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Encountering people and place: Museums through the lens of Instagram

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The world of galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM), once a set of onsite only experiences, is being increasingly encountered in the digital realm with screen culture and mobile devices now mainstream in many parts of the globe. The social media platform, Instagram, with its strong visual presence, is a popular window used by museum visitors to discover collections held by cultural institutions, and to reflect this experience back to their shared networks. This activity constitutes a form of sense-making. A neglected area of research to date, the digital content produced by visitors to cultural institutions provides unique insights into popular aspects of exhibitions and collections, particular spaces within their buildings, and the ways in which visitors experience and engage with these. This article draws on research into visitors’ use of Instagram in museums to argue that encountering material culture occurs in an integrated manner involving real-life and virtual experiences that act to create a social sense of the museum that is participatory and alluring. Place-making and social presence theories are used to interpret data generated by visitors. Findings highlight implications for museum practice and the changing role and value of social media in the everyday work of cultural institutions.
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Keywords: Instagram; digital content; engagement; museums; social media; visual research

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Western Sydney University

Publication date: March 1, 2018

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  • The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.
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