Museums, Society, Inequality explores the wide-ranging social roles and responsibilities of the museum. It brings together diverse international perspectives from across the globe (including Australia, South Africa, Kenya, Greece, the USA and the UK) which collectively seek to stimulate critical debate, to inform the work of practictioners and policy makers and to advance recognition of the agency of museums; their purpose, responsibilities and value to society. The notion that the cultural and the social are inextricably linked and more particularly, that museums have the potential to act as agents of social change is neither new nor radical. However debates claiming the museum's social agency, that have for many years been marginalized, have moved centre stage and fundamental questions about the museum's social purpose and responsibility, and in particular its potential to impact on both the indicators and the cases of social inequality, are subject to increasing scrutiny and debate. This challenging new work is divided into three parts. The first offers different understandings of the social agency of the museum.
Whilst there is some consensus, with each contributor presenting recent thinking on the impact, both positive and negative, that musems have on society and the lives of specific individuals and communities. The second section presents ways in which museums have sought to engage with contemporary social concerns, to tackle specific manifestations of inequality and to act, in partnership with other agencies and with communities, in order to instigate social change. The final section begins to imagine the character of inclusive musuems and the processes that might be employed to enable them to become more relevant, effective and useful to society in the future. Though the authors hold wide-ranging perspectives on the museum's social role, they all acknowledge that museums both influence society and must also respond to its changing characteristics and concerns. This crucial new work is essential for all museum academics, practitioners and students.
Richard Sandell is Lecturer in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and Research Associate of RCMG (Research Centre for Museums and Galleries)