Master Rolf Steier, PhD Candidate
PhD thesis title:
Embodied Meaning Making and the Museum. Bodies, artifacts, and spaces in sociocultural approahes to museum learning and design.
The museum presents an important setting for investigating the learning that occurs among small groups of people interacting with each other and with artifacts. This dissertation is about the ways that young people make meaning in museums, and focuses specifically on the ways that physical interaction including gesture and movement are important for processes of learning.
This research took place through collaboration with the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Qualitative methods were applied through the introduction of designed interventions including an interactive project room about Edvard Munch on the floor of the National Gallery, and a traveling workshop about architecture. Participants included small groups of adolescents and their interactions in these activities and spaces formed the basis for analysis of meaning making processes. A Sociocultural approach framed this analysis, but additional consideration was given to embodied perspectives in order to draw attention to people’s physical activities as situated in these spaces.
Findings suggest that participants use their hands to gesture and manipulate objects, tools, and technologies in ways that support both social coordination and the development of understandings. Similarly, visitors in museums move and position their bodies in space in relation to each other and artifacts in ways that are important for interpretive and meaning making processes. These physical aspects of interaction are intertwined with talk and social and historical aspects of the setting. This work has implications for the ways future museum activities and technologies that can be designed to support learning through attention to visitor bodies and exhibition spaces, as well as for our broader understanding of how people make meaning.