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11.30  Museums, Immigrants and Social Justice: Addressing Issues of Language Barriers and Employment

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In line with the New Museology approach, museums all over the world have engaged with issues of social justice for at least the past thirty years. This has taken the form, mainly, of projects representing and interpreting (im)migrants’ histories, heritage, and identities in the space of the museum. In recent years, a number of museums have also offered (im)migrants opportunities to learn the language of the host country, as well as acquire employment skills. 

Little comprehensive and interdisciplinary research has been carried out on these more recent programs offering these opportunities. This paper will present the result of a research that intended to fill this gap. The first aim is to analyze critically whether and how a wide range of museums in three European cities have addressed issues related to language barriers as well as unemployment and employment discrimination faced by immigrants. The second is to analyze how immigrants themselves have used the selected museums in order to address these major issues. 

This research is based on in-depth case studies, and the methods include participant observation, extensive interviews with diverse stakeholders (including immigrants themselves), as well as analyses of unpublished documents at museums engaging with immigrants (Manchester Museum and its partner Manchester Art Gallery, in England, the National Gallery of Denmark and its partner Thorvaldsens Museum, in Denmark, as well as the National Museum on the History of Immigration in Paris, in France). Europe was chosen as a focus because social justice is one of its core and foundational values. Focusing on one social and economic zone also gives coherence to this project. 

The capability approach by Amartya Sen has guided the understanding and interpretation of social justice and has provided the main theoretical framework for this research. A person’s capability reflects the actual ability and freedom of people to choose to achieve what they want to do and be. The authorized heritage discourse will also guide the interpretation of the data, through careful analyses of immigrants’ use of the selected museums on their own terms and the related impacts on institutions. 

The conclusion of this paper will provide a fresh perspective into museums’ practices and identify ways in which museums might be able to contribute more effectively to social justice for immigrants.

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