Networks, Agents and Objects: Frameworks for Unpacking Museum Collections

  • Sarah Byrne
  • Anne Clarke
  • Rodney Harrison
  • Robin Torrence
Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)


Although on face value, museum collections are largely perceived as static entities hidden away in storerooms or trapped behind glass cases, new research shows that over time and across space interactions between objects and a wide range of people have generated a complex assemblage of material and social networks. Based on a broad collection of source materials, studies examining the people who made, sold, traded, studied, catalogued, exhibited and connected with objects reveal a dynamic set of material and social agencies that have been instrumental in creating, shaping and reworking museum collections. By integrating and reworking theories about agency and materiality and by drawing on insights from Actor-Network Theory, contributors to this volume have uncovered new ways to think about relationships formed between objects and individuals and among diverse groups spread across the globe. The research also demonstrates that ethnographic collections continue to play important roles in supporting and reworking national identities as well as to challenge these through ongoing negotiations and sharing of ideas among both the guardians of these objects and their creator communities. These insights have important implications for designing curatorial practices in the future.


Museum Collection Auction House Creator Community Museum Staff Museum Curator 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Many of the chapters in this book were first presented at the Sixth World Archaeological Congress (WAC-6) in Dublin in July 2008, where we were treated with ample time for extensive discussion that helped clarify ideas and expand our theoretical horizons. We are grateful to participants and all those present at the session who enlivened the debates. We especially want to acknowledge the important contribution of the late Blaze O’Connor, one of the WAC-6 organisers who helped make our session so productive. We also thank Joshua Bell and Chris Gosden for their insightful and helpful comments on the book proposal and manuscript, respectively. Finally, we acknowledge our indigenous and non-indigenous friends, collaborators and informants who have taught us so much about agency and engagements with museum collections.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Byrne
    • 1
  • Anne Clarke
    • 2
  • Rodney Harrison
    • 3
  • Robin Torrence
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture StudiesInstitute of Archaeology, University College, LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Archaeology, School of Philosophical and Historical InquiryUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of ArtsThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  4. 4.Australian MuseumSydneyAustralia
  5. 5.School of Philosophical and Historical InquiryUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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