Activating the Networked Object for a Complex World

Activating the Networked Object for a Complex World

Fiona Cameron (University of Western Sydney, Australia) and Sarah Mengler (University of Cambridge, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-044-0.ch008
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The ‘networked object’ is a concept that resonates with the notion of the operation of virtual collections within mobile fluids and flows of culture outside and beyond the specific museum context concerns of traditional documentation systems. It acts as a mediator between the museum world and public culture, as it circulates between these spaces, and in various cultural, social, political and technological formations, consumed in many different and unexpected ways. The context in which the networked object now circulates and interacts is what cultural theorist Mike Featherstone (2000, pp.166-67) described as ‘global variability, global connectivity and global intercommunication’. This chapter interrogates what happens when the networked object re-connects with public culture in an uncertain, complex and globalising world and how this process intersects with, challenges and re-works the ‘authoritative’ position of heritage institutions.
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The Context: Networking The Object

The Australian Research Council funded grant Reconceptualising Heritage Collections project in which the authors (Cameron as chief investigator and Mengler as researcher) were the lead investigators studied the ‘networked object’ within the context of the Powerhouse Museum’s collections.1 The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney is New South Wales government’s prominent state museum with over 385,000 objects in it collection, covering decorative arts & design; Australian history and society; engineering and design; sciences, Koori (Indigenous) history, and culture and transport.

Like many cultural institutions, only a small percentage of works (around 3% at the Powerhouse Museum) can be displayed at any one time in exhibitions. Therefore the role of an online database occupies an important role in offering access to museum collections. At the Powerhouse Museum their online projects are ambitious, intriguing and both verify and challenge notions of the role of the museum and the relations between collections and knowledge production. This, coupled with the museum’s focus on community, creativity, design, and its relation to society and everyday life made the museum an interesting partner for the project. Moreover, the diversity of the Powerhouse Museum collection meant there were significant opportunities for cross disciplinary comparative studies.

The induction of the museum’s collections more directly into public culture and into mobile flows arose in June 2006 with the advent of Google-enabled searches. Such an event allowed the researchers to closely observe how this initiative enabled new forms of interaction between the various public spaces existent in networked society, and that of the museum detailed later in the discussion. It also allowed the researchers to reconceptualise what these types of interactions might say about existing and potential documentation practices within these networked environments, and how cultural theory might inform this reconceptualisation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multi-Disciplinarity: The juxtaposition of a range of disciplinary perspectives to an object of investigation.

Hyper-Complexity: A term used by cultural theorist, John Urry to describe the contemporary world characterised by mobile, global flows and fluids of culture producing new levels of interconnectivity and interaction.

Complexity: Refers to the dense, entangled, global and non-linear form of intelligibility needed to comprehend the networked object.

Citation: A term used to refer to the more ephemeral, polysemous, serendipitous, fluid and mobile nature of object meaning.

Solid Metaphor: Refers to information and multi-media used to denote an object’s actional and biographical contexts, how it is produced, sources, raw materials, exchange and consumption contexts, uses, sequence of events or factual qualities.

Object Interfaces: The interpretative interface between the museum and public culture

Linguistic Metaphor: A term to describe statements used for describing significance and are often opinion based.

Conceptual Metaphor: A term used to denote those taken-for-granted meanings that frame an object’s activities.

Interdisciplinarity: The bringing together of different disciplinary perspectives involving a greater or lesser degree of integration across the various disciplinary forms.

Networked Object: A concept to denote the operation of virtual collections within mobile fluids and flows of culture outside and beyond the specific museum context concerns of traditional documentation systems.

Folksonomy: A web 2.0 social networking application enabling the categorization of information and generation of metadata to construct a non-linear indexing system based on freely chosen keywords.

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