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The social role of museums in international debate: Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums, their Diversity and their Role in Society (UNESCO, 2015)

Submitted by Marcelo Murta
For panel Social Museology and Social Role of Museums

The promotion of the latest regulation of UNESCO, the 2015 Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums, their Diversity and their Role in Society, is perhaps one of the most significant initiatives upheld by Ibero-American countries on an international level concerning culture, heritage and museums. The initiative was supported by Brazil and the resulting document has updated the fundamental aspects related to the role of museums and the need to democratize memory.

The Recommendation highlights the social role of the museum. It has a specific section taking up issues from the Santiago Roundtable (1972), advocating museums as important public spaces for the development of communities and the promotion of human rights, gender equality, indigenous peoples and social cohesion for the building of citizenship (sections 16, 17 and 18).

Since it was directed at a multilateral global forum, the process admitted suggestions and debates, and led to a negotiated document with 53 contributions from 42 countries, including comments, proposals, and technical reports prepared by consultants. The suggestions have a broad scope, such as problems, fragilities as well as strengths identified in the whole world e.g. illicit trafficking, lack of capacity building, education, potential from TICs, sustainability, lack of personnel.

This paper aims to discuss the efforts on an international level led by countries interested in the UNESCO document, mapping the specific needs expressed on diplomatic comments sent by the countries and the way it was presented on the final document approved at the 38th UNESCO General Conference in November 2015. The document clarifies the importance of museums in contemporary societies, addressing its social role as a main factor on promoting human rights and social development.