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Cultural Politics in the Representation of Immigrants: A Comparative Study of Migration Museums in Different Countries in the World-System

Issue 9: Cultural Politics in the Representation of Immigrants: A Comparative Study of Migration Museums in Different Countries in the World-System

Proposed by Jui-Hua Chen at the Institute of Sociology, National Tsing Hua University,
this project intends to examine the representation of migrants in the site of museums. It explores the ways in which nation-states of different localities in the world-system define their relationships with migrants in the context of globalization, based on which the nation-states further redefine what a “nation” is. This research is neither about the techniques of museum exhibition nor about the codes of event hosting; rather, it is about the community politics revealed by the exhibitions, and the community relations that these activities endeavor to govern. Since the 1990s onward, the People’s Republic of China has established more than ten “overseas Chinese museums” in the capital and the hometown cities of the emigrant Chinese (qiaoxiang) along the southeast coast, shifting the focus away from the relationship between the immigrants and the recipient country to that between the emigrants and the motherland.  Taiwan, by contrast, since the 1990s as the trend of “rediscovery of the locality” started, has established the National Museum of Taiwan History, museums at the county level, and museums in the local, with an attempt to explore the possibility of forming new political community based on local cultures.  In contrast to these two instances, over the past three decades, many Euro-American countries have established “immigrant museums,” including the former colonial empire France, and the nation-states turned from settler colonies such as Australia, the United States, and Canada. In their own ways, these countries display the relationships among the nation-state, the community, the local, and the process of migration. Through field work, historical investigation, and case studies, this research intends to investigate these museums in different countries, so as to examine the historical conditions and social significance embedded in these establishments. By investigating the content of exhibitions in different migration museums, this research explicates the framework of displaying and principle of narrating, and, combined with the aforementioned two points, explores how historical experiences and political culture in each country influence the ways that migrants are represented and how a nation is redefined.