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Museum Politics

Power Plays at the Exhibition

2002
Author:

Timothy W. Luke

Museum Politics

The first sustained critique of the ways museum exhibits shape cultural assumptions and political values

In this important volume, Timothy W. Luke explores museums’s power to shape collective values and social understandings, and argues persuasively that museum exhibitions have a profound effect on the body politic. Through discussions of topics ranging from how the National Holocaust Museum and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles have interpreted the Holocaust to the ways in which the American Museum of Natural History, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum have depicted the natural world, Luke exposes the processes through which museums challenge but more often affirm key cultural and social realities.

Museum Politics is an extraordinary account of the ways in which American museums are both instruments of symbolic politics and express the ideological trends and contradictions of the present moment. Luke's analyses of the intersection of culture, politics, and technology in museums and with reference to the so-called culture wars will be essential reading for anyone interested in how cultural institutions shape and express identity, and why they have become such important aspects of political contests.

Ivan Karp, Emory University

Each year the more than seven thousand museums in the United States attract more attendees than either movies or sports. Yet until recently, museums have escaped serious political analysis. The past decade, however, has witnessed a series of unusually acrimonious debates about the social, political, and moral implications of museum exhibitions as varied as the Enola Gay display at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In this important volume, Timothy W. Luke explores museums’s power to shape collective values and social understandings, and argues persuasively that museum exhibitions have a profound effect on the body politic. Through discussions of topics ranging from how the National Holocaust Museum and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles have interpreted the Holocaust to the ways in which the American Museum of Natural History, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum have depicted the natural world, Luke exposes the processes through which museums challenge but more often affirm key cultural and social realities.

Museum Politics

Timothy W. Luke is University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Museum Politics

Museum Politics is a valuable tour guide to America’s museum complex, a concatenation of national, regional, and local institutions animated and informed by norms of power and entertainment. Luke’s book is more than an exposé of museum cultures—whether they deal with history, politics, nature, technology, or some combination of all four—it is also a contribution to political theory as an enterprise.

Perspectives on Politics

From his vantage point as a political scientist, Timothy Luke sees insufficient attention being paid to museums as sites of strategic rhetorical activity. The author’s approach to the study of museums explores the normative and ethical dimensions behind the design and preparation of museum displays, and how, once established, such displays can produce their own normative effects and ethical agendas.

Rhetoric and Public Affairs

Museum Politics is an extraordinary account of the ways in which American museums are both instruments of symbolic politics and express the ideological trends and contradictions of the present moment. Luke's analyses of the intersection of culture, politics, and technology in museums and with reference to the so-called culture wars will be essential reading for anyone interested in how cultural institutions shape and express identity, and why they have become such important aspects of political contests.

Ivan Karp, Emory University

Museum Politics paints a vivid picture of politically significant emphases and omissions in so many American museums.

Sharon MacDonald, University of Sheffield

Museum Politics paints a vivid picture of politically significant emphases and omissions in so many American museums. Luke shows us that even exhibitions about apparently ‘nonpolitical’ subjects, such as botany or Japanese art, entail politically significant selections and inflections. This is important. In doing so, Luke achieves his ambition of showing us that museums matter. They matter politically and should matter more to political scientists.

Political Communication