New Labour's Socially Responsible Museum: Roles, Functions and Greater Expectations

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25 Citations (Scopus)


By reference to key policy texts and the discourses and arguments within which they are embedded, in this paper we trace the discursive genealogy of a new public service: the museum sector. We examine the ways in which recent UK government and related policy agencies have extended, multiplied and refracted normative, regulatory and operative conceptions of the social function of museums. Over the last ten years in particular policy discourses have continuously layered ever greater and ever more diverse expectations onto the museum sector and museum professionals. It is no longer sufficient for museums to work with their collections, nor even for them to focus upon their own problems or shortcomings (e.g. of unequal access) and seek to resolve them. Now museums are expected to orient their work towards what can be described as social policy objectives, and work with and help ‘fix’ the problems of individuals, communities and the broader society around them. As we will indicate, and underline in our concluding comments, official policies have always positioned museums as social and ethical instruments but New Labour policy discourses on museums have arguably redefined them as a public service, with social inclusion as one of their central functions. As a result of this putative transformation of museums into agents of social policy, their responsibilities now extend well beyond their traditional cultural role to encompass functions related to life long learning, identity and community building, public health, economic regeneration and social integration. This account, we believe, should also prompt some questioning about the coherence and feasibility of this partly reconfigured and partly re-imagined museum sector. We will conclude with our own summary of the hopes, doubts and dilemmas thrown up by this story.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269 - 289
Number of pages21
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


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