What counts as science? Families’ perceptions of science in a natural history museum

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Natural history museums open their doors to millions of family visitors each year and are considered to have a valuable role to play in engaging these families with science. Yet little is known about whether or in what way families perceive such institutions to be connected with science. The current study set out to explore such perceptions via interviews with family visitors to a large natural history museum. Analyses reflected that families’ perceptions of the museum and of their own engagement with science were intertwined with their definitions and impressions of science. For these families, perceptions of the museum as fun, interesting, and educational at times counteracted impressions of it as a science-y institution. Moreover, some families also did not consider natural history to count as science, which further contributed to a reluctance to categorize the museum as science-y. Although such perceptions may challenge how natural history museums would like to portray themselves, they also represent an opportunity to broaden visitors’ definitions and images of science.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-44
JournalVisitor Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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