Museums and the ‘Death of Experience’: singularity, interiority and the outside

Hetherington, Kevin (2014). Museums and the ‘Death of Experience’: singularity, interiority and the outside. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 20(1) pp. 72–85.



This paper discusses a number of well-known critiques of the museum that seek to identify it as a problematic space for experience. The key argument put forward is that we can find within that analysis a critical geography around the museum that help us to understand the work that it does in relation to experience. Three spatial motifs are drawn from this analysis and discussed: the singular, the interior and the outside. The paper argues that museums since the nineteenth century have established a topos for experience based on a mimetic realism around the experience of both culture and history through the first two of these spatial expressions. Through them museums produces a fabulation of culture and history that supplements for the lack of topos for experience found within modern society as a whole. The latter spatiality – that of the outside – is found in the form of the absent–presence of the event in relation to the archiving principle of the museum, thereby continually unsettling the first two expressions and calling them into question. This dynamic reveals the museum as a space to critically think about what it does with experience and the importance of spatial analysis for that.

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