National Identity Within the National Museum: Subjectification Within Socialization

Studies in Philosophy and Education 34 (4):385-402 (2015)
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Rhetorician Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification usefully demonstrates how communities are able to engage with difficult, opposing viewpoints as they develop or maintain a sense of shared identity. Identification, “establishing a shared sense of values, attitudes, and interests with [an audience],” is promoted dialogically in the modern national museum in a way that it is difficult for classrooms to emulate. This article examines dialogic national identification particularly through the focus in museums on certain key objects that serve as what Burke termed “mythic images” that ambiguously unify multiple perspectives and translate their debates from the abstract to the concrete. By promoting the reflective identification of one’s personal memories with the collective memory of nationhood, national museums provide an aesthetic/pragmatic space for the dialogical embrace of a public identity that is not merely reflected in its exhibits but also continually reshaped by its visiting individuals. I end with the possibilities, or cautions, these mythic images suggest for varying types of communal identification—a tension inherent as well in Gert Biesta’s arguments for the meaning of a “good” education



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