The Seduction, Refusal, and Retention of Universality in Collections Care

Universality as an intellectual and ethical imperative has substantially shaped museum work, including the management and care of collections. Critiques of the universal—including universal museums—contribute to current and necessary conversations encouraging the decolonization of cultural institutions. At the same time, the ethical impetus of universal design offers a new set of values with which to imagine the universal in museums. In this talk, I consider moves from universalism to relativism, and from singularity to plurality. In seeking to understand why universalism, its refusal, and its retention within museum spaces matters, I propose that museums’ evolving interpretations of universality directly shape how they care—for their collections, their publics, and their environments.

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