It’s All Relative: Staff-Visitor Relations Set Against Physical Sciences in Chinese and British Science Museums
While there is continuous discourse concerning East-West knowledge transfer, one area that is only beginning to receive increasing attention within this context is science museums. Despite the association of communications channels in museums with the passing of scientific information from “the source” (scientists, etc.) to the “target” (visitors), the museum staff occupy roles of influence at various stages in the communication process. Authors such as Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, John Durant, and Sharon Macdonald write with focus on individual institutions, and many journal papers choose a visitor-studies approach to chart public engagement of science. Scholarship on border-crossing scientific public engagement is scarce, and little of this scholarship looks at the work of museum staff. The most prominent work on museum staff is Macdonald’s Behind the scenes at the Science Museum, with few new works appearing in the past 10 years. This is why the object of this paper is to discover the roles of museum staff in the science communication process, and how this may vary between cases of science museums differentiated by nationality and funding status. This paper will draw on empirical research applying visitor-research methods used in the Science Museum in London in science museums in China. Such a “test” of communicability of visitor surveying aims to evaluate how public engagement – including interactivity with exhibits and feedback to the museum – of science differs between the East and the West. From these experiments, this research aims to analyse the grass-roots science communication in each case study, with the idea that the visitor-staff relationship is a vital component in the development of all science museums. The paper will further infer that while museum visitors are often afforded many demographic-defining categories, museum “staff” and “sources” of science also come in colourful variations.