Exploring Socially Engaged Practice in Museums and Galleries

Module code: MU7545
Co-ordinator: Richard Sandell

Socially engaged approaches and practices in museums and galleries of all kinds are rapidly evolving. A deep commitment to meeting the needs of audiences and society at large characterises increasing numbers of museums, galleries and similar cultural organisations across the world. This module equips you with the historical, theoretical, and practice-based knowledge to put values-driven museums and galleries into a context, and consider how such approaches can be progressed and defended in the face of political and philosophical challenges and a difficult funding climate. This module draws on case studies from across the world which demonstrate key values and characteristics of socially engaged practice, such as an active approach to advancing inclusivity, equality, social justice, human rights, and lifelong learning. You will develop your ability to recognise the barriers facing such work in a variety of contexts, and be able to critically argue for approaches that overcome such barriers. 

The notion of leadership – as potentially practiced at all levels of an organisation and a key factor in developing and championing socially engaged practice – is explored in depth in this module. You are asked to draw on your own experiences, both personal and professional, in order to articulate your own values and priorities in the context of socially engaged museum and gallery practice.

Topics covered

  • The histories of values-driven museums
  • Key critiques and debates of socially engaged practice
  • Museums and galleries’ relationship to human rights and social justice issues
  • Museum and gallery audiences and participation
  • Lifelong learning
  • Leadership and values


  • 80 hours of interactive lectures and activities (mainly online) and reading tasks
  • 2 one-hour seminars
  • 2 tutorials
  • 8 hours of fieldwork (self-directed study visits)
  • Guided independent study and assignment preparation time


  • Self-reflective statement, 800-1,000 words or 5 minute audio or video (15%)
  • Participation in online discussion (5%)
  • Case study and accompanying essay, 3,200-4,000 words or equivalent (80%)