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Museums and the Public Sphere

ISBN: 978-1-4051-7383-4
208 pages
October 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Museums and the Public Sphere (1405173831) cover image


Museums and the Public Sphere investigates the role of museums around the world as sites of democratic public space.
  • Explores the role of museums around the world as sites of public discourse and democracy
  • Examines the changing idea of the museum in relation to other public sites and spaces, including community cultural centers, public halls and the internet
  • Offers a sophisticated portrait of the public, and how it is realized, invoked, and understood in the museum context
  • Offers relevant case studies and discussions of how museums can engage with their publics' in more complex, productive ways
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Table of Contents

List of Images vii

Introduction 1

1 The Public Sphere 15

2 Historical Discourses of the Museum 45

3 The Museum as Public Space 81

4 Audience, Community, and Public 118

5 The Museum as Public Intellectual 143

Conclusion 164

References 175

Acknowledgments 191

Index 193

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Author Information

Jennifer Barrett is the Director of Museum Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, and currently collaborates with the University of Hong Kong on a museum studies program to support developments in their museum sector. She is the editor, with Caroline Butler-Bowdon, of Debating the City: An Anthology (2001).
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"[Barrett]constructs a framework within which it is possible to both confront some startling realities about the gap between museums' purported ‘public' role and their efficacy and relevance in the ‘public sphere', and consider initiatives that might rectify this situation." (Visitor Studies Journal, 9 March 2012)


“An elegant application of Habermas’ theory of the public sphere to museums, this book adds greatly to our understanding of the nature of public museums. The focus on the importance of spaciality and vision in the history of museums and public spaces is particularly enlightening.”   Andrea Witcomb, Deakin University

“Barrett tackles head on the assumption that the museum is a public institution. She artfully unravels the many publics of contemporary museum talk  – public space, public culture, public intellectual, public sphere. At last museum scholars and practitioners have a book that gives these terms historical specificity and theoretical precision. Museums and the public sphere is must read for any one who believes in museums, their relevance and their future.” Jane M. Jacobs, University of Edinburgh

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