Research Article

On the Hinge Function of Museum Guards. The Museum in the Field of Tension Between Sovereignty of Interpretation and Audience Orientation


The role museum guards play in the mediation between culture and the public sphere has been neglected in the field of museum studies so far. Embedded in the discussion about change museums need to undergo, this article focuses on tensions in the services expected of museum guards from the perspective of social inequality and institutional theory. Firstly, the guards’ role ‘in service’ of museums is explored in light of the implementation of personnel and visitor concepts; secondly, the guards’ positioning in the communication of visitor expectations and ‘in service’ of the audience is analysed. Thirdly, the paradoxical challenges of these multiple ‘servitudes’ in the guards’ daily work routine is systematized. Our insights are based on multi-method case studies and additional observations in numerous museums. They show that the museum guards’ role reveals the conflict between interpretative sovereignty and the rhetoric of participation cultural organizations often make use of.