Museums and Ethnological Collections: How to Deconstruct the Ordering Spaces and the Classificatory Categories?

Karoline Noack, Diego Ballestero (Bonn)

Since their creation, museums characterise themselves as ordering spaces which, reproducing Western categories, tried to delimitate and adapt the cultural and natural diversity in agreement with European representations. Throughout time, the material culture has been dismembered with the ambition of classifying the objects according to their origin: nature/culture; its raw material: organic/inorganic; its place of origin: North/South, Coast/Mountain, Andes/Amazonia, urban/rural; its function: domestic/ritual; its ontological state: alive/dead; its temporal belonging: past/present; its academic discipline: archaeological/ethno graphic, and even other subjectivities: modern/traditional. These dichotomies or classificatory systems prevented that the objects could be understood in their multi-purpose character as well as in their potential to interrelate and materially manifest activities, thoughts, needs and beliefs.
Nowadays, several museum exhibitions are trying to decolonise these monological modalities of presenting objects. This has been done, among other efforts, through the inclusion of epistemologies of indigenous or local communities – which are closely related to this materiality – and that have been largely excluded from these asymmetric and colonial museological spaces in previous centuries. Today, the challenge is how we create and organise the museum collections in multidimensional ways and take into consideration different and diverse perspectives. This panel invites us to critically discuss both the ordering systems as well as the classificatory categories that were used throughout time in each museum and/or collection. The idea is to analyse the questionings proposed by B/Ordering Cultures and to suggest new ordering systems in which the multivocality and the contextualisation of the material culture are expressions of the epistemological and ontological turn that has been discussed in the last decades.

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