What is a societal museum?

That is a recent term, that appeared in the late 1970s to refer to museums that do not focus on the fine arts. Those institutions, which do not deal primarily with art, found their various labels to be inelegant and so adopted that name.

At the same time, a trend has come over from Canada, that seeks to revamp everything relating to ethnology, leading to the creation of present-day institutions like the Musée des Confluences in Lyon. Those societal museums cover a very wide variety of realities.

What they do have in common is the fact that they address issues that are more thematic than monographic and centre around everyday objects rather than works of art. Formerly orientated toward the past or the “Other” (outside civilizations or colonies), these cultural institutions are becoming increasingly interested in our societies today and their contemporary phenomena.

Jean François Chougnet, President of the Mucem, in an interview with Marie Hélène Balinet in the economic journal, Revue Economique de la Métropole Aix-Marseille-Provence