Museums, diaspora communities and diasporic cultures
: a Kachin case study

  • Helen Mears

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis adds to the growing body of literature on museums and source communities through addressing a hitherto under-examined area of activity: the interactions between museums and diaspora communities. It does so through a focus on the cultural practices and museum engagements of the Kachin community from northern Myanmar. The shift in museum practice prompted by increased interaction with source communities from the 1980s onwards has led to fundamental changes in museum policy. Indeed, this shift has been described as “one of the most important developments in the history of museums” (Peers and Brown, 2003, p.1). However, it was a shift informed by the interests and perspectives of an ethnocentric museology, and, for these reasons, analysis of its symptoms has remained largely focussed on the museum institution rather than the communities which historically contributed to these institutions’ collections. Moreover, it was a shift which did not fully take account of the increasingly mobile and transnational nature of these communities. This thesis, researched and written by a museum curator, was initiated by the longstanding and active engagement of Kachin people with historical materials in the collections of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. In closely attending to the cultural interests and habits of overseas Kachin communities, rather than those of the Museum, the thesis responds to Christina Kreps’ call to researchers to “liberate our thinking from Eurocentric notions of what constitutes the museum and museological behaviour” (2003, p.x). Through interviews with individual members of three overseas Kachin communities and the examination of a range of Kachin-related cultural productions, it demonstrates the extent to which Kachin people, like museums, are highly engaged in heritage and cultural preservation, albeit in ways which are distinctive to normative museum practices of collecting, display and interpretation. To illustrate the limited and contingent nature of collaborations led by British museums and involving diaspora communities, the thesis presents examples which reveal some of the issues raised by practice in this area over the last two decades. In reflecting on the opportunities for a deeper engagement with young and second-generation migrants specifically, it concludes by recommending the adoption, by museums, of an acculturalist practice, which would enable such institutions to better align themselves with their stakeholders and to articulate the changes in practice needed to serve an increasingly transnational public.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorClaire Wintle (Supervisor) & Louise Purbrick (Supervisor)


  • museums
  • source community
  • diaspora
  • Kachin
  • transnationalism

Cite this