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About this book
About this book
By tracking the history of a particular exhibition at this London museum, Macdonald reveals the world of the curator and shows in detail how exhibitions are created and they affect public culture.
Sharon Macdonald, Social Anthropology, University of Manchester
293 pages, B/w photos, figs, tabs
'Macdonald's study makes an important contribution to the literature because it brings the communication circuit full circle ... this book is a welcome addition to the field, and a fascinating window into the rarely seen institutional workings of museums.'Science Education'Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum is a powerful ethnographic analysis of a major science exhibition that interrogates museum practices and applies the tools of social anthropology and organizational analysis to understanding the choices and constraints involved in the making of exhibits. Despite many calls for ethnographies of museums and cultural displays, Macdonald is among the very first to show how the complex process of exhibit making is truly contested terrain. Her account of audience response is among the most sophisticated available.'Ivan Karp , Emory UniversityStudies of culture and media have often stressed the gap between authorial intentions and audience experiences, but have rarely given this claim any empirical substance. Sharon Macdonald's exemplary ethnography does this and much more; capturing wonderfully the state of key cultural and scientific institution at a critical moment of organizational innovation and political uncertainty.'Andrew Barry, Goldsmiths College'Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum is a beautifully rendered ethnographic account of late twentieth century public culture. Macdonald describes the deep personal and institutional tensions that characterised the working lives of a group of contemporary museum professionals - the choices, compromises contradictions, passions and struggles that arose in the creation of a new gallery. It is an intimate and revealing account that in the best ethnographic tradition opens up far more than the workings of a well-loved public institution. For what we find behind the scenes at the Science Museum are fundamental debates about contemporary and cultural issues - about science and society; about organisational change, accountability and expertise; about the negotiation of knowledge, identity and power. The book brilliantly exemplifies how it is that ethnography can recover and present the complexity of cultural processes while remaining totally clear and accessible.'Professor Penny Harvey, University of Manchester 'Sharon Macdonald's is the first to...and deserves high praise for setting a template for a new kind of museum research that pays adequate attention to the kind of complexities of cultural prduction and consumption...This book is an important contribution to the debate on the authorship of cultural products, and on agency...Sharon Macdonald has produced a book that is ground breaking in terms of analysis of museums, and she has demonstrated a new, more subtle approach to understanding how culture is produced and consumed in the museum medium. She has also raised important issues about authorship, agency and meaning which will have wider repercussions.'Sociological Review'This is a story of details, and is of such texture that here I can only say that it is revealing, persuasive, and written very well...Macdonald draws interesting analytical points from this tale, including a sustained criticism of the consumerist model. Moreover, she tells the tale in an intriguing and enjoyable way: this is the rare anthropological book that you can read in a single sitting, and do so with pleasure.'JRAI