Past, place & people : an ethnography of museum consumption
The thesis exemplifies the potential of ethnography as an approach to the study of museum consumption and its role within contemporary education and leisure practices. It is based on the case study of Lifetimes - an innovative local history museum in the London borough of Croydon, and incorporates a detailed, analytical description of the perception, discourse and practice of museum consumption, from the varied viewpoints of the producers and, especially, the consumers. This broad perspective is then used to reveal, and explain, how the effects and consequences of museum visiting can differ, dramatically at times, from the intentions and expectations of staff and visitors. Special emphasis is placed on the question of physical, mental and conceptual access and comfort, as well as on the concepts of 'meaning-making', appropriation and ownership. Positioned between 'choice' and 'chore', museum visiting is viewed as a complex, 'transitional' activity that is neither 'leisure' per se, nor 'labour' per se. The analysis then proceeds to establish that people's present perception, and consequent consumption, of museums is a product of their past experiences, and particularly their early museum encounters. The quality of these experiences, along with the quality of their social contexts, is shown to have a profound and enduring effect on museum-visiting practices in later life. Proposing a much-expanded view of local history museums as a figurative meeting point of 'past', 'place' and 'people', the thesis explores people's experience of history, locality and community, demonstrating the interconnections between these mediums and a sense of identity and belonging. The study also draws attention to the materiality of 'past' and 'place' as an external reference point for identity, as well as to the notion of the home as a private 'museum of memories'. The thesis concludes with an overall analysis model of local history museums and their consumption.