This is often invoked as a way of positioning museums as neutral storehouses of knowledge, that sit outside of cultural, social, political and economic debates. However, culture does not exist in a vacuum, and is instead shaped by myriad factors in society.

Thinking about the politics of colonialism adds weight to the counter that museums are not, and never have been, neutral. The imperial project both shaped and was shaped by the natural and social sciences, and associated fields and disciplines were intimately involved with the development of museum collections as places to further research. Neutrality as a concept and distinguishing feature is perhaps most often associated with scientific research, as the sciences are “pure” disciplines solely in search of universal truths. However, for all the promise Science might offer as unfettered from biases, the disciplines remain embroiled in histories of appropriation, dismissal of other epistemologies and methods and unethical experimentation that are difficult to distance from.

For more on the idea that museums, libraries and archives are not neutral spaces, see the Art Stuff Matters, Archival Decolonist and The Exhibitionist blogs run by La Tanya S Autry, Nathan Sentance and Alice Procter respectively.

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