Between meaning culture and presence effects: contemporary biomedical objects as a challenge to museums

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The acquisition and display of material artefacts is the raison d'être of museums. But what constitutes a museum artefact? Contemporary medicine (biomedicine) is increasingly producing artefacts that do not fit the traditional museological understanding of what constitutes a material, tangible artefact. Museums today are therefore caught in a paradox. On the one hand, medical science and technologies are having an increasing pervasive impact on the way contemporary life is lived and understood and is therefore a central part of the contemporary world. On the other hand, the objects involved in medical diagnostics and therapies are becoming increasingly invisible and intangible and therefore seem to have no role to play as artefacts in a museum context. Consequently, museums are at risk of becoming alienated from an increasingly important part of contemporary society. This essay elaborates the paradox by employing Gumbrecht's (2004) distinction between 'presence' and 'meaning'.

Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)431-438
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

    Research areas

  • Contemporary science, Exhibitions, History of medical science, Material culture/materiality, Presence effects, Public engagement with science, Technology and medicine

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