Museums and the visually impaired: the spatial politics of access

Hetherington, Kevin (2000). Museums and the visually impaired: the spatial politics of access. Sociological Review, 48(3) pp. 444–463.



Based on a study of 36 museums in London and the South East of England, the paper offers a deconstructive reading of `access' and its spatial practices by analysing their responses to the visually impaired visitor. Within any discursive space we find aporial, non‐discursive moments that introduce ambivalence into an otherwise seemingly ordered and known arrangement. Such forms of presence have been described, amongst other things, under the heading of the figural (Lyotard). In the discursive space of the museum, a space of seeing and conservation, the visually impaired visitor figure tacks its way into the museum as such a figure that we can call (after Mark C. Taylor) an underdetermined not. Through such a figure we can consider the (dis)ordering effects that this ambivalent form of presence can have. The study reveals how such a figure not only introduces a problem of access but is also mobilised by the museum so that access can be addressed as a museum issue. Museums have changed from previously being indifferent to dis/ability needs to now existing in a state of being in‐difference with them. This idea reveals the way in which museums shift the (often haptic) challenge that such a figure makes to the (scopic) signifiers of the museum by responding to them through the less troublesome regimes of what is signified. Access in this case is neither granted nor denied but endlessly deferred.

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