De-growing museum collections for new heritage futures



Morgan J & Macdonald S (2020) De-growing museum collections for new heritage futures. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 26 (1), pp. 56-70.

This article focuses on curators’ frustrations with (what we call) ‘the profusion struggle’. Curators express the difficulty of collecting the material culture of everyday life when faced with vast existing collections. They explain that these were assembled, partly, from anxiety to gather up what was anticipated at risk of being lost. Unlimited accumulation, and keeping everything forever, are being called into question, especially through the disposal debate which has gained in intensity over the past three decades. While often with some reluctance, setting limits by slowing collecting or even reducing collections through targeted letting go, or what is variously called ‘deaccessioning’, ‘disposing’, and ‘refining’ collections, are undertaken to facilitate ongoing collecting, amongst other goals. To respond to curatorial interest in strategies for addressing profusion, we draw on ethnographic fieldwork looking predominantly at social history museums in the United Kingdom, to consider whether ideas borrowed from beyond museums might be of use. We explore the possible implications of economic concepts of ‘de-growth’ – partly by seeing the ways that these ideas are already practiced, but also by examining curators’ own enthusiasms and reservations. To develop more sustainable collecting practices, we argue that ideas of collections ‘growth’ might be usefully reframed.

Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management; Geography, Planning and Development; Museology; Cultural Studies; History; Conservation

International Journal of Heritage Studies: Volume 26, Issue 1

FundersArts and Humanities Research Council
Publication date31/12/2020
Publication date online25/10/2018
Date accepted by journal25/09/2018
PublisherInforma UK Limited

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Dr Jennie Morgan

Dr Jennie Morgan

Senior Lecturer in Heritage, History


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