The Culture of Enthusiasm explores what it means to be passionate about something – in this instance technology. The research has 5 main objectives/themes:
- to contribute to recent work on material culture, museums and the sociology of enthusiasts;
- to understand the ways in which enthusiasm is organised, communicated and performed in groups and societies;
- to consider the importance of material culture to enthusiasts and explore the practices they employ, such as collecting, hoarding, listing, monitoring and recording;
- to explore the relationship between enthusiasts and museum professionals (curators and conservators);
- to develop a collaborative approach between the researcher and the Science Museum.
The Research Context
- The Popular Context
When I started this research, Concorde had just been decommissioned. On an October afternoon in 2004, thousands of aircraft enthusiasts, engineers and members of the public gathered at London’s Heathrow Aiport to watch the last Concorde flight land. Broadcast by television stations around the world, its descent into Heathrow marked the end (for now) of the supersonic era of passenger air travel. It was a loss felt by millions of aircraft enthusiasts. Concorde was a technological icon. Towards the end of my fieldwork another icon, albeit from a different era, was being mourned, this time the Routemaster bus. Now running on a heritage route, the Routemaster that once serviced routes across London has become a museum artefact or possession of the private collector or enthusiast. These two high profile examples reflect the nostalgic longings and emotional attachment experienced in relation to technology.
The technologies I discuss in my research do not have such iconic appeal; they are telecommunications equipment, early British electronic computers and sites of industrial archaeology across London. Marking a departure from cultural geography’s present preoccupation with more complex and sophisticated technologies and forms of knowledge, I explore the fascination that enthusiastic individuals and collectives have for early incarnations of technologies that we now take for granted, as well as industrial sites that are long since forgotten or have been erased from the landscape.
- The Policy Context
A recent report from the think-tank Demos has argued that enthusiasts, or pro-ams – ‘amateurs who work to professional standards’ (Leadbeater and Miller 2004) – are integral to future innovation and creativity. As such the specialist knowledge, practice and skill of these communities are of increasing interest to policymakers, practitioners and business. This is particularly clear in the context of museums. The Museums Association identifies enthusiasts as a key resource:
Volunteers and enthusiasts also represent a valuable source of knowledge, and some museums have worked hard to harness this. Many natural science departments work with volunteers recording wildlife sightings, as part of local biodiversity action plans. Volunteers with relevant skills from their working lives are vital in many transport and industrial museums. There may be scope to develop this further, with more museums actively recruiting volunteers for their specialist knowledge.
(from the Museums Association’s Collections for the Future report (2005))
- The Academic Context
Drawing on work by geographers, museum anthropologists, sociologists and those working in material culture studies, this research is concerned with the knowledges, performances and spaces that make up the culture of technology enthusiasm. For this research I adopted an ethnographic approach, employing techniques such as interviews, participant observation and focus groups to get closer to how enthusiasm is experienced.
Please see the Research Interests page of this site for further information on the academic context of this project.