Museum, design, organisation: an exploration of spatialities and a project in modelling museum design activity

Matthews, Geoffrey Mark

May 1996

Thesis or dissertation

© 1996 Geoffrey Mark Matthews. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

There were three stages in the process of narrowing and focussing the project. Initially the aim was nothing less than a 'paradigm shift' - to reframe the Praxis of Science as 'Design' using the museum as a microcosmic context  in which the complexity of the condition of modernity/ postmodernity was amply reflected. This over-ambitious scheme narrowed at first to one of exploring the interdisciplinary problem of the multidimensionality of design. In this, incommensurability and theories of space have to be accommodated in a workable model, and the forms and transformations of the model have then to be 'proved' in a praxiological exposition. Finally, it has become clear that much of the detailed creative work implied in the previous formulation of the project is, to be realistic, of a  postdoctoral nature. Therefore, the Ph.D. problem has been focussed even further.The focus is on the development of a multidimensional expression of museum design in the form of a theoretical model and an appraisal of its implications for general theory in organization and design. This involves (1)  Background theory - a survey of concepts and theories in modelling, (2) Focal theory - a critique of existing notions of organization and Praxis in museums and in Design, (3) Model theory - the development and presentation of a  more adequate scheme, and (4) Contribution - the evaluation of its potential as a generalization.Background TheoryIn the first part of the programme it has been necessary to ask a specific question about Philosophy - does any  specific paradigm offer an adequate conceptual scheme and 'language' in which to work? And if not, what do  so-called post-Philosophical approaches - radical pragmatism, ironism - have to offer in terms of a workable  strategy, perhaps one that is recognizably `designerly' in approach.In addition the definition and clarification of a wide range of incommensurable notions of 'space' has had to be undertaken to be clear that the complexity with which design, in the generic sense, engages has a particular character which is quite distinct from that of disciplines such as Science, History, and Politics which are  traditionally inclined towards epochal paradigmatic solidarity and towards contingent epistemological coherence.  The designer is, arguably, more of a chameleon than is the scientist or the historian or the politician, more so even than are the novelist and the ethnographer whom Rorty cites as latterly more crucial figures.' This 'quixotic' aspect of the designer's position is crucial to any argument about personal integrity and social value: this enigmatic  journeyman and traveller follows a lonely path guided by emotional (instinctual) as much as by intellectual and practical imperatives.Focal TheoryThe second part of the programme has involved two operations: (1) a  critical investigation, in some detail, of the discourses of organization, design and museography/museology; and (2) an opening up of the intervals between them, that is, an exploration their three interfaces - organization- design; design-museum; and museum-organization. Model Theory By proposing a visible constellation of spatial concepts and exposing the tensions which characterize their  performativity, the second part of the programme is drawn towards the final part of the programme. In this the  adequacy of the proposed model is evaluated in terms of the specific context of the museum as an organizational  type - a creative-administrative nexus - and in terms of its potential value as a generalization. This latter point has  involved consideration of the possible `museal' quality of organization in general and a reappraisal of the values of  design above and beyond the institutionalized, professionally delineated and administered discipline of Design  practice.ContributionThe conclusions emphasize the difficulty of boundary crossing enterprizes such as this project. A considerable effort has gone into deferring the synthetic instinct that all theory tends, sooner or later, to exemplify. However, not just for the sake of form, I make clear some specific and critical points in relation to the 'new' space established by this investigation of museum-design-organization. The museum design discipline has good reason to expound a communication-led collaborative philosophy and to have the strength to develop its discourse in more  sophisticated intellectual circles.In general there is a central message that emerges from the museum-design-organization complex which in one sense bolsters the ironist/new pragmatist stance in engaged theory but also reminds us that to be engaged one  must develop skills and capacities that are independent of the logics of language, that are irrational and yet  invaluable.And in future the interdisciplinary (as distinct from the multidisciplinary) platform must speak its name and be  generous. If one is met with incomprehension, resistance, threat response, or out and out hostility one has failed to understand the nature of design. One does not wait to be invited in, neither does one go straight for the jugular.  One makes a home, a communal place, a common ground. One finds the hearth and kindles in it a new flame, a  new light. One arranges a meeting of minds prepared to enchant with and to be enchanted by new visions and  new stories. And one helps each soul along its journey with no more than a gentle nudge in a promising direction  in the certain knowledge that the whole process will need to be repeated tomorrow and that this will remain the  case for each tomorrow.

Department of Management Systems and Sciences, The University of Hull
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