The connection between ecomuseum and capitals

Previous research and work on ecomuseums have indicated potential in applying the theory of various forms of socio-cultural capitals when analyzing ecomuseum practices. The notion of capital used herein is derived in large part from Pierre Bourdieu’s work from the 1970s onward that focused on an extended notion of capital referring to the inherent structure of the social world. From this broadened sense, various forms of capital have been identified such as human, social, cultural, and identity. The different forms of capital interrelate in a ripple effect.


The idea of human capital has been around for a long time. The concept is legible in the writings of Scottish economist and philosopher, Adam Smith, from the last decades of the eighteenth century. The term human capital began popping up in scholarly articles during the 1950s. In the 1960s, American economist, Gary Becker, researched, worked, and wrote extensively on human capital bringing it into the scholarly spotlight. For Becker, human capital is the stock of knowledge, skills, and experiences possessed by an individual. Human capital is the most basic of the forms but nonetheless essential.

Social capital is the networks of relationships among people in a particular society. Gender, race, age, as well as group memberships all can be considered resources associated with social capital. Robert Putnam emphasized trust and reciprocity in his conceptualization of social capital. Cultural capital refers to the assets of a person that allow social mobility in a society. Taste, style, preferences, education, and intellect are all resources associated with cultural capital. Social and cultural capital do share similarities and some overlap but key variations between the two keep them distinct from one another.

Identity capital is the context through which identity is negotiated and maintained. James Cote provides a definition and discussion of identity capital. He defines it as how an individual invests in a particular identity, which can take the form of choice, or innovation, but also of duty, and following norms. In a very general sense, human and social capital are more concrete while cultural and identity capital are more abstract.

Some scholars select only one form of capital to work with. This does not allow for the complexities of the influences and interconnections between the forms to be taken into account. The various forms of capital exist as interconnected building blocks. Each form of capital is essential for the others to exist, while simultaneously being reliant on the existence of the other forms. The various forms of capital manifest in an interrelational nexus.


Previous research on capitals

There are a few scholars and projects that have recognized the connection and potential between ecomuseums and capital. The research group G. Corsane, P. David, S. Elliott, M. Maggi, D. Murtas, and S. Rogers conducted a project that studied five ecomuseums in Piemonte and Liguria, Italy to assess how close the selected cases met the demands of ecomuseum theory. Research on capital was not in their project aims but their “work suggests that success could be measured more effectively in terms of the forms of capital that result from local people’s use of ecomuseological methods to engage with and conserve their heritage” (article here).

Lisa Schultz, Carl Folke, and Per Olsson studied the Ekomuseum Kristianstads Vattenrike in southern Sweden. They identified this ecomuseum as a bridging organization. They also point to the importance of social capital in their analysis and findings. Thoman Hahn, Per Olsson, Carl Folke, and Kristin Johansson further studied the notion of bridging in their organizational analysis of the same ecomuseum. These research groups call for more in depth and purposefully aimed research to be done with ecomuseums and capital. This thesis aims to answer that call.

Outside of the particular ecomuseum context, the application of capital to museums, their experiences, and their visitors has occurred. Andrew Newman and Fiona McLean seek to make sense of the museum user’s experience through research that is analyzed using human, social, cultural, and identity capital. Naomi Kinghorn and Ken Willis examine preferences of visitors to the Discovery Museum in northeast England with respect to opportunities for social capital gain.

I wish to depart from these previous suggestions and findings. My research then asks: How can the gains or losses of various forms of capital within the ecomuseum be a measure or reflection of the ecomuseum’s successes or shortcomings?

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