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Title: Curating community : museums, constitutionalism, and the taming of the political
Author: Douglas , Stacy
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2012
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Just as museums tell stories about political community, so too do constitutions. Indeed, both function as sites from which imaginations of political community are launched. While the practice of curating is commonly associated with the practice of assembling and organising museums' collections, in this thesis I focus on the practice of curating community. Specifically, both the museum and the constitution set the production of community as their task. In so doing, they participate in the denial of what Jean-Lue Nancy terms 'being-in-common' (Nancy 1991a). Building on existing museological theory, I argue that museums encourage compulsive identity formation by inviting visitors to identify with a prescribed set of political constituencies that they have on offer (Maleuvre 1999: Preziosi 2003). My research adds to this literature by focusing on adult interactive educational programming at three museums - the British Museum in London (UK), Constitution Hill in Johannesburg (South Africa), and the District Six Museum in Cape Town (South Africa). Moreover, while the term 'curating' is most commonly associated with museums and art galleries, it is also relevant to constitutionalism. Indeed, constitutions produce an idea of community - 'the people' - that they represent (Loughlin and Walker 2007). Like the curatorial practices of the museum, these conceptions of community rely on neat and stable categories that attempt to gloss over the messiness of the world. However, museums are also not like constitutions. Although both the museum and the constitution are charged with the task of delimiting community, the constitution, if it is to retain its juridical function, cannot escape the necessity of maintaining these boundaries. In contrast, the museum is not tied to this task. This combination of similarities and differences between the museum and the constitution make them productive sites to be brought together. In fact, it is as a result of these similarities and differences that the museum, when paired with the constitution, can serve as a crucial resource in the production of alternative imaginations of political community. I use this pairing of the museum and the constitution to articulate a theory of counter-monumental constitutionalism that is comprised of two components. The first element of a counter-monumental constitutionalism is that it does not exalt the constitution as the central tool in the production of political community. The museum plays a crucial role in this aspect because it demonstrates that the constitution is not the only place from which imaginations of political community are launched. Considering the museum as a constitution works against the inclination to fetishise the constitutional arrangement as the primary instrument in the production of political community. The second component of a counter-monumental constitutionalism is the necessary interruption of community. The museum is also key in this regard as it, unlike the constitution, has the capacity to facilitate this interruption. I develop this possibility by drawing on research from the District Six Museum. A counter-monumental constitutionalism, in its combination of the constitution with the museum, offers critical insights for the production of post-colonial and post-apartheid theories of law. As such, this thesis makes a unique and interdisciplinary contribution to the fie ld of constitutional theory, post-colonial legal theory, critical legal studies, and critical museum studies.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available