Perception and meaning in the transformation of museums - a performance analysis of exhibitions in ethnology museums at the beginning of the 21st century
Fellow of the Graduate College "Cultural Hermeneutics: Reflections of Difference and Transdifference" Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen Lüneburg, Germany
How do exhibitions in ethnology museum stage their cultural contexts? This question is eminent in view of the recent crisis of this museum type, and especially in view of the self-proclaimed concept of being a place of intercultural dialog. To approach these issues I analyzed selected parts of the permanent exhibition of the ethnology museum in Hamburg. Of particular interest for this study are the constitutive conditions, coherences, multi-media features and the social usages of these exhibitions that generate meaning and (re)construct spheres according to the claims mentioned above. The surveyed exhibition is treated as text, i.e., as signifier of meaning, yet especially as present medium of something absent, something non-expressed in a palpable manner. Exhibitions (as systems of signs) always have a medial realization (Srubar). With respect to this mediality it becomes important to analyze the constitutive conditions: How do the different levels of contents become discernable for different senses under the aspect of their performance? The center of the presentation will then be the methodological discussion of the research design in view of these theoretical and research questions. Using one specific unit of the exhibition as an example, I will present the usefulness and difficulties, the advantages and limitations of my methodology. It is based on the sociological hermeneutic approach by Soeffner and on the Grounded Theory by Glaser and Strauss. The exhibition affects the corporality of the observer and his movements; issues of the atmospheric constellation and the relationships among objects, spaces, other media and the observer in the exhibition have to be accounted for. Asemiotic and presemiotic modes of communication are regarded as well as the diciplining power of these spaces. The first level is the audio-visual and oral descriptive documentation which refers to an intersubjective performance in the museum-field. The second level implicates the preparation of this documentations especially in regard to the "literalization" of the oral descriptions and orientated in a system of notation. On the third level the analysis follows a pragmatically and socio-scientific hermeneutics orientated approach of "sequence analysis" (Soeffner, Raab).