The Local Politics of Museums
While there are numerous pressures at work on museums that arise from both the international and the national levels of action, they all require managing at the local level of the individual museum. Despite the fact that many of these pressures operate at a level of generality that is far removed from everyday museum practice, and despite the fact that national and international political actors generally have little in the way of direct, hands-on, control over what occurs within individual museums, these external pressures cannot be simply ignored or wished away by museums staff. Instead, they establish a set of exogenously determined structural constraints that surround the decision opportunities available to museums staff. How these pressures are managed within museums forms the focus of this chapter which examines the nature of the interplay between specifically local matters affecting museums — ranging from patterns of accountability and control within individual museums, to the hierarchical and professional structure of the museum work force, to the functional roles that local museums are expected to fulfil — and the exogenous constraints within which these local matters are played out. The role of power within and over museums, the legitimation strategies that are made use of by different political actors and the ideological understandings that underpin political activity at the level of the individual museum provide the framework for making sense of how these complex relationships affect what occurs at the level of the everyday museum practices that the public is confronted with in their relationships with museums — whether as visitors or not.
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