ABSTRACT

Museums remain firmly established as singular, bounded institutions, considered foremost for what they are rather than what they do. In this familiar regard, museums are buildings situated nationally, regionally and locally, which house object collections both great and small. The buildings, objects, the professionals who collect, conserve and curate and the daily stream of visitors, make up the established institution of the museum. However, when considering what museums do, attention is drawn more to the processes and organizational arrangements by and through which the entire material and spatial collection and edifice of the museum is maintained, extended, represented and reproduced. In considering both what museums are and what they do a much more complex and diffused picture emerges in which they are constituted across different organizational and operational spheres, made up of countless components and operations. This view of the museum is consistent with and in part derived here from Latour’s (2007: 131) view of the ‘operations of networks’, or – as Law’s (1999: 4) description of the two aspects of organizational complexity that actor network theory attempted to grasp – ‘relational materiality’, or even as Callon (in Callon et al. 2001: 35) defined the situation of a ‘hybrid forum’. The term designated here for understanding the networked, relational, hybrid and performative dimensions of the museum, is the distributed museum, which involves two very different and not to be confused understandings of networks, as Latour is at pains to point out:

Network is a concept, not a thing out there. It is a tool to help describe something, not what is being described. The consequence is that you can provide an actor-network account of topics which have in no way the shape of a network – a symphony, a piece of legislation, a rock from the moon, an engraving. Conversely, you may well write about technical networks – television, emails, satellites, sales forces – without at any point providing an actor network account.