Accessibility statement

Carried away or not? Towards an anthropology of museum shopping

29-10-2012 Sharon Macdonald

Monday 29 October 2012, 5.15PM

Speaker(s): Sharon Macdonald (University of York)

Museum studies has been predominantly concerned with the production, display and viewing of objects in the galleries of museums. That is, it has focused primarily on things that cannot – at least, literally, legally and usually – be taken away from museums. This presentation will argue the case for attention to objects that can more readily be acquired from museums, or more specifically, from their gift shops. Drawing variously on anthropological theories of gifts, commodities, value, temporality and the affective qualities of things, I will try to show how a focus on museum shops – and shopping practices – can help us to better understand the particular object-value relations that the museum attempts to establish; and what people might want or get from museums. In doing so, the presentation will include attention to the history of museum shops; the interrelationship between the aesthetics of museum and commercial display; debates about the dangerous or tantalising similarities between museums and shops; and empirical data on museum gift shop marketing strategies and sales. Those attending the seminar are warmly invited to bring along an item of their own that they acquired in a museum shop (either directly through purchase or theft or as gifted to them).


Sharon Macdonald has recently joined the University of York as Anniversary Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Sociology. Previously she was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, and before that was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Sheffield. Her publications include A Companion to Museum Studies (Blackwell, 2006), Difficult Heritage. Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond (Routledge, 2009) and Memorylands. heritage and Identity in Europe Today (Routledge, 2013).  Having spent much time and money in museum shops, she thought it was about time that she began to research them and has an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with the British Museum just beginning.

Location: King's Manor /159

Admission: Open to all. This is a YOHRS (York Heritage Research Seminars) event.