Between the museum and the public : Negotiating the "circuit of culture" as an analytical tool for researching museums in China

Selina Chui Fun HO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This paper questions the hierarchical domination of state institutional capital and the limited role of human agency in the discursive formation of contemporary Chinese museums. Based on a review of the literature relating to the Chinese museums and their visitors, I argue that the existing research methodologies need to be updated to reflect the fundamental changes and persisting issues of museums in the context of China, and future research is indispensable to consider a broader approach in examining the construction of museums. I propose the theoretical construct of "circuit of culture" (known as the Circuit) that can provide a holistic framework to explain how the museum as a cultural site works in terms of production, consumption, identity, regulation, and representation and how it articulates these five elements that co-construct each other in the process of culture. The Circuit contributes to the study of a communal relationship between institutional capital and social and communicative capital and opens up new possibilities for researching museums from many perspectives and in as many contexts as possible. This paper advocates a paradigm shift in the museum research in China, from a focus on the relationship between the museum and the state-and the political or economic forces that shape the museum discourse-towards a sociocultural communicative approach to look into the actual interaction between the museum and the public.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-31
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of the Inclusive Museum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • China's studies
  • Cultural consumption
  • Cultural production
  • Museum studies


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