Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Who Do You Think You Are?: Constructing and Representing Central Otago identity

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posted on 2021-11-11, 22:59 authored by Bell, Jamie

As museums are increasingly looking to the local community for support and validation, so too are communities looking to the museum for affirmation of their identity. Theories of meaning making and work in the field of social inclusion have led the way in restructuring the museum into an institution that embraces its surrounding community for the mutual benefit of both sides. In attempting to represent community, museums are taking up these new theories as they build towards becoming ever more relevant institutions. This thesis explores the current literature and investigates its relevance to the museum/community relationship through a case study of the Central Otago community and its new Museum, Central Stories. The study explores the construction of identity within the community and the representation of that identity within the Museum. In order to investigate the construction of community identity in Central Otago, three discussion groups were conducted in September 2006, with each group made up of members of local community and business groups. The discussions within these groups were divided into two phases, the first of which centred on the construction of Central Otago identity and the second on the Museum's representation of Central Otago identity. In the analysis of these focus groups, common themes were identified surrounding the region's landscape, events, history, museums, and community. In the first phase, participants were particularly reliant on their 'frames of reference' (Perin, 1992) in constructing identity. In particular, the role of personal experience emerged as an important factor in constructing community identity. Comparing the first and second phases of the discussions reveals the complex interweaving of elements in the construction and representation of the community's identity. The findings of this study highlight the significance of the museum/community relationship in contemporary museology. The developing museological theories on meaning making, particularly those that address the importance of visitor frames of reference, are identified as playing a critical role in developing this relationship. While this study is focused on the Central Otago example, the findings have broader relevance to the field of museum studies through their insights into the dynamics involved in constructing and representing community identity, and the complex relationship between the museum and its community.


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

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Museum and Heritage Studies


Davidson, Lee