Inherited violence: examining museum and academic relationships with the West African illicit antiquities trade in a post-colonial era

Lambert, Mary Grace (Meg) (2019) Inherited violence: examining museum and academic relationships with the West African illicit antiquities trade in a post-colonial era. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study applies postcolonial and social harms theory to analyse the perspectives of professionals involved in the discovery, identification, trade, collection and scholarship of African cultural objects. It joins the small body of work which is beginning to account systematically for the harms of trade in cultural heritage, and the even smaller body attempting to situate this in a criminological framework. Qualitative research is based on 18 semi-structured interviews, with participants falling into distinct professional groups: art historians; museum curators; archaeologists; and those who are a mix of all three. After reviewing the long history of exploitative and violent extraction of objects from West Africa, I map this field, showing schematically how museums and academics are positioned in relation to markets in a way that facilitated and legalised collection and trade of objects. This thesis presents a theoretical model for understanding how museum and academic institutions perpetuate colonialist ideologies and harm, setting out a multi-level typology of epistemic violence. The research is guided methodologically by various strands of critical discourse studies, which are employed to analyse participant perspectives. In each of these groups, participants displayed shared and distinct positions as to the ethical and practical issues of the trade in African objects and to repatriation of these, often varying according to their professional or academic discipline. Some participants adopted different strategies, which I argue are forms of continued colonial harm, to deny and deflect responsibility for ethically dubious practices like authenticating or publishing the location of objects. Some also spoke of and acted on the harms of trade, demonstrating increasing political engagement and awareness. I conclude by arguing for further work applying postcolonial and social harms theory to this topic, particularly as repatriation efforts gain ground.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: African art, criminology, post-colonial theory, post-colonial criminology, colonialism, illicit antiquities trade, heritage.
Subjects: A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship The Humanities
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Armstrong, Dr. Sarah and Mackenzie, Professor Simon
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr Meg Lambert
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-76733
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2019 16:45
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2022 08:54
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.76733

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