Doing Identity Work in Museums



Abstract  Museum visitors typically look at only about a third of the elements of an exhibition, and often give only limited attention to those. Can visitors really be getting something worthwhile from such partial usage of an exhibition? This article explores how visitors use exhibitions for “identity work,” the processes through which we construct, maintain, and adapt our sense of personal identity, and persuade other people to believe in that identity. Museums offer powerful opportunities for doing identity work, but the visitor does not need to engage with exhibition content deeply or systematically in order to gain the benefits that museum experiences offer for identity work.