A matter of material : exploring the value of the Museum of Design in Plastics

A matter of material : exploring the value of the Museum of Design in Plastics
Author: Dennis, Louise (2020)


This thesis, A Matter of Material: Exploring the Value of the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP), sets out to understand how a museum focusing on a single material family can contribute to the societal and museological comprehension of design in plastics. It looks at how museums communicate a group of materials that audiences believe they know and understand, yet that knowledge and understanding may not be the whole story. It explores why it might seem strange that a museum dedicated to plastics even exists, by looking at what museums are, what they have been traditionally, and what they can become.
The contribution to knowledge that this research demonstrates is in the previously unwritten history and close study of MoDiP which is an, as yet, under researched resource. My role as Curator of MoDiP has provided an empirical knowledge and expertise that grounds this contribution in my professional practice. This has enabled an opening of a knowledge embedded in the role of a museum of a contested and devalued material, illuminating the problem of plastics in museums. The study inserts plastics, and the specific collection of them by MoDiP, into the relational museological theory to discover the value of the museum’s practice where complexity is added to the debate about plastics in the current climate. The particular interest of the triangular relationships between audiences, museums, and plastics is demonstrated using new diagrams, a tradition of museum studies especially used by Susan Pearce. The six original diagrams within the thesis are used to illustrate new ideas and concepts.
This research uses the tools of case study as a methodology to make a close study of the functions and collections of MoDiP, and in contrast the Pinto Collection of wooden objects at Birmingham Museums Trust. These tools include interviewing employees, studying documents, and observing practices, and sit alongside the curatorial practices of collections and object research, audience sampling through surveys and social media, as well as visiting other museums and exhibitions and reflecting on such experiences. By using these methods, this work investigates the material qualities of plastics, alongside other materials, and looks at why the placement of some materials within the museum setting might be difficult to comprehend and how, by being the sole focus of the museum, materials can be more deeply explored.

Publication details
View Item