Museum Literacies in Mexico City: Formations of Power, Texts, and Identities
by A. Jonathan Eakle & Rosa Aurora Chávez-Eakle — 2013
Background/Context: Drawing from critical theory and new literacies studies, the article examines the design and production of museum literacies—broadly conceived to comprise reading spaces and objects, including language texts—and how these practices can be read in terms of political, social, historical, and economic relations. Because museums house and create texts that mirror various and sometimes conflicting cultural values, museum literacies can be revealing for education research and practice. For these purposes, Bonfil Batalla’s concepts of México profundo and México imaginario are explained and used to show how identities and power relations are embedded in the literacies of three Mexican museums.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The research goals were: (a) to investigate the literacies of three emblematic museums in Mexico City with diverse content (science, popular culture, and archeology), (b) to explore how museum exhibition designs and missions are related to identity and power relations, and (c) to examine from the perspective of museum designers how literacies are used, transformed, and resisted. These goals framed two research questions: (1) How might the design and production of museum literacies influence formations of identities? (2) How were museum literacies used, transformed, or resisted?
Research Design: In this qualitative research, three expert museum exhibit designers were extensively interviewed. These data were supported by visitor surveys, observations in and surrounding the museums, and artifacts collected using ethnographic tools during a one-year period. Data analyses were conducted in four phases following notions of hybridity that framed the research, proceeding with a cross-examination of the respective analyses produced by the two researchers, which share commonalities with the design and production of museum literacies.
Conclusions: The museum literacies of this investigation have implications for educators and researchers, especially those who work with Mexican migrant communities. If educators and education researchers want to connect with these communities, it is critical for them to better understand México profundo traditions that are very much part of these migrants’ everyday lives. As shown in the present study, literacies of Mexico City museums provide such opportunities. Exhibit designers presented indigenous Mexican heritage perspectives; however, those views were sometimes taken up by political networks to make use of identity constructs in attempts to hold and maintain power. Nonetheless, findings suggest that museums can be used as sites of resistance to imposed identities.
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