Museums, values & deaccession



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3.3 Discourse Analysis


Qualitative interviews will be used to discover the values of the museum directors above. The interviews with these directors will mainly be open interviews. The aim is to let the museum directors talk about what they perceive as important. That way it will become clear what the museum directors actually value (Seale, 2004:180-192).

To keep the conversation going and to intervene when the conversation is going the wrong way, I use prepared questions and arguments. These can be found in ‘Appendix 1 – The Interview’. The questions are directed at recovering the values of the museum directors. It will be interesting to see how the different directors react on these questions and interventions. The first interview will therefore serve as a starting point for what to say and what to ask in the other interviews. This makes it possible to compare the conversations.


Eventually the interviews will result in taped and written down answers of the museum directors. These qualitative data exist of the opinions and personal insights of the directors of several museums. The right analysis of these data is important.

The discourse about deaccession, i.e. the way of speaking about deaccession, is a particular one. Museum directors have their own ‘language’ based on particular knowledge and conventions (Seale, 2004:373-375). It is important to get acquainted with the theory about deaccession and the way of speaking about it, in order to grasp the meanings and values behind the interviewees’ words (Seale, 2004:377). Especially because values are often not expressed explicitly. Values come about in actions, policies and conversations (Klamer, 2006:36-37). This means that during the interviews values will be shaped and expressed by the museum directors. This implicit expression of values asks for a detailed analysis of the data. The repetition or emphasis of key words, phrases or images reveals most clearly what the interviewees are trying to put across (Seale, 2004:378). By looking for patterns of variation within the interviews it is possible to see what is done to reconcile conflicting ideas and to cope with contradictions or uncertainty (Seale, 2004:379). This way the disputable role of economic values might be detected. Paying attention to the ‘silences’ in the interviews could also benefit the analysis (Seale, 2004:379). Do the directors talk about economic values or do they refrain from addressing these?


3.4 Dissemination

By interviewing five museum directors of five different museums and analysing their discourse, the values behind deaccessioning museum objects are explored. This master thesis is the first research into the conversation about deaccession. It is the presumption that economic values do play a role in this conversation, but only the interviews can tell if this presumption is true or false. Do museum directors acknowledge these economic values and is this accepted in the field?

By looking at the economic aspects in an already disputable subject, this master thesis will add to the theories and practices about the deaccession of museum objects and the discourse in the Dutch museum field.



  1. Economic, Social & Cultural Values

The notion of ‘value’ is not new. The value discourse dates back to the time of Plato and Aristotle (Hutter & Throsby, 2008:1). Nevertheless, it is still an interesting notion, since values are present everywhere. All conversations, deliberations, negotiations, conflicts, arguments and actions evolve around values. Values are expressed in everything we do and say (Klamer, 2002).


The literature on values is therefore quite extensive. ‘Contributions to [the] discussions [about values] can be identified in economics, literary and cultural theory, sociology, anthropology, and cultural policy studies’ (Hutter, 2008:3). In these scientific fields values are defined in different ways. Scientists mention economic value, either to refer to use-value or exchange-value (Throsby, 2001:20-22), intrinsic value (Throsby, 2001:27), artistic value (Hutter, 2008:60), public value (Brooks, 2008:270), entertainment value (Shusterman, 2008:41) and so on. The multiple forms of value make it hard to grasp the actual concept. What do we mean by ‘values’?
According to Throsby values can be defined as the beliefs and moral principles, which provide the framework for our thinking and being and our expression of worth (Throsby, 2001:19). This solid definition of values, however, doesn’t change the fact that the concept remains hard to grasp.

This is mainly caused by the intangible character of values. We can say that values are present everywhere, but we cannot actually ‘touch’ or ‘see’ values. This is because values are expressed explicitly (Klamer, 2006:37).This expression of values happens in conversations and in actions. Our opinions, visions and arguments and the ways we act display the values we have. Values are at the basis of all human behaviour (Klamer, 2006:36-38). Values determine the actions of individuals, organizations, societies and countries.

We are not always conscious of these values. People might not be aware of their own values and might not be able to give expression to their values (Klamer, 2006:36). Who knows what their true values are? Values come about when we are asked to give our opinion about something or when we are confronted with certain comments.

Our values might also change and evolve during our lives. Klamer (2002) refers to this as the process of valorisation, i.e. the development of values and adoption of new values. Values are numerous and differ not only between individuals but also inside the mind of one single individual. This external and internal conflict of values shapes and changes the values of individuals. Conversations, negotiations, deliberations and observations change values. The process of valorisation is therefore a never-ending process (Klamer, 2002).


4.1 A Framework

The plural and ambiguous character of ‘values’ and the existence of multiple value-theories, require choices in case of research. The aim of this master thesis is to explore the values in the conversation about deaccession of museum objects. In order to do this it is important to select a solid and, above all, suitable theory about values.


The value discourse is mainly stirred by the notion of ‘economic values’. As we will see later on, the notion of economic values reduces everything to a measurable variable: price (Klamer, 2002). The economic values that can be associated with this, like money, wealth and profits, form our ultimate goals in life.

This perspective connects with the theories of the French social scientist Pierre Bourdieu. He introduced the term ‘capital’. Capital is the embodied, objectified and institutionalized stock of knowledge, possessions and qualifications that people have (Bourdieu, 1986:243). This capital comes in the form of economic capital, social capital and cultural capital. Economic capital is immediately and directly convertible into money (Bourdieu, 1986:243). The other forms of capital are, according to Bourdieu, also in the end directed at acquiring economic capital and economic values (Bourdieu, 1986:252-254). This means that we enter social relationships and social networks for economic reasons. We are brought up, educated and cultivated to generate economic capital and economic values.

The economist and artist Hans Abbing has a less cynical view on our world, but he does agree with the fact that economic values are important in life. In his research into the art world and the artists’ labour market he starts to explain the exceptional domain of the arts. The arts are sacred, magical and form a contrast with the rationality, calculation and efficiency in our society (Abbing, 2002:23-30). Nevertheless, as he continues he states that this sacred and magical character is only sustainable through the denial of the economy (Abbing, 2002:47). Economic values are important in the art world, but they are mostly hidden. However, our attitudes with respect to money and commerce are changing every day (Abbing, 2002:297). ‘Market orientation increases in the arts. Blatantly commercial strategies become less exceptional and more acceptable’ (Abbing, 2002:296). Economic values matter in the art world.
Although Abbing recognizes the special status of art, his book demystifies the art world. According to him the art world might not be that exceptional after all. Is this statement acceptable?
The economist David Throsby has a different vision on economic values and the art world. He states that the economic perspective is not able to do justice to the world of art. Art and culture have cultural values that should be recognized. To understand what Throsby means by ‘cultural values’ it is necessary to take a look at his definitions of culture. According to him ‘culture’ used in the broad anthropological and sociological framework refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs, mores, customs, values and practices which are common to or shared by a group (Throsby, 2001:4). But ‘culture’ can also refer to the intellectual, moral and artistic aspects of human life expressed in creative activities and products (Throsby, 2001:4).

Therefore cultural values exist of social values, spiritual values, historical values, aesthetic values, symbolic values and authenticity values (Throsby, 2001:29).


The cultural economist Arjo Klamer also acknowledges the important characteristics of art and culture. However, contrary to Throsby, he makes a distinction between ‘social values’ and ‘cultural values’ (Klamer, 2002). The broad anthropological and sociological definition of culture is different from the second more narrow definition. According to Klamer these two different perceptions of culture lead us to the existence of two different forms of values. The first definition points us at values pertaining to the relations between and among people. These are what Klamer calls social values. The second definition points us at a world in which beauty, aesthetics, symbols and spirituality prevail. Religion, nature and art have values that go beyond economic and social values: cultural values (Klamer, 2002).

While recognizing these social and cultural values Klamer does not neglect the economic perspective. Sociologists, anthropologists and culturalists often seem to forget that money and other economic values are necessary to survive in this society.

Therefore the cultural-economic perspective of Klamer ‘embraces the culturalist perspective with its emphasis on the various values that constitute cultural goods while acknowledging the continuing importance of the economic dimension’ (Klamer, 2002).

This perspective results in a framework in which economic, social and cultural values are all recognized. Klamer intends to draw more attention to social and cultural values in our society, but economic values are not dismissed. His ‘objective is to strike a balance between the economic and the cultural concerns’ (Klamer, 2002:457).

Contrary to Abbing, in Klamer’s opinion the recognition of economic values does not demystify the art world. The art world is special and sacred, not only because economic values are hidden, but because of its special social and cultural values.

This cultural-economic perspective seems to fit well with the cultural world and the museum field. As a lover of art and culture it is also the most favorable perspective.


Nevertheless, I am intrigued by the notion of economic values in the conversations about deaccession. Could Hans Abbing also have a point? Are economic values simply hidden? Do economic values actually play an important role in the deaccession of museum objects?

To explore the conversation about deaccessioning museum objects I will start with the cultural-economic perspective of Klamer. During my research I will explore the role of economic values in the conversations and find out if some alterations must be made towards the perspective of Abbing.


We will now take a look at the cultural-economic value-framework of Klamer.
4.2 Economic Values

At the end of the nineteenth century economists ‘saw individuals and their preferences as the ‘ultimate atoms’ of the exchange process and of market behaviour’ (Throsby, 2001:21). In the market consumers express the value they attach to certain commodities, as these commodities are able to satisfy their wants. The value of these consumers is expressed in the price they are willing to pay for the commodities. ‘As a result, for many contemporary economists a theory of price is a theory of value, and nothing more need to be said’ (Throsby, 2001:22). Economists define value as the worth, i.e. price or exchange value, which individuals or markets assign to commodities (Throsby, 2001:19).


This economic perspective makes the concept of ‘values’ rational and measurable. Economists believe that the value of everything can be captured in its price, i.e. the outcome between supply and demand. For instance, the value of labour can be expressed through income, the value of investments is expressed in profit and the value of a country is expressed in its gross domestic product.

Economic values therefore take many forms, like income, profit, wealth, economic growth and money (Klamer, 2002). In the corporate world economic values are also associated with output, efficiency, effectiveness and other rational concepts.


In order to generate economic value individuals or companies need to be in possession of economic capital. In order to earn a good income, one or one’s family must have money to pay for a solid education and to provide for a living during the time necessary for education (Bourdieu, 1986:246). The same is valid for generating a profit. In order to earn a profit, money is needed to make an investment.

But Bourdieu as well as Throsby state that economic values can also be generated with social and cultural capital. Klamer on the other hand argues the contrary, because according to him it is not all about generating economic values.


Nevertheless, nowadays most individuals and companies are directed at acquiring economic capital and economic values (Klamer, 2006:41). People are preoccupied with high incomes, profits, loads of money, fancy cars, huge houses, expensive gadgets and long, luxurious vacations. The more, the better. The sociologist Lee Rainwater argues that ‘[t]he normal activities that enable individuals to see themselves and to be seen by others as full members, social persons, have increasingly become consumption activities; they require money’ (Walzer, 1985:105). The notion of economic values made this process of ‘commoditization’ possible. Meaning that we are able to put a price on everything, i.e. making everything into an exchangeable commodity (Kopytoff, 1986:72).

Companies are only preoccupied with profit, output, efficiency and so on. Everything has to be managed, mechanised and structured to produce the most profitable output. Consequently companies have developed into impersonal organizations with no higher goal or contribution to society than self-interest.


Is this acceptable? Do we accept these self-interested profit seeking companies? Are economic values all we can account for? Is price all that matters in our lives? Does that mean there is a price for friendship? And a price for visiting the museum?

No, because although ‘the economic perspective provides a useful framework, [..] it is a limiting one [..]’ (Klamer, 2002). There are more values in life we can account for and economic values are only there to serve these other ends (Klamer, 2002:463).


4.3 Social Values

There are certain ‘goods’ and ‘experiences’, such as relationships, groups, communities and societies, which are worth more than their economic value. These goods and experiences generate social values. Social values can be defined as the worth that individuals assign to interpersonal relationships and ‘connection’ with others (Klamer, 2002 & Throsby, 2001:29).


This worth is not economic. Bourdieu states that everything we do is about acquiring economic capital. According to him we build relationships to profit from them in the long run in terms of money or other advantages (Bourdieu, 1986:253). ‘[T]he network of relationships is the product of investment strategies, individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing reproducing social relationships that are directly usable in the short or long term [..]’ (Bourdieu, 1986:249).
Of course this happens. There are people who use everybody to accomplish their own goals. But what is life without true friends and family? ‘Lounging around in a luxurious house with a pool and a couple of cars can be quite depressing without meaningful relationships’ (Klamer, 2002).
Therefore Bourdieu’s cynical way of looking at the world must be rejected. Social values like identity, family, being member of a group, solidarity, love, friendship and freedom, form objectives in and of themselves (Klamer, 2002). It is important to recognize these values. Although ‘economists carefully cut away, shredded, and threw away elements non-economical. And so social, moral, and psychological elements, common features in classical writings, got marginalized and disappeared from the discourse’ (Klamer, 2002:459). The immeasurability of social values does not justify a lack of attention to social values. Social values are important in everyday life as they contribute to the ‘good life’ (Klamer, 2002:453). This ‘good life’ is a life beyond economic values. Our most precious possessions are not economic, but social and, as we will see next, cultural (Klamer, 2002:465).
4.4 Cultural Values

Cultural values are utterly important. Cultural values give meaning to our lives. But how and what does that mean?


‘Cultural values [..] are those that evoke qualities above and beyond the economic and the social’ (Klamer, 2002). Cultural values emphasize the aspects of goods and experiences that are worth more than their economic prices and social meanings. ‘It is one thing to have good social relationships, yet quite another to be in awe of sight or sound when strolling through a museum, attending a religious ceremony, or struggling across a mountain ridge’ (Klamer, 2002). When we are able to see and appreciate cultural values, we are able to experience beauty, harmony, colour, history, meaning, uniqueness and sacredness (Throsby, 2001:28-29).
In order to generate these cultural values individuals need to be in possession of cultural capital. According to Bourdieu cultural capital exists in three forms: embodied, objectified and institutionalized. Embodied cultural capital refers to the cultivation of the mind and body through experiences, education and upbringing. Objectified cultural capital is the possession of actual cultural goods like paintings, books, music instruments and so on. Institutionalized cultural capital is the ownership of academic qualifications and recognition concerning the discipline of art and culture (Bourdieu, 1986:243-248).

These three forms of cultural capital give people the ‘ability to experience the sublime or sacred character of a good, to see its beauty, or to recognize its place in cultural history’ (Klamer, 2002).


The notion of cultural value is about inspiration (Klamer, 2002). It entails a totally different experience of goods and the world around us. Economists do not recognize the meanings that go beyond economic values. Fortunately we now know that there are certain goods, experiences and parts of society that require a different approach.
A subject for which this seems to be true is the deaccession of museum objects. As mentioned earlier in this master thesis, the economic conversation seems to be less important in this area. However, before we come to the exploration of the value discourse in deaccessioning, there is a step to be made first. We have looked at the notion of values in our wider society, we established a suitable framework for this master thesis and we defined the three different forms of values. It is now time to look at the value discourse in the art world itself. Which values dominate the art world?


  1. The Art World

We live in a world that becomes more and more commoditized, so that everything seems to be exchangeable or for sale (Kopytoff, 1986:69). You can think of anything and with great probability it is demanded and supplied on the market.

The counter drive of this onrush of commoditization is the process of singularization. As Durkheim noted in 1912, ‘societies need to set apart a certain portion of their environment, marking it as “sacred” (Kopytoff, 1986:73). In these parts of society the interference of money is not accepted. Art, culture and religion are examples of these singularized areas.
Until today art and culture have indeed been discrete spheres of exchange (Kopytoff, 1986:77). In the art world cultural values seem to be prevailing. This can be seen in the way we experience and discuss works of art, in the way we look at and think about artists and in the way our art institutions are run. But are cultural values as important as we seem to believe?



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