Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Tour Talk: Docents, Visitors, and Authority in the Art Museum
by Graves, Jean A., Ph.D.(Educ.), Indiana University, 2020, 311; 28091403
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this study is to explore art museum tours for adults from the perspective of docents (teaching volunteers). Theorists have long pressed museum educators to take up visitor-centered practices, and museum educators have tried to implement new teaching techniques. However, in my work as a docent trainer, I observed that many docents appeared uncomfortable with visitor-centered pedagogy, especially when touring adults. They continued to make objects the center of their teaching. I eventually realized I should learn more about docents’ own understandings of adult visitors and adult tours but found few docent voices represented in the literature. Thus, a twofold problem emerged: first, that adult tours need to be understood in practice, and second, that docents’ perspectives need to be heard.

Six docents from one museum contributed to this study, which employed qualitative methods including tour observations, video-supported interviews, and a focus group. The study’s key finding is that the docents seemed to pursue two, not entirely compatible, goals: to provide adults with institutionally authorized information about works of art, and to help them construct knowledge from their own observations. The data suggest that the docents developed strategies to accommodate or work around these conflicting demands, which they then shared with their colleagues. This observation has ramifications for staff who oversee docents. The findings also have implications for future research. Currently, museum scholars are asking visitors important questions, but they neglect a resource close at hand: the insights of museum workers who serve visitors face to face. By elevating the contributions of these discounted workers, researchers may prompt museum leaders to reflect on entrenched hierarchies and be inspired to promote equity in their museums.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lackey, Lara
Commitee: Manifold, Marjorie, Davis-Soylu, Heidi, Shrum, Rebecca, Pickard, Amy
School: Indiana University
Department: School of Education
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 82/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art education, Museum studies, Adult education
Keywords: Art museum education, Docents, Museum education—adults, Museum tours, Volunteers
Publication Number: 28091403
ISBN: 9798672111773
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