People on the move: how museums de-marginalize migration

Katja Pelsmaekers*, Tom Van Hout

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Newly set-up social heritage museums have attempted to counter the anonymous and stereotyped presentations of migrants in the public sphere. Drawing on the tension between media and museum representations of human mobility, this paper offers a multimodal analysis of de-marginalization strategies in museum discourses of migration. We argue that in contrast to contemporary news media and their predominantly “exclusionary” discourse (Krzyżanowski, Triandafyllidou, and Wodak 2018. “The Mediatization and the Politicization of the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Europe.” Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 16 (1-2): 1–14), museums portray (e)migration enthusiastically, with varying degrees of sophistication, with strategies to generate involvement, empathy, and pleasurable experience. Historical actors and events are thereby stretched as well as compressed and essentialized into a phenomenon of people of all times everywhere. In this process of de-marginalization, however, museums and visitors also pay a price of differentiation and authenticity. We suggest that this mainly happens under the pressure of neoliberal economic conditions and the exigencies of the experience economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-624
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • heritage museums
  • marginalization
  • migration
  • multimodal analysis
  • normalization


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