Museum sociology

Authored by: Volker Kirchberg

Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Art and Culture

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415855112
eBook ISBN: 9780203740248
Adobe ISBN: 9781135008895


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The study of museums is not yet an established field of sociological research, or even an acknowledged sub-discipline of sociology of art in most countries. A Google search for the term ‘museum sociology’ yields 2,270 hits and 2,780 for ‘sociology of museums’. The mentioning of museum sociologists in this search machine is also quite small, even world-wide: A Google search for ‘museum sociologist/s’ yields 1,200 hits, compared to, e.g. more than 20,000 hits for ‘urban sociologist’ (accessed 11 August 2014). However, sociological research in and of museums (even when it is not called as such) is often carried out under other headings, such as museum research, museology, museum management, or museum studies. This research is often motivated by practical reasons: typically to improve museum marketing, increase visitor appeal or advance market analysis, and only rarely to expand sociological knowledge about museums (e.g. about the latent or manifest social functions of museums in urban society), their organizational processes, and their audiences. Museum sociology is therefore rarely taught at universities under this title. The German Association of Museums lists 53 programs of study related to museums on its website, 1 only four of which however (Leipzig, Berlin, Heidelberg, and Würzburg) make use of explicit terms such as museology, museum studies, or museum in the titles of their programs of study.

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