Journal Article — The Museumization of Migration in Paris and Berlin and Debates on Representation — by Andrea Meza Torres




In this article, the author takes an ethnographic approach to the museumization of migration in Paris and Berlin by focusing on the French migration museum, the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration, as well as in various examples in Berlin—such as neighborhood museums, art institutions and ethnographic museums. By looking at these examples through the perspective of social movements which have taken place in the United States and which unleashed debates around civil rights, the representation of racial/ethnic minorities, knowledge formations and the design of academic curricula, this article explores the ways in which actors engage in representing migration in museums and exhibits. The ethnographic cases show arenas of conflict and interaction between “makers” and “participants,” in which the making of representations is contested. At the same time that the topic of “migration” in a museum can be used for a politics of multiculturalism, it can also open up spaces for political interventions “from below.” The first part of the article discusses the strategies employed by the Cité nationale to represent migration “from above,” showing the internal fractures and the conflicts which emerge when “immigrants” appear as visitors in the museum.

The second part of the article shows ethnographic cases in Berlin, focusing on how the body of the “immigrant” as well as “immigrant communities” are used by museum curators as objects of display in neighborhood and ethnographic museums. The third part explores an exhibit in Berlin, which shows how actors of an immigrant association represented themselves and their community in an art institution and in their own terms. The last part compares the exhibits on migration in both cities and describes the political intervention of the Sans Papiers movement, which took the Cité nationale between October 2010 and January 2011 to fight for their legal status from within the museum.

Recommended Citation

Torres, Andrea Meza. 2011. “The Museumization of Migration in Paris and Berlin and Debates on Representation.” Pp. 5-21 in Contesting Memory: Museumizations of Migration in Comparative Global Context (Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Volume IX, Issue 4, 2011.) Belmont, MA: Okcir Press (an imprint of Ahead Publishing House).

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