What’s in a Name - World, Worlding the Ethnographic Museum

Wayne Modest, PhD

Director of Content National Museum of World Cultures and the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam

Head of Research Center for Material Culture at  Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.


This seminar explores the possible analytical yield of the concept of Worlding for fashioning futures alternative for ethnographic museums. For more than three decades now, ethnographic museums – at least those in Europe –  have received sustained critique. In its most recent iteration, this critique has congregated around ideas of restitution and repatriation, and more broadly of decolonisation. Partly as a response to the critique many of these museums, at least in Europe have shifted to the name World, or World Cultures museums. In this seminar I want to trace some of the debates around these museums and the choice they have made to change their names. Beyond a too easy dismissal of world as a euphemism for those who are not us, I want to suggest world as Worlding, taken as a “work of world-imagining”, or as an attunement to practices of “worldmaking”, as  “revisioning of our relations” with others in the world, or as practices of sovereignties of the imagination, to see if this may hold analytical and practical yield for rethinking the ethnographic museums for the future.


Further readings

  • De la Cadena, Marisol, and Mario Blaser, eds. A world of many worlds. Duke University Press, 2018. Introduction.
  • Cheah, Pheng. What is a world?: on postcolonial literature as world literature. Duke University Press, 2015. Introduction.
  • Ingold, Tim. "One world anthropology." HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 8.1-2 (2018): 158-171.
  • Graeber, David. "Radical alterity is just another way of saying “reality” a reply to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro." HAU: journal of ethnographic theory 5.2 (2015): 1-41.
  • Peeren, Esther. "Worlding Popular Culture." In Bloomsbury Handbook of World Theory (2022).
  • Kaiser, Birgit Mara. "Worlding CompLit: Diffractive Reading with Barad, Glissant and Nancy." Parallax 20.3 (2014): 274-287.
  • Wenzel, Jennifer. The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature. New York: Fordham University Press, 2020. Introduction
Wed February 22nd 2023, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Wayne Modest