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Critical Museology

Since beginning my work in museums in 1985, I have continually felt jolted and delighted by these strange startling, anachronistic and unique institutions and by the motivations of the collectors, artists, scholars and descendant communities who make them possible.

2016-01-05 Anthony - Olympus - Import Ja
2016-01-05 Anthony - Olympus - Import Ja
2016-01-05 Anthony - Olympus - Import Ja
2016-01-05 Anthony - Olympus - Import Ja
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Picture 552.jpg



In the mid 1980s, when I began working in museums, there were only a few analytical books on museology, Robert Lumley's The Museum Time Machine, along with Peter Vergo’s The New Museology, and Michael Ames Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes, were the only ones, I was then aware of. Eduardo Paolozzi’s Lost Magic Kingdoms exhibition (1985) at the Museum of Mankind made plain the arbitrary nature of museum classifications and drew my interest to better understanding how and why museums worked, what they do, the imaginaries at their centre, and how they are related to memory, forgetting and political ideology. I gave my first paper on museums, Lautréamont in the House of Fictions, at Brian Durrans' international conference, Making Representations of Ourselves in around 1986. Since then, I have written more than fifty articles on museums and articulated a methodological program for what I call critical museology in my 2013 article, Critical Museology. A Manifesto and in the entry under Critical Museology in the 2020 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  


In 2017, with Gwyneira Isaac and Diana Marsh, I helped organize the first World Museologies Workshop, hosted by the Universidad IberoAmerica in Mexico City on the subject of Museums and Migrations. This was followed by a second workshop in 2019 co-organized with Laura Osorio and Motoi Suzuki at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka on Exhibitions and Interruptions. The third workshop planned in 2019 for 2020 but interrupted by the world pandemic was to focus on museums and extinction. This will now be rescheduled for 2021. The World Museologies Workshops are small gatherings of about 20 museologists and museum practitioners from different parts of the world intended to promote dialogues between Anglophone and other schools of museology which have until now largely been ignored by English speakers. One of my chief interests has been in German, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Brazilian schools of museology, which have been included in my taught courses since 2004.

  • 2001 Unsettling the Meaning. Critical Museology, Art and Anthropological Discourse. In M. Bouquet (ed.),

  • 2001. Academic Anthropology and the Museum. Back to the Future. New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books: 142-161. (First published in Focaal, 1999.)

  • 2017 Change is Life. Roundup (magazine of the British Columbia Museums Association). Winter 267: 9-10.


  • 2016 European Ethnography and World Culture Museums. Museumskunde 81(1): 20-27.


  • 2014 Re-totalizing Culture: Breathing the Intangible into Museum Practice. Ethnologies, Vol. 36-1-2: 207-234.


  • 2013 Critical Museology: A Manifesto. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, Vol. 1 (2013): 7-23.


  • 2011 From Anthropology to Critical Museology and Vice Versa. Museo y Territorio (4): 30-41.


  • 2011 Multiplex Babel. In Museum X. Zur Neuvermessung einer mehrdimensionalen Raumes. Berlin, Panama (201): 143-153.


  • 2011 The Museum as Multiversity: Repositioning Museums in the Second Museum Age. Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, 7(4): 393-395.


  • 2009 The Public Sphere as Wilderness: Le Musée du quai Branly. Museum Anthropology 23(1): 1-16.


  • 2008 The Skeptical Curator: Reflections on Nuno Porto’s ‘Offshore’. Museum Management and Curatorship 23(3): 209-212.


  • 2008 Reply: The Curator as Witness. Museum Management and Curatorship 23(3): 225-228.


  • 2007 Questioning Locality: UBC Museum of Anthropology and its Hinterlands. Ethnographica 11(2): 387-406.


  • 2007 ‘Intellige ut credas:’ The First Canada-China Cultural Exchange Mission. Muse 25 (2): 12-15.


  • 2001 Museums in an Age of Cultural Hybridity. Folk. Journal of the Danish Ethnographic Society 43: 221-49.


  • 1998 (with N. Levell) Text, Illustration and Reverie: Thoughts on Museums, Education and New Technologies. Journal of Museum Ethnography (10): 15-34.


  • 1997 The Future of Museum Ethnography. Journal of Museum Ethnography (9): 33-48.


  • 1997 My Others’ Others Other: The Limits of Museum Ethnography. Antropologia Portuguesa (14): 37-62.


  • The Dutch Connection. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford IX (2): 143-148.


  • Volosinov on the Ideology of Inversion. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford IX (3):191-195.


  • Editor) Introduction: Object Realities, Museums and Changing Perspectives of Culture. Cultural Dynamics 7(1): 5-14.


  • Re-presenting Non-Western Art and Ethnography at Brighton. The Royal Pavilion and Museums Review (1):1-14.


  • The Recontextualisation of Culture in UK Museums. Anthropology Today 8(5): 11-16.



  • Theoretical Hegemony and the Marxist Signified. Cultures et Developpment: Revue Internationale de sciences du developpement XI (1):117-126.



  • Time, Fictions and Heterotopias. The Critical Museology of Fernando Estévez González. In M. Henríquez and M. de Santa Ana (eds.), Fernando Estévez Museopatías. Madrid, Fundación César Manrique. Pp. 15-49 (Spanish) 209-240 (English)


  • Baroque Modernity. Critique and Indigenous Epistemologies in Museum Representations of the Andes and the Amazon. In P. Schorch and C. McCarthy (eds.), Curotopia: Museums and the Future of Curatorship. Manchester University Press. Pp. 124 - 142.


  • Heterodoxy, and the Internationalization and Regionalization of Museums and Museologies: A Foreword. In T. Laely, M. Meyer, and R. Schwere (eds.). Museum Cooperation Between Africa and Europe. A New Field for Museum Studies. Bielefeld: Transcript & Kampala: Fountain Publishers. Pp. xv – xx




  • Museums and Culture. In P. Nemetz, P. Tortell and M. Young (eds.), Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years. Vancouver, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC: 145-150.



  • Museum Practice and Mediation: An Afterword. In C. McCarthy (ed.), The International Handbooks of Museum Studies. London and New York, Routledge. 27:613–634.


  • From Theory to Practice: Redrawing Museumscapes. In G. Yong Lee, S. Yeon Gim, E. Jung Park and S. Woo Nam (eds.), Towards a Newer Silk Road (International Workshop Book for Developing Exhibition Contents), Gwangiu, Asian Culture Complex.


  • Museums and Museum Displays. In C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kuechler, M. Rowlands and P. Spyer (eds.), Handbook of Material Culture. London, Sage: 480-499.


  • Museums and Anthropologies. Practices and Narratives. In S. Macdonald (ed.), A Companion to Museum Studies. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing: 64-80.


  • Museum Ethnography. An Imperial Science. In E. Hallam and B. Street (eds.), Cultural Encounters. Representing Otherness. New York and London, Routledge: 155-193.


  • Dispossessed Histories: Mexican Museums and the Institutionalisation of the Past. In A. Shelton (ed.), Museums and Changing Perspectives of Culture. Cultural Dynamics 7(1): 69-100.


  • In the Lair of the Monkey: Notes Towards a Post-Modernist Museography. In S. Pearce (ed.), Objects of Knowledge. London, Athlone: 78-102.


  • Unsettling the Meaning. Critical Museology, Art and Anthropological Discourse. Focaal. Tijdschrift voor antropologie (34): 143-161. (Republished in M. Bouquet (ed.), 2001.)


  • Foreword. In S. R. Butler, Contested Representations: Revisiting Into the Heart of Africa. Toronto, Broadview Press: 1-3.


  • (Exhibition Review) Angola a preto y branco. Fotografia e ciencia no Museu do Dundo 1940-1970. Journal of Museum Ethnography (12): 161-164.


  • (Exhibition Review) Images of Other Cultures. Journal of Museum Ethnography (11): 144-147.


  • Gwyneira Isaac, Diana Marsh, Laura Osorio Sunnucks and Anthony Alan Shelton. Borders and Interruptions. Museums in the Age of Global Mobility. Museum Worlds. Advances in Research 7: 182-199


  • Osorio Sunnucks, Laura, Nicola Levell, Anthony Shelton, Motoi Suzuki, Gwyneira Isaac, and Diana E. Marsh. "Interruptions: Challenges and Innovations in Exhibition-Making". Museum Worlds 8.1 (2020): 168-187. <>. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.


  • Museums and the Anthropological Imagination. Positioning the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka on its Fortieth Anniversary. Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 43, 1: 81-112.


  • Anthropology, Reconciliation, and Collaborative Methodologies. MINPAKU Anthropology Newsletter. 46: 1-3.


  • Ritual Process of Repatriation: A Discussion. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, Vol. 5 (2017): 88-94.


  • Museum Policy and the Arts in Canada. Muse Magazine. September/October: 45-51

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