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Decentring the Museum: Examining Young People’s Perceptions and Experiences from a Sociocultural Perspective

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posted on 06.12.2019, 10:33 by Laurence Brasseur
The relationship between young people and museums has been a topic of discussion since the late 1970s. Many developments have been observed in this respect, yet some museums still find it challenging to engage with young people. Furthermore, the debate surrounding this relationship is often underpinned by unhelpful generalisations about young people that impede thinking and practice; for example, that young people lack interest in museums or find them boring. Previous research has principally investigated the subject through an ‘education and learning’ lens and from a perspective that takes museums as the starting point. This thesis aims to enrich our understanding by taking a sociocultural perspective and by centring the focus on young people. The thesis, therefore, actively seeks to decentre the museum: theoretically, by using an interdisciplinary framework; and practically, by conducting fieldwork outside museums. Through a qualitative approach, this study places young people’s experiences and perceptions of museums in a wider social and cultural context. Focus groups were conducted with young people aged 12–21 in youth clubs in Luxembourg. This thesis reveals the complex and nuanced ways in which the focus-group participants think about museums in relation to their everyday lives. It also highlights the tensions and ambivalence underlying their perceptions and experiences. Furthermore, the study shows that the power inequalities that young people face in social life are likely to be perpetuated in the museum. Indeed, the participants’ experiences of museums are shaped, in large part, by lack of individual choice. Visits that are enforced by facilitators, such as the school and the family, can create barriers to engagement. This thesis makes the case that it is important for museums and facilitators to acknowledge the diversity of young people, hear and value their points of view, and respect their autonomy and freedom of choice.



Richard Sandell; Lisanne Gibson

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School of Museum Studies

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University of Leicester

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