Making Fun of the Museum: Multidisciplinarity, Holism, and 'The Return of Curiosity'

Ruth Phillips


Museums are curious institutions in two senses, one arising from the eccentricities and peculiarities of their histories, and the other from their ongoing desire to display, provoke, and satisfy their visitors' curiosity about the world in which they live. As the critical literature has shown, we can think about Western museums as material deposits of the different forms curiosity has taken in the course of four centuries of European imperial expansion and colonial domination - as sites where the properties of things could be disciplined according to Western knowledge structures and deployed to create a comprehensive picture of the world. Although this consciousness has shaken the foundations of museums and dislodged the collections they hold, their value as places where colonial legacies can be negotiatied and shared concerns addressed remains compelling. Responding to Nicholas Thomas's The Return of Curiosity, to Actor-Network-Theory's insistence on connecting disciplinary knowledges, and to Indigenous reaffirmations of holistic knowledge formation, this article explores a range of recent museum projects that invoke curiosity to transgress the museum's modern disciplinary boundaries.


Curiosity, Wonder, Multidisciplinary Museums

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Copyright (c) 2019 Ruth Phillips

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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