CfP: Radical Museums – labour history museums as social agents

Call for papers, deadline 1 June 2019

The call for papers for the 2019 WORKLAB conference in Copenhagen 11-13 November 2019 is now open!

Radical Museums – labour history museums as social agents, 2019 WORKLAB Conference will be organized 11-13 November 2019. The conference will take place in the wonderful city of Copenhagen. The Workers Museum, located in the oldest workers’ assembly hall in Europe, will provide a unique and authentic venue for discussions about how social history museums in general, and labour history museums in particular, may act as agents for social change in a time of rapid technological development, political polarisation and rising inequality.

Conference theme

Labour history museums, and museums engaging with the technological and social aspects of industrial society in general, deal with some of the most pressing issues of our time: How will technological innovation affect working conditions and work-life balance in the future? What qualifications will be required of young people entering the labour market? How can industrial production and economic growth be made socially and environmentally sustainable? And how does growing inequality and migration of workers on a global scale both challenge and call upon the values and communities established by labour organisations?

At the same time, labour history museums, many of which were established in the 1980s as radical institutions promoting a particular view of struggles for welfare and equality, are faced with the challenge that their thematic focus and basic narratives no longer connects strongly with younger generations. If museums aim to be a relevant in terms of the concerns and questions of people today, do we then need to find new, radical ways of talking about and displaying the past?

The Radical Museums conference will discuss these issues on the basis of concrete examples of how labour history museums or related institutions engage actively in connecting past, present and future and, as part of that process, rethinks their radicalism. And it will address the issue of how such a role and process for museums may also affect relationships with communities and stakeholders and work to place museums in more direct contact with debates that often have a strong political aspect.

Call for papers

We now invite museum professionals, researchers, educational specialists and cultural agents and exhibition designers to submit papers for the conference. We welcome theoretical approaches as well as practical case studies, tools and best practices. Papers presented at the conference are invited to share innovative ideas and experiences of successes, opportunities and failures dealing with one or some of the following topics:

Museums and contemporary social change
What are the roles of social history museums in an environment of rising inequality, uncertain job opportunities and rapid technological innovation? What experiences do labour history museum have with developing activities that bring people together in discussions about societal change? Does the fourth industrial revolution require a new generation of labour history museums?

From neutral to partisan museums?
Labour history museums were often created as critical comments to a museum sector, that did not deal with the lives of working-class people. But has that opposition now become mainstream? How can these museums renew their partisan nature?

The visitor as activist
Museums are increasingly criticised for not dealing with the climate crisis or the colonial origins of their collections. Do people increasingly view museum visits, and activities at museums, as political statements? And how may museums engage new visitors by taking a stand on social issues?

Start a riot! – Exhibitions between research and activism
Radical museum should motivate visitors to engage with social issues and the development of their societies. How can exhibitions and programming achieve this goal? I a commitment to being research based an advantage, or is it an obstacle to a clear message?

Collecting and documenting inequality and injustice
In 50 years, what will our successor have to work with if they wish to engage with the financial crisis of 2008, the precarization of workers, or the uneven distribution of the social and economic consequences of climate change? Are we making sure that these events find their way to the storage shelves or the archive? What does the storage room of a radical museum look like?

The history of labour history museums
WORKLAB connects more than 30 labour history museums across the world. But what are the individual, and collective, histories of these institutions? What were the contexts for establishing labour history museums, and what can we learn from that history when working to keep these institutions relevant to people today?


The Call for Papers is open until 1 June 2019.


If you would like to present your project, please send your proposal (200-300 words) along with a brief professional profile (100-200 words) to worklab2019(at)