A Post-digital Museum?

A provocation Inspired by Post-digital Day an Untraditional Symposium held at the University of Glasgow April 26, 2019

By Cassandra Kist

Over the past few decades the term post-digital which has origins in the music field referring to aesthetic glitches and rejection of new media, has been co-opted and used by diverse disciplines, resulting in criticism pertaining to its meaning and usefulness for different sectors. Cramer (2014) describes the ‘post’ in post-digital as denoting a cultural shift with ongoing mutations rather than a linear progression. He suggests that post-digital refers to a post-apocalyptic state after the initial upheaval caused by the computerization and digital networking of communication.


Comparatively,  Barker (2019) questions if post-digital rather than a state, refers to a practice that is about trying to hack into the process of transmission; he suggests that post-digital is about exposing the human and non-human actors to move beyond non-dialogic transmission to communication which encompasses new understandings. Stadler (2018) on the other hand drops the term ‘post-digital’ all together, and instead argues that society lives within a digital condition which is a relation or pattern that changes the conditions between human and non-human actors.


How has this impacted museum theory? Parry (2013) defines ‘post-digital’ museums as when digital permeates into all sections and protocols of the institution, digital is expressed more in terms of the museum’s core activity rather than as just a siloed digital activity in itself. Further, he states that in a post digital museum, digital is not merely accepted, rather it is understood that the museum (the agent) uses digital in order to meet its goals. Yet, not all cultural heritage institutions share this ‘post-digital’ reality as defined by Parry (2013) rather, some institutions have been accused of using digital for the sake of using digital rather than in the pursuit of institutional goals.


If we consider social media in museums as a specific form of digital encompassing its own technology and social practices – we can question if museums are ‘post digital’ from this specific angle. Many museums are not sure of their goals on social media which is evident by a lack of institutional policies. For what ends should social media be used? Should it be used to collect grassroot heritage, to collect interactions with their users? Or Is it a tool to engage users with cultural heritage and to connect the institution with local and communities afar? Is it a medium to advertise their institutions and programs? Or Is it place where they can educate their publics?


If social media was spread throughout the museum institution and considered a holistic part of museum work, it’s possible that social media could be one tool out of many that contributes to these diverse goals. Yet, the lack of holistic spread and purpose of social media use in some museums, may be a contributing factor to the many claims that museums are using social media mainly for marketing. There has also been a lot of hype both in scholarly and professional discourse about the potential of social media to support participation with museums and cultural heritage. Leading some scholars to suggest that rather than using social media to facilitate institutional goals relating to cultural heritage engagement, museums are using social media as a guise for inclusive participation.


But are we a bit too eager to accuse? Is this a problem, that extends beyond museums to other institutions? Barker (2019) suggests that media temporalities are disjointed and sharing through digital media continues to rehearse traditions of non-dialogical modes of communication. Moving beyond Parry’s (2013) focus on the organisation and allocation of digital work in memory institutions, is it possible then, that creativity and experimentation is necessary to hack non-dialogical modes of transmission to reach new levels of communication, togetherness and understanding?


Although, post-digital as a concept in itself can be queried, perhaps focusing on staff practices of a particular institution will reveal the usefulness of Parry’s (2013) idea of the post-digital museum and Barker’s (2019) suggestion to hack into modes of transmission for potentially fostering communication. Would thinking of social media, as work that should be spread across all museum departments and across institutional policies benefit the institutions and their communities they serve? Or could diverse ideas regarding post-digital and the digital condition help museum professionals consider the impact of social media on user experiences online and offline? Could a creative and experimental ethos assist museums in aligning social media practices more closely with other core institutional goals beyond marketing?




Works Cited

Apprich, C. (2018). The (Post-)Digital Condition – An Interview with Felix Stalder. First Monday, 23(8).

Barker Tim, J. (2019, April). Post-digital from the perspective of errors and mis-communications. Provocation presented at Post-Digital Day an Untraditional Symposium, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom.

Cramer, F. (2014) What is ‘Post-digital’? In A Peer-Reviewed Journal About “Post-Digital Research” 3 (1). Aarhus: Digital Aesthetics Research Center, with Berlin: transmediale.

Parry, R. (2013) The End of the Beginning: normativity in the Postdigital Museum. In: Museum Worlds 1 (1), p. 24–39. DOI: 10.3167/armw.2013.010103.


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