Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (2.35 MB)

Te Papa: A Forum for the World? A Narrative Exploration of a Global Public Sphere

Download (2.35 MB)
Version 3 2023-03-14, 23:27
Version 2 2023-03-13, 23:55
Version 1 2021-11-10, 22:51
posted on 2023-03-14, 23:27 authored by Schorch, Philipp

The reinvention of the museum as "forum" within the new museology and the notion of the "public sphere" are inextricably linked. Both concepts have been theoretically scrutinised in museum studies, critical theory, cultural studies and other academic disciplines, but there is a lack of empirical insights into their actual functioning. This thesis offers an empirical interrogation of the "museum forum" idea. It sheds ethnographic light on cross-cultural encounters in a "cosmopolitanised" world illuminating what it means to experience a museological space and how a public sphere is "lived". Drawing on a long-term narrative study of global visitors to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa), this thesis humanises Te Papa as a particular global public sphere, or discursive space. The critical hermeneutic analysis facilitates an understanding of "cross-cultural dialogue" and the "public sphere" as interpretive actions, movements and performances made by cultural actors. By exploring individual experiences instead of totalised abstractions, this study dissects the complexity of cultural worldmaking and politics elucidating "interpretive contests" and their "enunciation". Due to the in-depth empirical insights and their multilayered contextualisation, the "museum forum" evolves from an abstract idea into a concrete discursive world of negotiations. This thesis examines Te Papa as a particular place, space and empirical reality. It interrogates seemingly universal concepts such as "culture" and "politics" producing empirically situated, contextualised and rich theoretical propositions of significance for the human sciences in general as well as critical museum studies in particular.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Davidson, Lee; McCarthy, Conal