Biomedicine in museums

Waiting for medical museums to become less apolitical

By October 20, 2011 No Comments

I’ve just wiped the whiteboard in the lunch room — but only after having jotted down what we wrote during an intensive brainstorm session some time ago, triggered by the recent ICOM-konference on museums and politics in Copenhagen.

  • Why are museums often so apolitical? Why are medical museums even more so? Why is our museum pronouncedly devoid of any views on the political aspects of biomedicine? After all, biomedicine is very important political stuff.
  • What does it mean to be ‘political’ in a university museum context? Is it just another way of living up to the usual dinner speech oratory about the social vision of universities?
  • Are the historical collections really a potent resource for understanding the politics of contemporary and future medicine? Or does a too strong focus on the historical artefacts make us blind to the present, turning us into conservatives with respect to the contemporary medical world and the future of medicine?
  • Right now, our museum seems to be caught in a contradiction between a deep fascination of the aesthetics of material and visual things and a potential for contributing to the intellectual and political discussion about future biomedical scenarios. Can our current passion for materiality and aesthetics be articulated in a political context as well?
  • Can a love for things and images of the past co-exist with a politically conscious approach to medicine as a ‘civilisational force’ (whatever that is). Can biopolitics include a passion for material things?
  • Is there a risk for us to go too deep into web design, artefact fascination, art installations and sensuous experiences? When did we last have an interesting seminar about the future prospects of biomedicine?
  • As a museum we should raise the politics of biomedicine in the public sphere. It shouldn’t be left to article-producing academics, science journalists and bloggers. As a university museum we have not only the right to engage with the politics of biomedicine, but a duty to do so.
Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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