel very out of the loop, being the only one to take this approach at my institution.

It was therefore very inspiring and informative to hear about the other doctoral participants’ projects, and of course also very useful to get some critical, constructive feedback on my own paper and presentation. But to be honest, it also made me panic a bit.

My concerns about being an outlier, and not really grounded in design research, were not put to rest, rather I was reminded of all the things I don’t know. The ongoing discussions in the field, the assumptions behind the different approaches, the programs, tools and methods. I mean, I know the basics, but really I have just been building my own method from the ideas that inspired me. And although experimentation is welcome in this field, I suddenly felt that I lack the understanding and the guidance to be able to explain what it is that I have been doing, and criticizing and situating my own research within the design field, let alone transfering it to the field of museology.

So even though I had a general thumbs up to my approach, for instance in using a visual journal as a tool for research, I still find it hard to answer to/ specify exactly what I have done with it that makes it designerly, or research quality, and not simply a few pretty pages in a notebook. (I’ve started a draft for another post about the journal, because I’ve put off trying to explain it for so long, and I really need to start reflecting on it properly, so I won’t go into that here.)

No to self (from Joachim Halse)

No to self (from Joachim Halse)

As for the other comments, I really wish I had recorded the response I had, because I was too busy engaging in the conversation to take down  notes, and so I might lose some of the good points that were made.

One significant overall comment, from Lasse Hallnäs, was the assertion that my project/scope was very broad. I’m still trying to work out what to make of it, as it is not a criticism I’ve had before (when discussing my project with my supervisors or presenting in other settings). I actually thought that I had managed to narrow it down quite nicely (in general) as well as pitching this short paper and presentation to this particular context. Either way, I will have to consider whether my project really is to ambitious or unfocused, or whether it is my presentation of it that is too unclear, leading to misreadings of my actual intentions- or perhaps a combination of the two.

One contributory factor is perhaps that researchers in this field might place a greater emphasis on the design research aspects of the project, thus also expecting it to make up a more substantial part of the project than I envisage, seeing the design process mainly as a tool for thinking, a methodological approach, whilst the main interest of and contribution of the project lies in the field of museology. And yet, I have spent a significant part of my project this far trying to grasp and develop this methodology, so really maybe something else has to give if I am to ground this properly.

Another interesting comment related to my explanation of the process by way of the ‘hermeneutic spirograph’. Henrik Svarrer Larsen (himself using a super interesting figure of the interelation between space and matter to consider the dialectic of part and whole) thus pointed to the problem in placing theories, methods and actions, which are very diverse categories, on the same level, and suggested reworking the model to suggest concentric levels, seperating motors from matter. He also inquired about what was at the center – my model described a neat circle in the middle, making me aware that the spirograph design I had picked as a rough appropriation of my idea, was far to orderly and complete, and did not truly reflect the more erratic, irregular process that is really taking place. A handdrawn spirograph would be a better representation of this. Which helped me see, that although the object of study is not given as an entity at the outset, it is brought into being as well as explored by the process, in the juxtaposition and exploration of the various aspects.

Still, even with this kind of constructive and insightful response, I got this feeling of having set out to sea in a homemade dinghy, and now it was starting to leak… I also realized that I had to be proactive and do something to amend the situation (as well as snapping out of my misery). And fortunately, today gave me the opportunity to do just that.

For starters, learning from today’s paper presentations and project exhibition that this field is tremendously diverse, bringing together researchers from multiple traditions, and that my experimentations are extremely conservative when compared to, say, fungi prototyping or the provocative ‘Abort’n’Go’ device, gave me some peace of mind. Surely I too can situate my research in this field. And I won’t be alone in finding it hard to pin down what I’ve done and what it all means -it seems to be par for the course.

And then I had a good chat with Tau, my former lecturer from ITU, who is working to complete his own PhD research into design as a critical practice. As i relayed my concerns, he suggested that I spend a period as a visiting researcher at the school of design, and introduced me to Troels Degn, head of research at the school of design. He seemed positive to the idea, and saw various possibilities for connecting with both design researchers, fashion researchers and other research groups within their faculty. I will of course need to discuss this with my supervisors, but to me this seems like a very constructive prospect in terms of both mentorship and networking.

‘Sharing is Caring 12 – Let’s get real!’(1), held in December 2012, was the second in a series of international seminars about engaging the public with museums’ (digital) assets (2). Touching upon some of the hottest topics in museums, the event drew quite a crowd, and was a fine opportunity for networking and catching up, as well as for getting an update on current projects and ideas. Still, I had my reservations (3), this time exacerbated by the snappy, happy-clapping rhetorics of a title like ‘Sharing is Caring’, explicated in a rather evangelical blogpost on Formidlingsnet by last year’s keynote speaker Michael Edson; ‘A year of Sharing and Caring‘. He explains the notions thus:

sharing, as a deeply moral impulse to take the knowledge, beauty, and secrets that we know are there, locked within our organizations, and make them available to every person on earth and caring, as a manifestation of our collective duty to ensure that everyone in society has access to the full spectrum of ideas, experiences, and resources that they need to live happy and successful lives (4)

outlining “the next frontier of work: building equity and civic value through openness, transparency, generosity, and community” and stating that “What matters is millions and millions of citizens wrestling with big ideas, engaging in personal discovery, making new things, and sharing with one another.”(ibid.) It is hard to argue against these ideals, although they hardly answer to the second call of the seminar title: Let’s get real! There is an awful lot of buzzwords and hot air in this field. Also, zealous idealism can be pretty scary, and good intentions is not the same as indisputable truth. I therefore second Sarah Giersing’s concerns in a reply to Edson’s post:

I cannot help but feel a little scepticism. Something about the rhetoric, the title “Sharing is Caring” especially, simply rubs me the wrong way. To me “Sharing is Caring” has a certain ring of something selfrighteous to it, something patronizing even. To me it sounds a little like the optimistic name of some religious endeavour – or a humanitarian aid relief project – to save the world. Nothing wrong with philanthropism, but we might be wary of the missionary aspect. (ibid.)

For Giersing, the answer lies in also sharing the authority in defining what constitutes our cultural heritage. As project leader for Copenhagen Museum’s Væggen (5) she has been working to put this idea into practice for years, and gave a very inspiring presentation about the potential, but also the great challenges, in inviting users to contribute content and knowledge to museum collections (6). Her chief advice for others wanting to pursue a similar track was a) to not only ask for users to contribute content but also provide metadata, to ensure that institutions had information on the context and provenance of the collection item; b) to ask for uploads in a durable data format, with considerations not only for access speed, but also for technical quality and preservation; and c) to ensure appropriate data rights, i.e., that the contributor has the right to upload the content, and that the institution has the right to use it when part of the collection.

Museum ideals
Now I’m not sure just how far Giersing believes institutions should go in sharing authority, but for me, I think the relationship can never be completely equal, as I believe in the value and necessity of curatorial expertise. To use a perhaps dubious analogy, although millions of passionate football fans will be shouting instructions at their screens and have strong opinions about the game, the tactics and the players, I don’t really think that their beloved game would benefit from crowdsourced management. SImilarly, I think that high quality curation requires professionalism. I understand that there is also a postcolonial problematic in this stance; who has the right to assume authority over a shared heritage. Still, I  don’t see how it can be otherwise. Letting go completely, not letting interpretations be guided by the knowledge inherent in the institutions but starting from scratch sounds like futile chaos, and any staging of democratic dialogue will always involve some level of authority, someone deciding to invite that dialogue and how to use the output.

This is not to say that I believe museums should reign supreme, and I fully agree that museums could learn a lot from the public. Nevertheless, assuming authority – and praticing it wisely – is part of the custodial responsiblity. Although we have moved, or are moving away from the role of museums as shrines to the nation, modern-day museum ideals – post-, transparent, participartory, inclusive etc. (7) – are thus not all that different from the Bildung ideals of the museums of the enlightenment (8). Asking the public to participate, museums are still taking an educational role, still trying to build a certain kind of citizen, even if nowadays we are asking of that citizen to express their individual mind.

Which begs the question: Is expression neccessarily better than impression? Why is visiting an exhibition, having whatever experience we may have, understanding whatever we do, and making our own associations, deductions etc. no longer enough? When libraries are still happy to lend us books – old books, difficult books even – without an accompanying guide, how come museums feel that the experience of art or cultural artefacts must always be scaffolded?

India Art Now/ India Fashion Now: Challenge
Let me digress for a moment, to a brilliant exhibition I visited earlier this week; namely India: Art Now and India: Fashion Now at Arken Museum of Modern Art i Ishøj, DK (9). Both the artworks and the fashion exhibited were beautiful, humorous and thought provoking.

India:Fashion Now

Couture by Amit Aggarwal & Manish Arora, display view from India:Fashion Now


Rina Banerjee. “She was now…” 2011. Installation view at ARKEN

So I didn’t really need the to be told what to feel or what to think about, and therefore found the wall labels, meant to elicit afterthought and debate with questions like ‘Go exploring among the clusters of woven hair and hanging bumpers. What is the atmosphere of the room? What bodily sensations do the materials and the way they are used in the installation evoke in you?’ or ‘Imagine the human destinies interwoven in the painting. Do they live in hope, pain or joy? Is their world also yours?’, to be heavily didactic, patronizing and superfluous. Rather than aiding my understanding, they disturbed my perception, and evoked irritation more than anything else. So much so, that my companion and I ended up discussing whether this kind of mediation, which I would sooner expect as part of an educational material for school classes, is even right for that target group?


Wall text from the India:Art Now exhibition, relating to the India:Game Now app

Proctor (10) is right in stating that it’s not about the technology, it’s what we do with it, what we ask our visitors to do. Any technology can be used for any kind of mediation. But personally, I would prefer an openly authoritative introduction to contemporary Indian art to this kind of touchy-feely claptrap. Even if I miss a point or two.

The exhibition app, India: Game Now (11), was also a disappoinment. Content was limited, the challenges and questions were pretty daft, navigation was unclear, and the app did nothing to help us find the featured artworks in the exhibition. But worst of all, interaction with the app did not improve our understanding or appreciation of the exhibited works, the context or each other’s perceptions, which was also an aim of the game. If anything, the medium detracted from the experience, shifting the focus from artefacts to technology. Unsurprisingly, I regret to say – I have yet to have a mobile museum experience where this is not the case.

Participation with a purpose
Which is why I loved Shelley Bernstein‘s opening keynote at Sharing is Caring (12). Chief of Technology at Brooklyn Museum, Bernstein has developed and executed some of the most innovative – and succesful! – participatory museum projects of later years, such as the crowd-curated Click! exhibition (13) in 2008 and this year’s GO  – a community-curated open studio project (14). On the back of this, her words carry some weight. Interestingly, then, she describes herself as an anti-tech technologist, and, whilst employing social media as tools for participation, she emphasizes that it is a success when people abstain from using these tools when actually encountering art, in or outside the museum, as this takes away from the engagement.

Shelly Bernstein presenting at Sharing is Caring 12; photo from Twitter by @ninahviid

Shelly Bernstein presenting at Sharing is Caring 12; photo from Twitter by @ninahviid

Also, instead of catering to a ‘don’t make me think philosophy of usability, she insists on raising rather than lowering the barrier for participation, designing interfaces that require people to learn the tools, the sometimes lengthy process and their purpose before being able to take part. It is a deliberate move away from the Like-button model for easy interaction, as this requires and inspires no real engagement anyway:

The like button is easy, and while we don’t think participation in GO should be difficult, we do think we need to move away from the gold standard Facebook has forced upon us to something that’s more powerful and serves the needs of participants specifically taking part in this project.  Will everyone get beyond the like button during GO?  We sure hope so; participants may never register and might not pick up a mobile device, but if they find themselves in an artist’s studio on September 8-9, it’s likely they are already way beyond that ubiquitous little button, and in our minds, that is a success. (15)

At the end of the day, it’s not about social media, and focusing on those, as many museums (and businesses) do, hoping to get a cheap, quick and chic fix-it-all, too often muddles the vision which should be about content and true engagement.

Academic critique
Thus, while Jasper Visser, museum consultant and second key note speaker at Sharing is Caring (16), repeatedly stated that museums had no need for PhD’s and should rather employ selftaught innovators, this only confirmed my belief in the need for academic reflection on the development now taking place in museums, and for the discourse (and hot air) surrounding this evolution. Caring for museums, and thereby for the societies and communities that they serve, can also be sharing your insights regarding and concerns for what may be misguided beliefs in the power of people 2.0.


Note added on February 4th, 2013: In an editorial note in the latest issue of Museological Review, the peer reviewed journal from the Leicester University School of Museum Studies, Dr. Bernadette Lynch succinctly expresses the misgivings I was trying to pin down above: 

The utopian rhetoric of mutuality and shared authority in today’s museums, in reality, places a community member […] in the role of ‘supplicant’ or ‘beneficiary’. Museums and galleries continue to subtly maintain inequitable social relations by exercising invisible power, setting parameters that offer what Cornwall calls ‘empowerment-lite’ [*] Thus the image of the 21st century, democratic, dialogical museum simply does not match the rhetoric. Furthermore, by placing people in the position of beneficiaries, the museum continues to rob people of their active agency and the necessary possibility of resistance.[*] This would explain the anger of many participants who express frustration with these well-meaning institutions. (17)

(1); Videos of the presentations can be found on, and comments, posts and conversations can be found on Twitter under the hastag #sharecare12.
(2) See also the anthology Sharing is Caring, edited by Merete Sanderhof, Copenhagen: Statens Museum for Kunst 2014. Available to order or download from
(4) quotes in the following taken from
(7) cf. Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000): Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, London and New York: Routledge;
Marstine, J. (2011), ‘The contingent nature of the new museum ethics’ introduction to Marstine, J. (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics: Redefining ethics for the twenty-first-century museum, London & New York: Routledge;
Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0;
The Inclusive Museum annual conference and book series
(8) Kahr-Højland, A. & Quistgaard, N. (2009): ‘From ”scientists for a day” to ”critical citizens”: The emergence of a new paradigm within science centres and museums involving narratives, interactivity and mobile phones’, manuscript submitted for review in Museum Management and Curatorship. Article IV in Kahr-Højland’s PhD Thesis Læring er da ingen leg?: en undersøgelse af unges oplevelser i og erfaringer med en mobilfaciliteret fortælling i en naturfaglig kontekst. University of Southern Denmark.
(10) Proctor, N. (2011). Mobile guides in the rhizomic museum. In Katz, J. et al. (Eds.), Creativity and Technology: Social Media, Mobiles and Museums, Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc.
(12) Bernstein, S. (2014), ‘GO: Curating with the Brooklyn Community’ in Sanderhoff, M. (ed.) (2014), Sharing is Caring. Openness and sharing in the cultural heritage sector, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst
(15) Blogpost by Shelley Bernstein: ‘Getting Beyond the Like Button’
(16); cf Visser, J. (2014), ‘The future of museums is about attitude, not technology’ in Sanderhoff, M. (ed.) (2014), Sharing is CaringOpenness and sharing in the cultural heritage sector, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst
(17) Lynch, B. (2013) ‘Generally dissatisfied with the utopian museum’   Museological Review no. 17 – Museum Utopias Conference Issue ©  p iv
[*] Please find references in the original

Since my last post, I have been caught up in (or swallowed up by, more like)  teaching, assesing student papers and preparing for my research visit to the US. Starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now, luckily, and yes, it has been an interesting leaning process also, but the lack of progress in and focus on my own research has been frustrating.

Over the course of three days last week, however, I have been able to get back into my project and field in a most inspiring PhD course entitled ‘Research in the Museum Field’.

13 students in all, representing a great diverstiy of problem areas – from experience, learning and citizenship over digital mediation to art curatorship and more – have presented projects, shared insights and questions, and given critique to each other under the guidance of senior researchers in museology Vinnie Nørskov Larsen (Aarhus University), Janet Marstine (University of  Leicester) and Britta Brenna (University of Oslo).

I presented this paper on Design research into mobile museum mediation, laying out my research design and arguing for the potential of critical design to pose questions to museum discourse and practice.

Whilst before the ‘hiatus’ I was mostly preoccupied with questions of methodology and research design (and I know, I know, I need to get stuck in to the second part of my research cycle and start sketching/analysing concepts for mediation of fashion, but first I need to get through the last two weeks of teaching, and then…) I found that what inspires (or perhaps annoys) me right now is the museological problems that the design process should help me address.

Which sometimes makes me wonder if I’ve chosen a stupidly roundabout way to get to my destination, and whether I should just skip the design part and go straight for discourse analysis. Hmmm. And then again, methodological curiousity as well as a hunch that maybe my misgivings are nothing but fear because something interesting is a stake, which then becomes an even stronger incentive, means that I will persist with the design approach and see what comes of it. (Of course my concerns could also be justified and my decision to carry on seen as a form of cowardice or lack of imagination of other options, it’s all matter of interpretation).

Anyway, my ‘annoyance’ is with the (as I see it) dominant discourse of the participatory/inclusive museum; this demand for museums to convert non-users to users by means of educational initiatives, digital media, social events, bells and whistles, anything; by choice or by force. Because whilst I agree that the desire to share what you find to be essential, joyful and valuable is both noble and necessary, I also think that the discourse presents a singleminded (if well meaning) vision of the role of museums in society: one of museum as social agent. As put forth in a very interesting article by Élise Dubuc (2011): Museum and university mutations, also on the course reading list, this is only one of museum’s many functions in society.

(Naturally, being ‘annoyed’ does not count as an academic argument, and I will know to discuss the concepts and the problems I see stemming from these in a more thorough and nuanced way in my thesis. The thing is, I’m not ready to do that yet, still lacking the insights and concepts to do this, and so, for now, I describe my reservations as ‘annoyance’, partly for want of a better word, partly to confess my personal and emotional response, which, at the end of the day, will also affect my academic vision.)

In the context of this course ‘transparency’ became as central concept, as presented by Janet Marstine in a text as part of the course curriculum and in her opening keynote as well as in an evening workshop. So in this context too, the discourse of democratization of museums had the upper hand.

Again, I agree that transparency is essential to some museum work, but I will also hold that it should not necessarily be the central point of concern for all institutions. As Simon (2010) stresses with reference to Gurian, ‘the importance of ‘and’’ is a vital principle; that participation, inclusion, transparency etc. is one focus or approach out of many options, one tool for meeting user needs and museum objectives. In practice, however, resources are scarce, and as projects inclined towards these ideals are in line with governmental objectives and therefore attract more funding, the result is that other options do not get a look in. So much for ‘and’.

There’s more to this rant, and I will return to it in later posts – after all, posing questions to the impact of new media and related assumptions and discourses on museology and the museum are central to my thesis, so trying to get to grips with these dominant themes will be a large part of that. But for now, I’ll just stick to summing what I took away from the course.

First of all, discussing these issues with my peers was most rewarding, and confirmed the relevance of addressing these issues. And of course hearing about their research questions and considerations was most inspiring. Secondly, a visit to Museum Sønderjylland/Sønderborg Slot was a real delight, not least because of the impassioned presentation by museum director Inge Adriansen, who shed light on the intriguing local histor(ies) and reflected on how to be a museum in a borderland – a remarkable museum professional with great wit and an extraordinary knowledge.

But what really hit home with me was Britta Brenna’s after dinner presentation on the first evening. It centrered on the new challenge for museology and thus for budding museologists in reflecting on self-reflective museums, already practising the preachings of new museology. How, in this field, could academic museology ‘make museums jump’? What was left to critizise, and how? What tools could museology use that museums were not alredy applying, in order to produce new understandings that complement, rather than simply reproduce museum knowledge?

I heard my own intentions eccoed in this presentation, and found confirmation not only of the need for questioning the assumptions of user engagement and of digital media as instruments for this development in museums, but also a justification for trying to push the methodological approach, experimenting with new tools to produce new insights.

Refering to Latour’s ‘Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?’ (2004) (which is now on my reading list), Britta Brenna presented an understanding of critique as not necessarily being an act of deconstruction, but one of careful assemblage. Janet Marstine supplemented this notion reminding  that critique could be assume a position of generousity as well as one of antagonism. I like this notion, and will use it as a guideline, reminding me, that my critique can and should be to empower the museums; not to point fingers at the ambitions of inclusion, but as an argument for the necessity and validity of pursuing other ambitions as well.

This week, Desingmusem Danmark (DMD) announced that Realdania will fund a project exploring the potential for developing a museum for fashion and textiles within DMD. From the press release on : (See also article on the project on )

”Vi er meget begejstrede for, at Realdania har muliggjort en grundig og tilbundsgående undersøgelse af mulighederne for at åbne et mode- og tekstilmuseum. Designmuseum Danmark har med sin store tekstilsamling og med sit nyere modefokus – på forsknings- såvel som udstillingsområdet – et virkelig spændende potentiale for at udvikle en helt særlig platform, hvor udstillinger, forskning, events og brancheaktiviteter kan forenes. Et mode- og tekstilmuseum vil også vække stor interesse hos nye museumsbrugere og styrke kendskabet til mode og tekstil som en vigtig del af vores kulturarv”, siger museumsdirektør Anne-Louise Sommer.

“We are very excited that Realdania has made possible a thorough investigation into the possibilities of opening a museum for fashion and textiles. Designmuseum Denmark, with its considerable textile collection and the recent focus on fashion – in research as well as through exhibitions – has an exciting potential for developing a unique platform, where exhibitions, research, events and activities related to the fashion industry can be united. A museum for fashion and textiles would also attract the attention of a new museum audience and strengthen the appreciation of fashion and textiles as an important part of our cultural heritage” says museum director Anne-Louise Sommer.

Yesterday, I met with Marie Riegels Melchior, post doc fashion researcher at Designmuseum Denmark, to exchange updates and discuss the future of fashion at the museum. For her, the prospect of an actual museum for fashion and textiles would be the perfect fruition of the museum’s commitment to fashion as a focus area, securing public visibility and access, but also, and as importantly, making it possible to establish the museum as a hub for fashion research.

This aspect, the museum as a research institution and museum mediation as research communication, is key in Marie’s recommendations for the development of the fashion field within DMD, as based in her study on international fashion museums. (As the recommmendation part of the report is internal, I will have to ask director Anne-Louise Sommer if I can read it, and thus so far I can only refer to the knowledge I have from my meetings with Marie). Her vision is therefore that the museum would be able to attract funding and employ researchers for research projects on fashion.

She described how the rhetorics around the ‘five pillars of museum practice’ – the objective for museums to collect, register, preserve, research and mediate/communicate, as laid down in Museumsloven §2 and in accordance with ICOM’s museum definition, stating that museums acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibits natural and cultural heritage – has led to an understanding that this order of listing is also the ‘natural order’ of museum work, following the object from entry into the museum to public display. As she points out, however, this isn’t or shouldn’t necessarily be the way to understand and organize the work carried out by museums. Instead, the starting point should be research based, grounded in the exploration of relevant research questions. These could relate to the existing collection, or could lead to acquisition of new artefacts or data, but should first and foremost be motivated by a desire to better understand and promote the heritage that the institutions represent. (This dissection of the implications of the rhetorics, how a simple list order comes to define an understanding, really struck a note with me – must find out if this is Marie’s own interpretation or if there is another source I should quote on this).

This led to a discussion on the woes and virtues of new museology – again often described or understood (by me, too) as a shift in focus from one end of the spectrum or process, the collection, to the other, the exhibition and its audience, but missing out that crucial middle, the research, reducing exhibitions to popularist consumer events in the experience economy, at worst.

This gave me a chance to vent one of my pet rants of the moment, on a potentially problematic tendency that occured to me as I was preparing an abstract for a seminar and paper on museum research, namely the dominance of social science methodology in current (Danish) museum research (see recent report from Dansk Center for Museumsforskning). In my opinion, this demand for meassurable (also if qualitative) empirical data, and that whole research tradition and way of thinking is both a result of but also a contributor to the heavy focus on user’s experiences and motivations, that sort of becomes a self-feeding mechanism, and fails to adress the humanist questions that should still be at the core of museology. As indicated, this notion is still at rant stage, an irritant, but one I am curious to explore further in the writing of the paper for the seminar. And, of course, my own preference for and grounding in the humanities also affects my thinking on this point.

According to Marie, the tradition for not only research into museums but research in museums is particularly strong in the anglo-saxon world, where especially the large institutions like V&A and the Met are staffed to a large extent by scholars, and thus are able to present exhibitions that represent original research as well as offering sensational aesthetic experiences. Of course, they have the funding to do so, still, the dedication to spend same funding on academic research is essential.

I really like this emphasis on the museum as research institution and mediation as research communication, and I would like to build this into my project. Although in some ways my starting point in the exploration for the use-potential of mobile and social media for museum mediation, the outset in platforms and use, places me way out on the mediation and user focus end of the scale, my research interest, as described in my vlog presentation, is really more about the implications of the user focus and new media for museums and museology. As one of the senior researchers asked me to confirm yesterday after my presentation, I’m sort of aiming for a discourse analysis, albeit in a roundabout way, as I believe that adressing these issues via design will produce a new perspective.
Particularly my inspiration from critical design may help me push this aspect, as it allows me to explore concepts for mediation that are grounded in research or aim to communicate research perspectives.

As it happened, yesterdays lecture at the museum – I currently follow an open university lecture series on fashion at DMD, partly to get an insight into current fashion research, partly to see how the museum, and others, present their field to the general public – was a presentation by Maria McKinney Valentin of her research into trend theory. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome theory as a basis for understanding the nature of trends, she introduced five perspectives on the mechanisms behind the visual manifestations of trends: social mechanisms (trickle up, down and across, social capital and communities of taste); neomania, as described by Barthes, and the postmodern supermarket of style; the market drive; Zeitgeist reflections, and finally seduction in its varying permutations. Choosing ‘homeless chic’ as an example case, she provoked some exasperated responses from the audience (around 20 mainly 50+ women, unsurprisingly), who were clearly basing their criticism (of the look, not the lecture) in personal experience and taste, and not willing or able to take a helicopter perspective on the overall field.

(Whilst this is probably to be expected in an open university course, these ladies are not alone in sticking to the personal perspective, as this brilliant piece by Fiona Duncan How to Write About Dressing Well: The Truth About Fashion Criticism – a call for fashion journalists and -academics to take their field seriously and produce writing on a par with that representing other cultural fields – points out. I digress, but there are some good points in the article that are worth looking into. Note to self).

Finishing up, Maria McKinney-Valentin said that her ambition for the lecture was that it might enable us to see the trends that we encounter on the street in a new light, to use the tools and perspectives she presented us with to dissect the visual manifestations of trends and understand the underlying mechanisms that drive them.

Now, I don’t know how to turn this into a mobile mediation concept. Yet. But it is exactly this kind of thing that I was/am hoping to find a way of doing – providing a lens (or prism, the image that Maria used in her presentation) for seeing fashion in a new light, or x-rayed, in context. And so the link to or outset in research is suddenly the obvious starting point.

Just presented my project to my institute. In preparation, I decided to do a video of the presentation rather than try to write about it, as it is centered around this diagram of my research field and research design, and therefore works better in visual form. Capturing how I see and present my project at this stage will also be useful later on, as I can compare the future development and findings to my preconceptions and outset.