Gestures of closure: A small stories approach to museumgoers' texts

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Museums are familiar public institutions whose primary mode of mediation is narration. They are geared toward narrating collective stories that are authoritative, linear, and grand in scope. Yet with the historical turn museums have recently taken from collection-centered to audience-centered institutions - coupled with a participatory mode of mediation - more than ever museumgoers are now invited to participate in these grand narrations. This article examines the institutional interaction between museums and museumgoers, and the texts that the latter produce in situ. It analyzes over 3000 texts that visitors wrote at the Florida Holocaust Museum, between 2012 and 2015. It employs the "small stories"framework to explore the interactional narrative structure and features within which museumgoers' written comments are elicited and displayed in museums. The analysis highlights the narrative functions and authorial roles that museumgoers are ascribed institutionally, and whether and how they discursively occupy them. Three main narrative strategies of/for participation are discerned, through which museumgoers variously perform gestures of closure of their visit. These narrative gestures index ways, in which visitors signal the approaching end of the museum's narration, employing diverse discursive resources, while adding a coda or a resolution to the institutional narrative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)733-753
Number of pages21
JournalText and Talk
Issue number6
Early online date13 Jul 2020
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston 2020.


  • mediation
  • museums
  • narrative analysis
  • participation
  • small stories
  • visitor studies


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