What is the meaning of an Ethnographic Museum in a post-colonial world in which boundaries between the Self and the Other are in a constant evolution? If the Self and the Other are a reflective myth, the Museum is a privileged machinery to construct the representation of Alterity, of Otherness.

Savignac, "Allez au Musée de l'Homme", Affiche, 1981, DR

The Museum orders, screenplays and formalises the re-presentation of the World. Therefore, the Museum appears a effective place to study the history of the representations of Others as in the case of the transformation of the old Paris’ Musée de l’Homme into the new unfortunate Musée du Quai Branly. [On the Quai Branly’s vicissitudes, refer to Kimmelman’s brilliant article: “Heart of Darkness in the City of Light“, New York Times, July 2 2006]

This book review [in French] of Benoît de l’Estoile’s, the Taste of Others [Le goût des Autres*] provides a chance to discuss the role of Anthropology and the Museum in the reprensentation of Alterity. Commenting on the book’s argument also provides an insight that reconsiders the role of anthropologists and intellectuals in the social and political debates on multiculturalism.

Anticipating on the conclusions and on further articles (to come here, stay tuned), I think that this book offered a good example of a certain school of Museum Studies that hardly consider museums as a research subject but as an object: the study of discourses about the museum overdetermines the topic of Otherness. Museum considered as a discourse is a powerful means to understand non said representations and give sense to nonsensical cultural discourses.

* Note: Le goût des autres / The Taste of Others: this is a literal translation as to keep on playing with the reference to Agnès Jaoui’s 2000 film on the experience of multiculturalism in France. As a complementary reading on the same topic, here’s a reference to Sally Price’s excellent Paris Primitive: Jacques’s Chirac Museum at the Quai Branly, Chicago, 2007… [here’s a book review in French].

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