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Capturing time – Museum collections and social transformations
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research.
2013 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Museum collections are an alternate space where time is constructed according to institutional practices and beliefs. So, how can the concept of time be used as an analytic tool to locate how institutions account for, and deal with, social transformations? In this paper I refer to time not as clock-time but as a social practice where groups negotiate and create time. Time, according to Munn (1992: 93), is a theoretical examination of a basic socio-cultural process in which temporality is constructed. Munn (1986: 11-13, 1992: 104) and Giddens (1984: 133) suggest that agents are not merely ‘in’ time and space, but create that time and space by following time-space paths. Agents are active participants who negotiate and renegotiate and create time in the form of relations between themselves and temporal reference points that are also spatial. I suggest that collections are ways to create time. Furthermore I hold that agents, curators, are creating time when collecting material culture. They are creating the time that they are ‘in’ as well as the time that has passed (Rodéhn 2008). I follow Fabian (1983: 20, 41) that holds that material culture helps concretize time as it encapsulates social systems. Therefore I hold that collection is about capturing and materializing time in sequences, spatialising it and making it comprehensible (Rodéhn 2008). Collections can, thus, be seen as a time-line or as a ‘time-reckoning’ which Munn (1992: 103) described as a way to visualise time with help of cultural categories. I will discuss a museum collection in South Africa in order to make visual how heritage institutions create time. I will give examples from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum (Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) established in 1905. The purpose is to acknowledge that museum collections are important for the understanding how people relate to and negotiate time and changing political and social circumstances. The KwaZulu-Natal Museum is a good example as South African has experienced several socio-political changes during the time that the collection existed. Over the years the museum amassed material to account for colonialism, apartheid and democratization. Thus investigating the collection over a long period of time can reveal how time is constructed in the museum and how it related to time outside the museum. I argue that collections are attempts to materialize socio-political occurrence and lock and compress time in sequences of artifacts. Collections elucidate how museums understand socio-political occurrences and what curators chose to recall as important for doing ‘time- reckoning’ Each museums has an individual ‘time-reckoning’ but it is connected to larger political and academic discourses. Museums’ ‘time-reckoning’ is not linear and cannot be accounted for beforehand. Collections fluctuate, patterns of material stop, are repeated and are affected by socio-political changes. Collections are thus an alternate space-time. It is an institutionalized social construct of how time is socially understood, accounted for, and made spatial (Rodéhn 2008). I argue that when societies are experiencing social transformations the museum’s time-reckoning is brought in to contention. This often appears as material confusions where the past and the present are used and rejected at the same time (Rodéhn 2008). Investigating museum collections as institutionalized ways of doing ‘time-reckoning’ reveals how museums and curators deal social transformations, how they create the time that they are ‘in’, and what consequences this may have for the understanding of the past. References Fabian, J. 1983. Time and the other. How anthropology makes its object. Columbia University Press: New York. Giddens, A. 1984. The constitution of society. Outline of the theory of structuration. Polity Press: Cambridge. Munn, ND. 1986. The Fame of Gawa. A symbolic study of value transformation in Massim (Papua New Guinea Society). Cambridge University Press: Cambridge Munn, ND. 1992. The Cultural Anthropology of Time: A Critical Essay. Annual Review Anthropology. 21: 93-123. Rodéhn, C. 2008. Lost in Transformation. A critical study of two South African museums. PhD. Dissertation University of KwaZulu-Natal. Pietermaritzburg.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
museum, collections, South Africa, social transformation
National Category
Other Humanities not elsewhere specified
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-214397OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-214397DiVA: diva2:684744
Time and Space in speculativ fiction
Available from: 2014-01-08 Created: 2014-01-08 Last updated: 2014-01-15

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