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On chocolate cakes, journalism and co-curating museums

Here’s a great piece from the Nieman Journalism Lab on the New York Times’ community-sourced recipe book – dug out of tens of thousands of records in their archives.

If you change your working relationship to your audience, you will understand that audience in a new way. The tools that support those two steps also support collaborations that produce insights not likely to be found any other way, framed in genres altered by collaboration and by the social tools that made it possible. Tools, genres, partnerships, models of authority and active citizenship all change, and so does the community’s understanding of itself and its history at the same time.

For those who have learned how to look, the Internet reveals layers of inventive food culture liberated from traditional limitations — including the journalist’s earlier understanding of audience — by new speed of publishing, connectivity, innovation . . . Hesser’s team saw need, opportunity, and tools in place to create a new genre of participatory cookbook writing, too, on the Internet …an online platform for gathering talented cooks and curating their recipes…a new community-building venture…It would be democratic and fun…and together they would produce cookbooks without giving all the authority back to experts. Once again, Hesser had the experience of asking people to join in and finding that they loved being invited.

The parallels to the changes in museums – first rise of education and public programmes, and in recent times the rise of the social web and co-curation – are obvious.

It reminded me of John Fiske’s comments, predating the social web, way back in 1989, from Reading the Popular (Routledge);

The resources – television, records, clothes, video games, language – carry the interests of the economically and ideologically dominant; they have lines of force within them that are hegemonic and world in favour of the status quo. But hegemonic power is necessary, or even possible, only because of resistance, so these resources must also carry contradictory lines of force that are taken up and activated differently by people situated differently within the social system. If the cultural commodities or texts do not contain resources out of which the people can make their own meanings of their social relations and identities, they will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace. They will not be made popular.

(emphasis mine)

One reply on “On chocolate cakes, journalism and co-curating museums”

Seb, thank you for enthusing about my recent piece and for quoting at length from it. The John Fiske passage makes a wonderful companion, and I am happy to learn of it.

You’ve made me think about our regional history museum in a fresh way. In South Bend, Indiana, as in many US cities, we have a district unable to shake off the urban decay that followed the loss of a major employer, Studebaker, decades ago. The Center for History actually resides at the edge of that area, and it does serious work presenting all parts of the region’s history, but I would say that most citizens here rarely hear any voices that come from the blighted area or that tell its story. Silence, lack of much access to major social resources, unemployment, poverty, loss of a model of active citizenship that we know was at times very powerful here: concerning that depressing list, where, Fiske might ask, are the opportunities, the skills, the habits of mind, the supportive social web, that a sizable portion of our city can use to “make their own meanings of their social relations and identities”? I don’t see an institution that truly knows how to carry on this work here in our city. But it helps to be able to name this aspect of the challenge more clearly with the help of your posting. Thank you again.

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