Museums and Festivals: Notes on the Poetics and Politics of Representation Conference, The Smithsonian Institution, September 26–28, 1988, Ivan Karp and Steven Levine, Organizers

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Essay Excerpt

Museums have been a major medium of anthropological expression. It is extraordinary that for so many of us they should have fallen into becoming object cemeteries or archives, rather than places of interactive theatrical mitate-like citation-creation, where cultural theory is generated (not just invoked on labels); where alternative cultural constructions of objects, performances, concepts, gazes, phenomenologies, and experiences are put into play; and where thereby critical analytic skills are teased into life, comparative imagination is sparked, and social forces under pinning meaning construction are brought into consideration. Museums are platforms of symbolic politics as well as pedagogical arenas on individual, school class, and civic scales; they, like the liberal arts curriculum, have not kept pace with the dramatic transformations in the political economy of cultures in the United States and globally. They can provide settings for experimentation with the liberal arts curriculum and with techniques of education. The Smithsonian Conference on Poetics and Politics of Representation was, and will continue to be through the published papers, a provocative interdisciplinary initiative in the emerging debate about the role and techniques of museums, of anthropology, and of general education. Above all, as an event itself it was remarkable for its interaction (including increasingly intellectually) between practitioners and academics, and among the latter between art historians, literary critics, folklorists, performance analysts, historians, and anthropologists. (Fischer, 221)

About the Author

Michael Fischer is a Professor of Anthropology at MIT. He trained in geography and philosophy at Johns Hopkins, social anthropology and philosophy at the London School of Economics, anthropology at the University of Chicago. Before joining the MIT faculty, he served as Director of the Center for Cultural Studies at Rice. He conducts fieldwork in the Caribbean, Middle East, South and Southeast Asia on the anthropology of biosciences, media circuits, and emergent forms of life. 

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