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The cultures, experiences & practices of local authority museum professionals in contemporary institutional life.

Knights, Tara (2018) The cultures, experiences & practices of local authority museum professionals in contemporary institutional life. Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey.

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As they are employed in local government-owned, managed and funded institutions, local authority museum professionals experience their working lives within an organisational framework that is based on high levels of politics and administration (Lawley, 2003). Inherent to this governance model are pressures, constraints and structuring forces that affect the agency and practices of local authority museum professionals, and the makeup of their institutions. However, the literature does not sufficiently attend to the experiences of local authority museum professionals, in terms of their working lives and the distinctive environmental conditions that they operate within. This is especially the case in the contemporary context. Of the museum types, local authority museums have been the hardest hit by austerity (Museums Association, 2015a, 2017a; Tuck et al., 2015), and my research finds out about the experiences of their professionals based on the findings generated from the data of 30 semi-structured qualitative interviews. My research comprehends the interplays between structure and agency, following a trajectory from the micro to the macro, through the perceptions of the participants. It consists of the following investigative format. The first focus was on finding out about the cultures of the participants to learn about their backgrounds, which was achieved by using Bourdieu’s (1984) concept of cultural capital. Learning about their cultures helps to identify whether there was a lack of ethnic and cultural diversity in the profession, and assists in understanding more about the characteristics that underpinned and shaped the practices of the participants. Then, using DiMaggio and Powell’s (1991) concept of isomorphism, the second focus was on finding out about the structuring forces that homogenised the practices of the participants and their museums, albeit in different areas and to different degrees. Deviating away from structuration, the third focus was on the agency of the participants and their manipulation of pressures and constraints in diverse ways, which were potential areas of innovation. Moreover, the experiences of the participants are at the heart of the findings and discussions that are presented throughout my thesis. My research evidences that pressures, constraints and structuring forces, in the form of isomorphic processes (normative, mimetic and coercive), homogeneously affected the practices of the participants and their museums. These processes were caused by other professionals, institutions and organisations, along with policies and communities. On evaluation of the findings, it is concluded that isomorphism was a presence among the museums, and more broadly, local authority museums in the sector, although the findings show that homogenisation had its advantages and disadvantages, which centred on legitimacy and efficiency. Furthermore, the findings show that while the participants were highly restricted in exercising their agency, there were small signs of its presence in their construction of displays and building of community and councillor support. As they would be enduring austerity for the foreseeable future, the participants perceived that building support would help to foster the resilience and sustainability of their museums. On reflection of the findings and discussions that are presented in my thesis, suggestions about where future research and policy need to be directed are made.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions : Theses
Authors :
Date : 28 February 2018
Funders : N/A
Contributors :
ContributionNameEmailORCID, Victoria,,
Depositing User : Tara Knights
Date Deposited : 05 Mar 2018 08:56
Last Modified : 05 Mar 2018 08:56

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