The notion of a march towards “progress” is perhaps most worth investigating in scientific narratives. Across the natural, medical, physical and techno-sciences, the message that the human species is inevitably moving teleologically towards the goal of secular, techno-scientific progress firmly underscores how the history of science and scientific developments are presented publicly (nowhere more so than in science museums). The problem with this approach is that it prescribes one way of being and is focused on an idea of “progress” that is founded in ideas of capitalist growth. Science, technology and capital go hand in hand here, dismissively consigning alternative conceptions of growth based on relation-making and care-taking as antithetical to progress.
Presenting technological innovations as indicators of advancement serves to confine other practices to an imagined past. Critics of these notions of progress are often dismissed as ‘anti-science’, in an attempt to reinforce binary notions of spirituality versus science, land and water protection versus resource extraction and care-taking versus profit-making.
The way we tell stories is often underscored by these problematic binary notions and nowhere is this more apparent than in museums. Narratives about the “development of civilisation” sometimes work to confine certain peoples to an imagined collective past, rather than recognising that these lifeways will endure and be sustained far into our future. Instead of confining our ideas of growth to narrow ideas of teleological progress, by embracing and integrating Indigenous sciences and resisting entrenched binary thinking, museum narratives can plan a vital role in how we change and shape how we imagine the future.