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Biomedicine in museums

Art and scientific citizenship (Why do museums want to bring art and science together? — part 6)

In five earlier posts I have discussed why science, technology and medical museums are increasingly employing art in their exhibitions. The fourth reason in my list of ideal-typical rationalities for bringing art and science together goes like this:

If you believe in what some sociologists have recently called ‘biocitizenship’, i.e., the biomedical version of what European bureaucrats call ‘scientific citizenship’ – then, STM-museums are among the most crucial media institutions involved in the formation of such citizenship (cf. Elam and Bertilsson, 2004). This is the phenomenon of ‘governmediality’, to use Christoph Engemann’s term.

There is of course a strong discursive aspect to the formation of biocitizenship. In other words, it is partly through texts that individuals are socialized into the conceptual world of biomedicine and biotechnology and form their basic identity (like “I’m a cancer patient”, rather than “I’m Swedish”). But there is also a less discursive aspect, which is probably as important, or perhaps even more important. Ridley Scott’s movie ‘Blade Runner’ is a major piece of 1980s art which probably meant more for the formation of many people’s identity as potentially bio-engineered bodies than all textual media taken together.

Thus, the fourth rationale for incorporating art works in medical museums is that they know, consciously or unconsciously, that such museums are efficient tools for the formation of biocitizenship. In other words, as museums we are employing a strategy that will keep all the powerful stakeholders of ‘Empire’ (pace Michael Hardt and Tony Negri) happy – that is, we help translating the ‘multitude’ into biocitizens of the emerging transnational Empire.

[the next and last part of the series of “Why do medical museums want to bring art and science together” posts will follow tomorrow].

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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