University of Leicester
2022DurrantJ PHD.pdf (7.16 MB)

Disposal from Museum Collections: Navigating the ethos, ideals, and practice of transparency

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posted on 2022-08-15, 12:25 authored by Jennifer M. Durrant

This thesis explores the concept of transparency and its application to the process of curatorially-motivated disposal in UK museums. I establish the ethical necessity of transparency through audience visibility and understanding, but evidence extensive concealment by practitioners. I propose this secrecy stems from a historical professional mindset of risk aversion. I demonstrate that transparency can be created through the conscious consideration of audiences and communication modes, utilising relationships of trust to transform perceived risks into beneficial practice. Using an interpretivist strategy of exploration, I discover the interplay between individual perception and professional practice within the institutional context.

Utilising the theories of Communities of Practice and Radical Transparency I propose a Transparent Communication Model in which reflexivity generates action. Through a survey of practitioners’ views and practice I explore how disposal has been hidden or revealed to professional, public, and stakeholder audiences. I discover a desire for transparency with those audiences perceived to share museum knowledge, and I identify perceived barriers to transparency creation.

Within two case studies I explore how mindset shapes practice. At Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery I examine transparency for public audiences within the project Stories from the Stores. Through innovation the staff made visible their work and sought publicly held knowledge. But I evidence how outcomes can be limited by institutional frameworks and resource practicalities. At the Museum of London I examine transparency for professional audiences through the project Collections Review and Rationalisation (Social and Working History Collections). I reveal the centrality of confidence for creating trusting relationships and influencing sectoral change, but discover a conscious opacity for public audiences. Throughout this thesis I witness the emotive, temporal, and subjective quandaries of decision-making. Ultimately, I propose that the professional desire for disposal transparency can be achieved by considering risk as a tool for positive action.



Janet Marstine; Suzanne MacLeod; Janet Ulph.

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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