The governance of UK national museums and art galleries: Implications for accountability

Aminah Abdullah

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Governance is a murky and multi-faceted concept, which is generally defined as the system by which an organisation is managed and controlled. A good governance system is expected to steer an organisation towards achieving its accountability objectives. As such, governance and accountability are inter-related concepts. The choice of governance mechanisms has implications for accountability. The main objective of this PhD thesis is to examine how UK national museums and art galleries (MAGs) are governed, by investigating the following sub-research questions: What purposes do UK national MAGs serve in modern society? How are the UK national MAGs controlled by the government and why are they so controlled? How do the UK national MAGs govern themselves to discharge their accountability? What key governance challenges and tensions do the UK national MAGs face? The study draws from Foucault’s work on governmentality to develop a theoretical framework for empirically examining how the UK national MAGs are governed. Foucauldian analytical themes of ‘disciplinary power and knowledge’ and the control ‘panopticon’ mechanism comprising of hierarchical observation, normalization and examination were adopted to inform the empirical analysis. Empirical data were collected from primary and secondary sources. Primary data were obtained from thirty-two semi-structured interviews conducted with senior officers from: the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), a lobbying organisation (i.e. National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC)), non-government sponsors, and the boards of trustees and senior management teams of three national museums and three art galleries located in London. Secondary data were obtained from the annual reports of MAGs, government publications, and press releases. The findings show that the UK government has normalized the behaviour of MAGs to bring them to account for their actions by using a range of governance mechanisms. The UK government used funding and regulatory mechanisms, appointed boards of trustees, and imposed performance management regimes to normalize the behaviour of MAGs. Central government’s hierarchical observation and examination mechanisms created tensions and conflicts in the governance process. For example, the boards of trustees and senior management are also accountable to their non-government sponsors and individual donors whose expectations were not necessarily in harmony with those of the government. The current era of austerity and corresponding reduction in government funding may further compound these problems, as increases in contributions from non-government sponsors may require greater account-giving in return.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Napier, Christopher, Supervisor
  • Davison, Jane, Advisor
Award date1 Jan 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016

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