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Negotiating 'Culture', Assembling a Past: the Visual, the Non-Visual and the Voice of the Silent Actant

Doctoral thesis
Authors Jonathan Westin
Date of public defense 2012-10-12
Opponent at public defense Stephanie Moser
ISBN 978-91-7346-726-1
Publisher University of Gothenburg
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Conservation
Language en
Keywords Techniques of visual representation, visualisation, limitation, audience, museum, exhibition, technology, interactivity
Subject categories Archaeology, classical, History of science, Cultural Studies, Classical archaeology and ancient history, Interaction Technologies


The aim of this thesis is to describe and analyse the processes surrounding the creation of a scientific visual representation, where, both in the practical creation of this visualisation and in the way it is communicated, those actants which amount to what we call ‘culture’ or cultural value, are enrolled or ignored. Trying to answer if a broader set of non-visual cultural properties can be identified and their influence described, and if history can be visualised without displacing our knowledge of the past in favour of a popular representation thereof, I trace the interaction between client, artist, technology and target audience. Although the audience is not permitted to take part in the meetings and walk the floors of the studios, and thus seem to remain silent, I argue nonetheless that their voices are heard during the assembling of a visual representation. Furthermore, offering the audience a tool is not enough to entice them to form their own ideas and exercise influence: although often presented as a visitor-empowering pedagogic technique which invites different interpretations of the material at display, the interactive technology offered by museums and educators is a tool of conformity which disciplines the audience and must therefore be treated as such. An object is not an entity which can be separated into artefact and context, but a hybrid made up of associations spread over both space and time. To describe this, and capture how visual representations can represent ‘culture’, I have developed an analytical vocabulary where the absolute limitations of an artefact or phenomenon is the point of departure. As the vocabulary of limitations demonstrates, limitations constitute the borders of an expression and permit an explanation of how associated actants are shaped by these borders into what we have come to refer to as ‘culture’.

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