Towards an Eco-decolonial Museology: A critical realist analysis of the crises of South African museums

  • Tom Jeffery Amazwi South African Museum of Literature, South Africa


South African museums face multivalent, simultaneous crises. The MELD dialectical framework of critical realist philosophy can be used to explore potential for a deep reimagining of museum theory and practice that may generate a new, relational mode better able than persistent dualist modes to respond to complex, emergent crises. This has been conceived by the author (Jeffery, 2021) as an ecological-decolonial, or eco-decolonial, mode of museology, and is further developed in the present analysis.

At 1M, the MELD analysis surfaces the implicit neoliberal ontology of South African museum work and the emergent paradox of ‘emancipatory neoliberalism’. This paradox is generative of a number of constraints on practice and agency, including commodification of heritage, a restrictive form of official memory, and quantitative management practice. These limit potential for museums to respond to complex crises that require relational capabilities. 

2E explores the potential negation of these constraints. To disrupt the principle of collection as the grounding ontological activity of museum practice may disrupt the implicit neoliberal ontology. This may contribute to emergent, sophisticated socialecological trends in museum practice, both in South Africa and internationally.

At 3L, a dialectical view on the concept of cultural landscape offers a relational frame for an eco-decolonial museum practice that may better respond to the crises faced by museums. The practical implications of the eco-decolonial approach are considered at 4D.

Keywords: museum practice, critical realism, ontology, eco-decolonial, collection, cultural landscape


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2411-5959
print ISSN: 1810-0333