Loughborough University
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A disidentified pedagogy: contesting audience categorisations in contemporary art institutions

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posted on 2023-05-24, 08:09 authored by Mikaela Assolent

This thesis analyses the policing of subjectivities in encounters between audiences and educators in contemporary art institutions. Drawing on a series of European cases from my practice as an educator, it interrogates the category of the “non-specialist” that institutions employ when seeking to expand their audience base. I argue that this category is exclusionary and operates to stigmatise individuals believed to need education. At a moment of renewed calls for art institutions to be more accountable and inclusive of previously marginalised perspectives, it is important to question the role of education in the institution. This necessitates an investigation of the contradictory tendencies of education to regulate audiences while claiming to emancipate them.

The primary contribution of this thesis resides in its conceptualisation of educational practices as platforms through which the marginalisation of non-specialist audiences can be both researched and challenged. I argue that educators often find themselves at the centre of divisive institutional practices that they simultaneously perpetuate and seek to mitigate. I propose and test pedagogies that contest audience categorisations with the aim of making these educational strategies available to educators and institutions for further development and implementation.

The thesis investigates how the discursive marginalisation of audiences can be identified and analysed in communication material (on museum websites, social media pages, and in annual reports). It is also present in the gallery space in wall labels as well as in the placement of artworks. I analyse how audience categorisations are at play along similar lines in my educational practice and examine the pedagogical tactics that I developed to challenge them. Situated in a genealogy of critical gallery education, feminist, and queer theory, the pedagogies proposed in the thesis acknowledge and embrace different ways in which identity markers and power influence the unfolding of a learning moment. I explore and defend the notion of a “disidentified pedagogy” and show how this can be used to facilitate art interpretations that are socially situated, but not reductively attached to particular bodies.

The analysis unfolds through four cases that took place between 2015 and 2018 at the Frac Lorraine (a French public contemporary art institution) and in 2019 at the Oslo biennial of art. While the primary aspects of the discussion are situated in the specific history of cultural democratisation in France, I demonstrate the relevance of the results to a wider range of public art institutions and educational environments.


Centre for Doctoral Training Feminism, Sexual Politics and Visual Culture



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Communication and Media


Loughborough University

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© Mikaela Assolent

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Kathryn Brown ; Rachael Grew

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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