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PhD project: Sensing Materiality: New perspectives on ethnographic cultural heritage communication

Project: Research

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The conceptual opposition between materiality and immateriality is the overarching focus of this PhD project. The implication of what is considered tangible and material is at the heart of cultural and ethnographic museums and exhibition makers. Exhibitions as media communicate through tangible stuff and the manipulation of material and sensible forms. Notions of materiality thus heavily inform museum practices.

This project puts to the test the Western common-sense understanding of materiality through an ethnographic study of the Hadza, an indigenous hunter-gatherer people in Tanzania.

Methodologically the project will be based on ethnographic fieldwork with participant observation as the core methodology. The project also includes anthropological interventions as a tool for eliciting formulations and reflections on ontology and materiality.

The ethnographic material from this project may challenge museums’ ontological premises and force us to rethink the conceptual opposition between materiality and immateriality. Putting multiple ontologies into play, the project aims at a more including, permeable and gradual notion of materiality. However, questions whether this notion can be represented, and whether this notion can have an effect on museum practices are central to the project.

The project examines this through the design of an exhibition that both in content and in methodology aims to include a radically different worldview and conceptual ontology.

The project thus has three main purposes: 1. Ethnographic fieldwork with a focus on Hadza understandings about the interplay between materiality and knowledge. 2. Theoretical reflection on materiality as an analytical concept. 3. Development of a methodology on the anthropologist as designer.

The project comprises an experimental exhibition that engages in methodological clarification in communicating aspects of Hadza life and cultural heritage and takes up the challenge on how to operationalise a wider concept of materiality both in collecting and in exhibition making.

Research questions:

The primary research questions of this PhD project are:

- How do museums’ conceptions of what materiality is and is not relate to Hadza social life and their sense of being in and of the world?

- Does the notion of multiple ontologies combined with rigorous ethnography provide access to alternative ways of the cultural construction of (im)materiality and knowledge?

- Can fieldwork, interverntions and exhibition making be sources for a coherent and applicable research methodology?
Effective start/end date01/06/201008/02/2014

ID: 128944727