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Biomedicine in museums

University museums between the local community and the global marketplace

By November 11, 2007No Comments

As I hinted at a couple of days ago, Giorgio Agamben’s reflections on the ‘Museum’ has stimulated my thoughts about how the activities here at Medical Musieon could be understood in terms of a global ‘Museum-at-large’.

The ‘Museum’ is only one side of our coin, however. The other is that as a unit at the University of Copenhagen we belong to the large subfamily of institutions around the world known as ‘university museums’. How shall we understand a unit like ours in terms of a global ‘University-at-large’?

Maybe one could get some inspiration from the upcoming EduFactory on-line seminar described in the ‘Prospectus for Second Round of edu-factory discussion, 25 Nov 2007 – 28 Feb 2008’ (put on-line yesterday).

The point of departure for the EduFactory seminar is “the pervasiveness of the market and the processes of corporatisation that universities in many parts of the world are undergoing”:

Today the university is one of many actors – private and public, formal and informal – within a complex and rapidly changing market for knowledge and education. Academic institutions have begun to think of themselves as competitors against others in this market. In many countries, universities are positioned in league tables, constructed through ever more calibrated ways of quantifying performance and the quality of knowledge. Not only this, but individual offices and departments within institutions are also compelled to compete, vying for students or research funds, and, in some cases, contracting services such as teaching space or information technology expertise to each other.

True, these and other tendencies towards the corporatization and marketization of knowledge — including the integration of universities into the transnational economic system — have been discussed extensively over the last 5-10 years. The EduFactory initative is interesting, however, because it provides a consistent critical theoretical understanding of these tendencies — and thus of the changing role of the university museum.

One might expect such issues to be discussed in associations like the international University Museums and Collections (UMAC), the US-based Association of College & University Museums & Galleries and the University Museums Group UK (UMG), but this doesn’t seem to be the case. For example, the UMAC meeting in Vienna earlier this year gathered around the topic of ‘Universities in Transition’, but as far as I can see from the program and the abstracts, global marketization and corporatization of universites were not among the discussion topics.

Maybe such issues could be raised at the next UMAC meeting on ‘University Museums and the Community’ in Manchester, September 2008? Anyone interested in contributing to a session on ‘The University Museum Between the Global Market Place and the Local Community’ or something along these lines?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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