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In Australia etc

Monday, July 7th, 2014

A new series of articles  commences with a polemic about the value of thinking outside the domain in which our own organisation is situated and how that can contribute to greater understanding than another seminar from people we already know.

Australia faces perhaps more challenges than at any time in its history. Many commentators and experts point to failure to confront climate change and the carbon emissions contributing to that, to the decline in attention to many aspects of humanity including immigration and asylum-seekers, to the continuing challenge for ‘White Australia’ of Indigenous peoples gaining genuine standing in their own country, to the continuing less than independent stance in foreign policy despite the evidence that simply forming an alliance with the nation currently most powerful carries severe dangers, to the risk averse nature of the political systems in investing in communications and transport infrastructure and much else.

Economically, inequality in Australia, increasingly an issue gaining serious attention not least because of the publication of Capital in the 21st Century by French economist Thomas Piketty, has been brought to the fore in discussions about the first Commonwealth government budget of Treasurer Joe Hockey. Amongst the many features of very great importance characterising the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the failure to appoint a Minister for Science and the abrogation of agreements with the states entered into by the Rudd and Gillard governments in respect of health and education. Education policies have already featured on this site.

The consistent assertions by Abbott government ministers of a budget emergency and a debt crisis requiring a budget featuring significant reductions in government outlays in many areas, the resulting pain to be “shared” across the board, have been comprehensively denied by many economists and commentators supported by numerous detailed studies.

It is intended that these issues will form the background to the essays in this section, In Australia.

 

UNDERSTANDING MUSEUMS – UPDATE

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

On June 10 last year I reported that the first part of Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, edited with Leon Paroissien, had been published as an e-book by the National Museum of Australia.

Late in the year the remaining essays were published. The complete e-book includes 25 separate essays covering everything from a review of the Pigott Report, developments since 1970 in museums generally through progress in art, science and history, education and touring exhibitions, digitisation and social media.

Following a consideration of the recent history of museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien,  Anne-Marie Condé of the National Museum reviews the important Pigott Report into museums and national collections which reported ot the Australian Government in late 1975. Ian Cook, inaugural Director of the State Conservation Centre of South Australia (later called Artlab Australia) and colleagues describe advances in collection conservation, Tim Hart from Museum Victoria and Martin Hallett from Arts Victoria recount the revolution in technology in museums. Des Griffin considers the very recent advances in technology and social media.

John Stanton of the Berndt Museum writes on ethnographic museums and Bernice Murphy, presently National Director of Museums Australia discusses Indigenous art and art museums whilst Michael Pickering of the National Museum and Phil Gordon of the Australian Museum review repatriation.

Discussions of History and museums are provided by Peter Stanley of the National Museum, Tim Sullivan of Sovereign Hill Museums Association, Margaret Anderson of the South Australian History Trust, Kevin Jones of the South Australian Maritime Museum and Viv Szekeres, formerly director of the Migration Museum in Adelaide.

Daniel Thomas, one time director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, provides an overview of art museums. Caroline Turner, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and the Arts at the ANU recvounts the expansion in international exhibitions and independent consultant Anne Kirker reviews paper conservation in art museums.

Natural history museums and their challenges are discussed by Doug Hoese, onetime head of science at the Australian Museum. Michael Gore, foundation director Questacon in Canberra, and Susan Stocklmayer, director of the ANU Centre for the public Awareness of Science review science centres.

Regional Museums are considered by Margaret Rich, former director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat and by museum and heritage consultant Kylie Winkworth. Representatives of various regional museum organisations consider developments in many of the states of Australia.

Lastly, education and the visitor experience in museums, one of the fields in which there have been significant advances, is addressed by Jennifer Barrett of Sydney University who describes museum studies at universities, Barbara Piscitelli, researcher on young children and museums, who focuses on the relationship that children have with museums, Janette Griffin of the University of Technology Sydney who reviews school students’ learning in museums and Lynda Kelly of the Australian Museum who discusses family visits.

Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien (eds), 2011, Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia.

The first part of a volume on developments in museums in Australia since the 1960’s has just been published as an e-Book on the web site of the National Museum of Australia.

Museums were established across many parts of the Australian continent during the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. However it was in the latter part of the twentieth century that the greatest burgeoning of museums occurred. These decades also witnessed the consolidation of a sophisticated museum profession, the creation of a single national professional association “Museums Australia” and an active participation of Australian museum professionals in the international museum context. The essays in this section jointly seek to present a scholarly study of museums and museum practice that is also accessible to people outside the museum profession, who daily demonstrate their active interest in museums and their programs.

There are 11 essays in five sections.

Museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien

Conservation in Australian museums by Ian Cook et al.

Ethnographic museums and collections by John E Stanton

Transforming culture by Bernice Murphy

Repatriation by Michael Pickering and Phil Gordon

War and Australia’s museums by Peter Stanley

History in the new millennium or problems with history? by Tim Sullivan

Art museums in Australia by Daniel Thomas

International exhibitions by Caroline Turner

Collecting works on paper by Anne Kirker

Museums and the environment by Douglass F Hoese

The second part to be published in late June or July will include further essays on history and science museums. Additional sections will deal with education programs and regional museums and there will be essays on museums and digitisation and social media.

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 2

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Hoots No. 2 – 2 April 2009: A renaissance quotation about critics which may be just as valid today, caterpillars welcomed into the nests of ants. And the value of an MBA and the nature of managerialism revealed.

Beware of Critics: In Ingrid Rowland’s book ‘Giordano Bruno Philosopher/Heretic’ (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2008) there are two  quotations from John Florio (1553 – 1625) who was an accomplished linguist and lexicographer, a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, a probable close friend and influence on William Shakespeare and the translator of Montaigne. Here is one:

“As for critiks I accompt of them as crickets; no goodly bird if a man marke them, no sweete note if a man heare them, no good luck if a man have them; they lurk in corners, but catch cold if they look out; they lie in sight of the furnace that ryes others, but will not come neare the flame that should purifie themselves: they are bred of filth, and fed with filth, what vermin to call them I know not, or wormes or flyes, or what worse?”

I have drawn attention to critics before.

Next week, Florio’s view of scholars.
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Managerialism buried (I wish): The second most important issue which surfaced this week, so far as I am concerned, is managerialism. (The first continues to be global climate change, carbon emissions trading and related matters, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.)

ABC Radio National’s Stephen Crittenden reported an outstanding program on MBA’s (“Mostly Bloody Awful“) and along the way gave some references to outstanding research papers and popular articles on the subject.

The key points:

In the words of Henry Mintzberg, Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal (and author with, Robert Simons and Kunal Basu of “Beyond Selfishness”, MIT Sloan Management Review,   44/1, Fall 2002),

“Management is not a science, it’s not a profession, it’s a practice; you learn it by doing it.” (Art Gallery of New South Wales director of 30 years Edmund Capon said as much a couple of years ago; what can one say about Mr Capon’s wisdom? Clearly he deserved to have that $16 million dollar painting by Cezanne bought to commemorate his 30 years at the Gallery!) However!

According to Professor Rakesh Khurana (of Harvard Business School), “Whilst university”“based business schools started out with the intention of creating management as a profession, one in which managers would largely put the interests of society and the interests of the economic welfare of their firm before their own individual interests, this changed. Over a period of several decades this at first was neglected and then eventually abandoned. It was replaced by a very different type of orientation, shareholder maximisation. The manager became merely a hired hand of shareholders.”

According to Will Hopper, joint author with his brother of “The Puritan Gift”, the story of how the Puritans built America, the influence of Frederick Taylor (founder of Scientific Management theory, or Taylorism, and “the first management consultant”) led to business schools becoming obsessed with numbers and measurement. Management became a science that could be studied in a university.

“The emphasis in business shifted from people to figures and from quality to quantity. Talk was about the bottom line, employees became human resources, and the influence of the accountant increased dramatically. “Domain knowledge”, understanding of the business in all its facets (and the industry) was no longer so relevant. The business school MBA graduate emerged able to run any business. Companies are run through the accounts department. The characteristic of management became improving the numbers, not improving the product.”

All of this led to ‘heroic’ leadership, the view of humans as ‘economic man’ driven by self-interest, and therefore requiring oversight and ratings of performance, and the view that markets eventually resolved all conflicts involved in exchange of wants and needs: organisations only had utility if their costs in managing transactions were less than would otherwise obtain. In short wedges were driven between wants and needs and leaders and everyone else. Sets of fabrications, amongst other things about efficiency and effectiveness (which were conflated) and prosperity, rationalised the conduct of organisations.

In the view of management researchers Fabrizio Ferraro, Jeffrey Pfeffer & Robert I Sutton (in “Economics Language And Assumptions: How Theories Can Become Self-Fulfilling”, Academy of Management Review, 30/1, p8-24, January 2005), social science theories can become self-fulfilling by shaping institutional designs and management practices, as well as social norms and expectations about behavior, thereby creating the behavior they predict. They also perpetuate themselves by promulgating language and assumptions that become widely used and accepted.

An essay with more detail on this will follow.
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Caterpillars and Bowerbirds, evolution at work: The Science Show (on ABC Radio National for 21 March) dealt with caterpillars welcomed into ants’ nests and Satin bowerbirds singing and dancing to robot female bowerbirds.

Professor Jeremy Thomas, Professor of Ecology & Professorial Fellow of New College University of Oxford UK was interviewed by Chris Smith (the BBC’s “naked scientist”). Thomas has found that invading caterpillars, normally snapped up with relish by ants, have managed to con their hosts. They have produced a chemical which mimics that produced by the ants. This is so successful that the ants carry them into he nests and feed them, Indeed in times are really tough, the ants kills their own grubs and feed the caterpillars. But they do better than that: the caterpillars produce sounds which are the same as those produced by the queen ants. Thomas and his team were able to place tiny microphones inside ants’ nests in t eh laboratory. “when we played back the sounds of the chrysalis to the ants, we found that the ants were reacting to the miniature speakers in exactly the same way as when we played queen ant sounds. In fact, if anything, they were behaving in more extreme forms and it attracted more ants and they sat on it and behaved almost as if they were super-queens.”

On the same program Robyn Williams interviewed Dr Gail Patricelli, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis “who has designed robots to look very much like satin bowerbirds. At Wallaby Creek, near Brisbane, she dressed her robots to look like female birds. The males then sing and dance around the robot. This enables Gail to observe and study the signals exhibited by the male as they try to win the hand, or wing of the female. In order to be successful in courtship, it’s not just show, but the ability to interact socially and adjust behaviour in response to female signals and other behaviour during courtship.”

By the way, Professor Rick Shine (Sydney University) has found that (native Australian) Meat Ants are voracious predators of baby Cane Toads but pose no threat to other native frogs. What was the response of the Northern Territory? A spokesman on the news said, “This is nothing new! What we need is research which shows us how to put a gene for eating toads into Monitor Lizards”. Right!
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Next week: John Florio on scholars, museums in North America coping with financial turmoil, exploiting new buildings and revamping websites. And (held over) the British Government’s enquiry into the invasion of Iraq and possible consequences for the BBC.

This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.

OWL’S HOOTS

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Hoots No. 1 – 26 March 2009: Museums have become “our home from home”, Barack Obama’s work schedule has large gaps in which he sets aside time to step back and think or make calls or read and the late Bill Stanner’s essays  published by Black Inc. Australia will support the UN Indigenous Rights Convention which the former government voted against in 2007.

Museums  are not much like museums anymore: In “Why museums have become our home from home” (The Times March 14, 2009) Hugo Rifkind writes that “People are visiting our galleries and museums at a startling rate. Is it the cafés, the absence of swearing… maybe even the art?”. Rifkind suggests some reasons: that museums “are the best public space we have” and that museums are safe places. Of course they are free but more people may be visiting “because people are getting cleverer”. But first of all he says it is because “quite suddenly, museums aren’t much like museums”!

Leadership lessons: Writing in the New York Review of Books (“The Thirty Days of Barack Obama”, March 26, 2009) Elizabeth Drew observes the following:

“As carefully as Barack Obama prepared for it, the presidency has held some surprises for him””some foreseeable, some not, and some of his own making. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the early Clinton era, Obama concluded that, unlike Clinton, he didn’t want to hold the numerous meetings that can chew up so much of the president’s time. Instead, according to his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, Obama’s style is to drop by an aide’s office””a restless man, he roams the White House corridors””or stop an aide in a hallway and ask, “How are you coming on that thing we were talking about?” Gibbs says, “The worst thing is not have an answer.” Asked what happens then, Gibbs replied, “He gets that disappointed parent look, and then you better go find an answer.”

“Obama’s publicly announced schedules have large gaps; he makes it a point to set aside time to step back and think””sometimes going for a long, solitary walk around the White House grounds””or make calls, or read. A night owl, he usually takes work home, to be studied after he’s tucked his daughters into bed. Aides say he turns around paperwork fairly quickly, responding to and signing off on their memoranda.”

Stop Press: Barrack Obama is to read from his book “Dreams from my Father” on ABC Radio National’s First Person (weekdays 10:45am) which is part of the Book Show starting 10:00am, from Monday 30th March. (The readings can usually be listened to or podcast.)

Books: Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, persuaded Black Inc to publish the essays by Professor W.E.H. (Bill) Stanner (under the title of “The Dreaming & Other Essays”) by this distinguished Australian anthropologist and has written the introduction. An edited extract from it appeared in The Australian 14 March 2009 (doubtfully available on the web). There are other articles about Stanner and the essays including one by Professor Marcia Langton also in The Australian on March 4 (on the web).

Manne writes, “In 1968 Stanner was invited to deliver the ABC’s Boyer Lectures. In them he talked of the persistence of “the great Australian silence” concerning the Aboriginal dispossession; the belated recognition in Australia of the genius and the strangeness of the indigenous culture the British had so light-heartedly set upon destroying; the emerging possibilities of a racial composition if we could only see that our problem with the Aborigines was less important than their problem with us; the arrogance and certain failure of the policy of assimilation that was inviting the Aborigines to relinquish what it was that made them a distinctive people or, in Stanner’s biting phrase, was asking them to “un-be”; and, finally and tentatively, the question that came more and more to obsess him, the possibility of a historic act of reconciliation through a willingness to contemplate some new deal over the question of the ownership of land.”

Stop Press: Australia will next week officially back the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reversing the Howard Government’s vote against it in 2007. (the US, New Zealand and Canada also voted against it in the General Assembly.) Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin will make a statement on Australia’s change in position on April 3 at Parliament House in Canberra.

Music: Tapestry is a vocal ensemble founded in 1995 by Laurie Monahan, Cristi Catt, and Daniela Tosic. Based in Boston, the ensemble made its concert debut in its hometown with performances of Steve Reich’s Tehillim. The group has established an international reputation for its bold conceptual programming which combines medieval and traditional repertory with contemporary compositions. Their album “Faces of Faces of a Woman” weaves together a mix of tales, music and poetry to reveal the many faces of a woman, ranging from 12th century nun Hildegard von Bingen to 16th century Irish pirate Grace O’Malley to 20th century Russian poet Anna Akmatova together with music of female troubadours, traditional songs, and lullabies including “Careless Love”. Astonishingly wonderful!

Next week: A quotation about critics from someone who knew heretic and philosopher Giordano Bruno (whose biography by Ingrid Rowland has recently been published), burned at the stake in Rome in February 1600, and two amazing biological stories about caterpillars being welcomed in the nests of ants and the courtship of Bower Birds – if you haven’t heard them already on the Science Show with Robyn Williams. And an inquiry into Britain’s invasion of Iraq: what might the consequences be?

This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.