STS in the Museum

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


What goes on behind the scenes of an art museum? What happens, precisely, when museums acquire, present, and preserve works of contemporary art that challenge traditional museum strategies? And how can STS concepts and approaches help to provide insight in the inner workings of art museums as an undertheorized phenomenon?

This lecture will discuss the value of STS and, more specific, Actor-Network Theory informed ethnography for the study of behind-the-scenes museum practices and contemporary art. Relatively new and variable art forms such as performance-based art, installation art and digital art, challenge conventional museum infrastructures and strategies as they are originally developed to manage the care and presentation of more stable artworks such as sculpture and paintings. Building on STS scholarship as well as museum studies and institutional theory, the lecture will scrutinize how museums’ organizational infrastructures adapt to the demands of non-traditional artworks and how these new art forms settle in museums. Especially with these new art forms, it will be argued, no clear lines can be drawn between artworks and museum practices, as they co-shape and co-constitute each other.

The lecture, drawing partially on ongoing research with Glenn Wharton (New York University) and Leah Reisman (Princeton University), aims to bring a productive fusion between art history, museum studies, and STS. Besides positioning my research within existing STS scholarship on the arts, I will also reflect upon the boundary crossings that are part of my own ‘academic journey’.

Reading materials

Domínguez Rubio, F. (2014). Preserving the unpreservable: docile and unruly objects at MoMA. Theory and Society 43 (6): 617-645.

Special Issue on ‘STS on Art and the Art of STS’, Krisis. Journal for contemporary philosophy, 2009, Issue 1.
Period1 May 2017
Event titleWTMC Spring Workshop STS & Art
Event typeWorkshop
LocationRavenstein, NetherlandsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • STS
  • museums
  • institutional theory