Civic laboratories: museums, cultural objecthood, and the governance of the social

Bennett, Tony (2005). Civic laboratories: museums, cultural objecthood, and the governance of the social. Cultural Studies, 19(5) pp. 521–547.



This paper examines the extent to which the perspectives of science studies and actor-network theory can be combined with those of post-Foucauldian governmentality theory to understand the processes through which cultural institutions fabricate distinctive entities and bring these to bear on the governance of the social. The argument is developed by considering the respects in which the procedures of museums and the distinctive forms of cultural objecthood these give rise to can be illuminated by comparing them to laboratories. This prepares the way for an examination of the ways in which such forms of objecthood have been mobilized in programmes of social and civic governance both within museums and outside them, paying due attention to the differences between their functioning in these regards in the context of liberal forms of government and more directive forms of role. These general arguments are then illustrated with reference to contemporary debates focused on the refashioning of museums as instruments of cultural diversity. The paper concludes by reviewing the respects in which the perspectives it develops suggest the need to question the analytical effects of the extended concept of culture that has underlain the development of cultural studies and contemporary sociological understandings of culture.

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