Positionalities and Identities in the Museum – Our Path Towards a More Personal and Reflexive Institutional Praxis (GER)

Museums are often perceived as objective, neutral places (Gesser et al. 2020). By means of what is preserved and exhibited, as well as which objects, knowledge and narratives are excluded, they contribute significantly to the dominant memory practices and the perception of individuals and communities, along with their respective identities. The imaginary objectivity is not usually questioned by museum staff, nor is it challenged in research projects that view the institution as a single entity rather than a ‘peopled’ one (Boersma 2023; Morse et al. 2018). Accordingly, the positionalities of practitioners are hardly reflected as part of museum praxis. Our presentation puts the critical reflection of our own positionalities at the centre. We first engage with the notion of identity, and distinguish the various identities negotiated within the museum: a narrative identity, which surfaces in exhibitions; an institutional one, which becomes visible in work processes and practices; a professional one, which touches upon the staff’s sense of self as an employee; and, a personal one, which emerges from our individual biography. Though often left undiscussed, the resonance of our own positionalities shapes our relationships with other people and frames our perspectives. Following the discussion of our positionalities and placing it within the context of our working environment, we reflect on the institution’s signifying structures. These include the museum collections, traditional curatorial practices and ways of working, institutional frameworks, and (the attribution of) knowledge and expertise. By addressing our own identities, our position and role within an institution and in relation to the existing structures, we deconstruct the idea of the museum’s supposed objectivity. Within the museum, different actors have the power and the possibilities to shape, define and exclude identities. We urge for this to be both recognised and negotiated as part of exhibition development, as well as made visible within exhibitions. It is with this in mind that we would like to put positionality and subjectivity up for discussion, thus inviting museum practitioners to consider institutional practice as a personal practice as well- this might be the only way for museums to become polyphonic, subjective and relational spaces.