Museum collections as more-than-human things: The case of the green plastic bucket
Professor Fiona Cameron (visiting)
Department for Studies of Social Change and Culture (ISAK) and TEMAQ
Natural, cultural and social history museums are powerful pedagogical institutions at the interface of natural and cultural worlds. With long histories of collecting, documenting and preserving natural specimens and cultural artefacts, museums have promoted anthropocentric understandings of society, nature, technology and science. The Anthropocene is one response gaining traction in art practice, art, technology and history museums, directing our attention to the damaging consequences of human-centred modes of existence. The application of new cognitive frames and practices promoted through ontological and posthumanities scholarship is required in museum work that not only challenges the privileging of the human-subject but most importantly aims to “put humans back in their ecological place” – knitted together and becoming with not just biological species, but all manner of animate and inanimate things including non-human beings, entities, materials and earthly processes (Stengers 2015; Cameron 2018, 349-351)
My presentation settles on a melted green plastic bucket from Museum Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfire collection. The Black Saturday bushfires of 7 February 2009 was Australia’s most devastating natural disaster. I use this example to consider how we might re-orientate and reattach ourselves to a more-than-human world different from the human-subject (Cameron 2018, 349-351). The aim here is to consider ways we might formulate ‘ecologizing’ methods in museum collections practice to promote ways of thinking with rather than about all these things alongside ethical forms of conjoint action that acknowledge our entanglements, shared vulnerabilities and futures with not only other humans but with the more-than-human world (Cameron 2018, 349-351; Braidotti 2013; Whatmore 2006).
Braidotti, R. The Posthuman (London: Polity)
Cameron, F. (2018). “Posthuman museum practices” in R Braidotti and M Hlavajova (eds) Posthuman Glossary, (London/New York: Bloomsbury Academic), 349-351.
Stengers, I. (2015) In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming of the Barbarian. (London: Open Humanities Press http://www.openhumanitiespress.org/books/titles/in-catastrophic-times/ (accessed May 15, 2017).
Whatmore, S (2006) ‘Materialist Returns: Practising Cultural Geography in and for a More-than-human World’, Cultural Geographies 13(4), 600-609.
Fiona Cameron is a visiting professor at the Department for Studies of Social Change and Culture, Linkoping University and a senior research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia. Fiona has been the recipient of seven ARC grants and a number of international grants in Germany, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada. She has researched and published widely on museums and their agency in contemporary societies around ‘hot’ topics of societal importance ranging from the agencies of the museum in climate change to material culture, digital heritage, anthropology and Indigenous populations. Publications include for example a multi-authored monograph, Collecting, Ordering, Governing (Duke UP, 2017); a sole-authored monograph, Theorizing digital data as heritage (MIT Press, 2018) and a co-edited collection Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage (MIT Press, 2007). Fiona works with a range of theoretical optics including ontology and the posthumanities to re-work museum practices.