Governmentality and the National Museum of the American Indian: Understanding the indigenous museum in a settler society
This article provides critical analysis of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington DC and suggests Michel Foucault's governmentality is a useful analytic of power for understanding such complex, cultural institutions. Looking at the museum's political/economic situatedness and the idea that museum reform indicates empowerment, I propose we step away from overly reductive readings of such institutions and adopt approaches which will account for the ambivalent nature of the museum. Rather than understanding the museum as repressive or empowering, I suggest we understand the ways in which it acts as a technology of the self though which cultural citizens form their subjectivity. As I argue, the museum is indicative of a broader discursive shift in power/knowledge formation, reflected by the emergence of ethnic/indigenous museums in settler societies making attempts to include indigenous 'voice'. I argue the state and private interest work in tandem to provide the mechanisms (cultural institutions) by which cultural citizens can signify multi-cultural awareness and act upon themselves and others via the normative behaviors prescribed to them. According to governmentality perspectives, power is not merely repressive in liberal societies, and therefore the state, private interest, and institutions also take their cues from multi-cultural citizens. While I argue it is important to consider the ways in which the neo-liberal economic formation shaped the conditions in which the museum materialized, I suggest we also look to concepts like Gerald Vizenor's (1999) notion of survivance, or survival with dignity, to understand that the museum is productive in a number of ways. This article works to denaturalize some of the NMAI's productivity and suggests we adopt arguments which will allow us to embrace its complexities.
|Keywords||Governmentality, Indigenous, National Museum of the American Indian, Native American, Smithsonian|
Brady, M. (2008). Governmentality and the National Museum of the American Indian: Understanding the indigenous museum in a settler society. Social Identities, 14(6), 763–773. doi:10.1080/13504630802462885