The social production of (new) imagined communities: reflections from an anthropological-political perspective

by Berardino Paumbo (Ph.D. Ethnology, University of Rome “La Sapienza” 1991), Full Professor of Social Anthropology at the Department COSPECS , University of Messina.

Many studies imagine museums as institutions where it is possible to represent in dialogical and controlled ways even social tensions that roil the public space. Such studies implicitly assume that the museum - being transformed from a place where top/down nations-state common sense understandings are put on display and made official, into an arena in which such understandings can be critically deconstructed from different (socio-political) perspective - still remains connected with the presence of a public space and of a related 'community'. In other words, even while placed under the gaze of postmodern analysis, the museum still retains the character of a 'democratic' and public forum where not always sociologically well defined 'communities' can dialogically and constructively act. But what happens if and where the same concepts of 'public space' and 'community' can not be assumed as granted? Does the institution-museum run the risk to factionalize itself along the frictions of the social and political space, and in the last instance to dissolve itself ? Or the museum can continue acting as a political and 'governmental machinery' whose goal is the social production of (new) imagined communities ?