Call for papers — Museums and Participation: Loosening the Difficulty

Museums and Participation: Loosening the Difficulty is a two day workshop taking place on 14 and 15 June 2023 at the University of Leeds.

Doing participation in museums has always been hard — and it is hard in new ways in the new conjuncture of the 2020s. A conjuncture that includes the cumulative impacts of financial crisis shifting the economic status of museum work, and race being taken more to heart by a still too-largely white sector. Of decolonisation quaking fundamental museum logics of extraction and representation, and climate emergency threatening the continuity future of implied by ‘conservation’ and ‘future generations’.

In this workshop, we will attend to ‘difficulty’ not primarily as something that can be solved or resolved or, indeed, as something that can be just accepted and worked with but as a political state — ideological, affective, relational, material, ontological.

Might we theorise the difficulty in ways that ‘loosen’, ‘recombining its component parts’ (Berlant 2022, 28), or that stretch, creating new space and light?

Might we — through giving the difficulty different conceptual shape — open up alternative orientations, which might include both orientations towards, away and alongside?

Call for papers

We invite papers for this workshop that want to get to the messy heart of museums and participation.

Papers that want to go way beyond any simple call for just more or just better participation that just starts earlier, just works with more and different people for longer and just shares power better (as if these are simple matters and as if they haven’t already been tried repeatedly).

Papers that know even the community-controlled top of the ‘ladder of participation’ or ‘of, by, for all’ just raise the same loopy set of questions about access and representational deficit if you don’t unpick that paradigm first.

Papers gripped by the linked urgencies of decolonisation and climate emergency and that want to use museums and participation to contribute something — from wherever you stand — as institutional foundations come unstuck.

Papers that want to deal with the ‘difficulty’ differently and open up a variety of modes for participatory practice.

We’ll run this as a small-scale workshop — not a conference — with people sharing their papers and good amounts of time for discussion. The aim is not to draw together all of the work going on related to museums and participation but to bring together those of us ploughing these types of furrows.

The workshop is organised by the Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage.

View the full call for papers, including a list of references relevant to the workshop theme.


Please send abstracts (of up to 300 words) to Helen Graham by 31 March 2023.

We aim to develop the papers into a journal special issue.


Exit. Museums. A photo taken at the South Kensington underground in February 2023. Photo courtesy of Helen Graham.