Conference article

Steps Toward An Analysis of “Sápmi:

Rossella Ragazzi
Tromsø University Museum, Norway

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Published in: Comparing: National Museums; Territories; Nation-Building and Change. NaMu IV; Linköping University; Norrköping; Sweden 18-20 February 2008

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 30:7, p. 99-119

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Published: 2008-05-20


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


Sápmi; en nasjon blir til is the first exhibition ever made taking the stand to present the social-history of an indigenous political movement; by visualizing elements of a national discourse about ethnicity and assimilation; in which the main focus is not “material culture” nor art objects. By discourse I utilize Foucault’s French philosophical and political definition of “discours” (1995) intended here not as purely verbal-oral construction; but as institutional and material practice.

When I first visited Tromsø University as guest lecturer in 1993; I immediately became acquainted with the distinctive Norwegian term “Formidling” (Mediation of Knowledge). The paradox of such term is that it means different concepts in the languages I know (some Latin languages but also in English) and it is hard to find an all-fit translation for it: it must be understood in context. Sometimes as “mediation”; sometimes as “dissemination”; others as “interpretation” and even as “negotiation”. One thing is plausible: it is a core concept in Scandinavian academic practices of production of social scientific knowledge. Still; it triggers scholars to explore its meaning. It is a strong theoretical stand of a certain Norwegian social anthropology. In this way the aim of my fieldwork at Tromsø Museum is to gather and analyze examples of contextualization and to reflect upon how representation is affected by it. Moreover; this can become a reflection about how inclusive or exclusive for different audiences; such “museal” cultural politics may be.

For this aim; I start by analyzing failures and scores of existing projects; in order to provide a lively representation of these practices; which connect academics with civil society at large; not in general terms; but in the analysis of dynamics that researchers; social actors and specific audiences create together when they encounter and react to these representations: an inclusive and dialogical practice from one and side and a constructive; strident or simply dialectical critique on the other side.

These are important aspects because they provide the context to understand further how meaning is made beyond the commodity “exhibition”; and how it is transformed or negotiated/omitted/exalted; etc. Moreover; manifold narratives are elicited through the meeting with the audience. These representations are context-of-reception dependant. A scrutiny of the modalities of these meetings; from the fieldwork’s reflective practices; to the feed back sessions with social actors; from follow up exhibitions or productions of new media (books; films; catalogues; etc.) to surveys and monitoring of the exhibitions themselves; from local-national discursive debates; to transnational discursive representations; is my research’s agenda.


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