A Matter of Material
: Exploring the Value of the Museum of Design in Plastics

  • Louise Dennis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis, A Matter of Material: Exploring the Value of the Museum of Design
in Plastics (MoDiP), sets out to understand how a museum focusing on a single
material family can contribute to the societal and museological comprehension
of design in plastics. It looks at how museums communicate a group of
materials that audiences believe they know and understand, yet that knowledge
and understanding may not be the whole story. It explores why it might seem
strange that a museum dedicated to plastics even exists, by looking at what
museums are, what they have been traditionally, and what they can become.

The contribution to knowledge that this research demonstrates is in the
previously unwritten history and close study of MoDiP which is an, as yet, under
researched resource. My role as Curator of MoDiP has provided an empirical
knowledge and expertise that grounds this contribution in my professional
practice. This has enabled an opening of a knowledge embedded in the role of
a museum of a contested and devalued material, illuminating the problem of
plastics in museums. The study inserts plastics, and the specific collection of
them by MoDiP, into the relational museological theory to discover the value of
the museum’s practice where complexity is added to the debate about plastics
in the current climate. The particular interest of the triangular relationships
between audiences, museums, and plastics is demonstrated using new
diagrams, a tradition of museum studies especially used by Susan Pearce. The
six original diagrams within the thesis are used to illustrate new ideas and

This research uses the tools of case study as a methodology to make a close
study of the functions and collections of MoDiP, and in contrast the Pinto
Collection of wooden objects at Birmingham Museums Trust. These tools
include interviewing employees, studying documents, and observing practices,
and sit alongside the curatorial practices of collections and object research,
audience sampling through surveys and social media, as well as visiting other
museums and exhibitions and reflecting on such experiences. By using these
methods, this work investigates the material qualities of plastics, alongside
other materials, and looks at why the placement of some materials within the
museum setting might be difficult to comprehend and how, by being the sole
focus of the museum, materials can be more deeply explored.
Date of AwardAug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorLouise Purbrick (Supervisor) & Lesley Whitworth (Supervisor)

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