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N°27 | The audiences of museums andcultural institutions in the digital age

The study of cultural audiences – term reflecting the plurality of the phenomena studied as well as the diversity of the methodologies used – brings together all the work on the reception of cultural experiences. In this respect, Frédéric Gimello-Mesplomb (2015) places audiences studies at the crossroads of the Human and Social Sciences and proposes different approaches: the study of groups of individuals or communities and their mode of involvement in actions (the sociology of audiences), the definition of audiences and their practices through the characteristics of the objects to which they have shown an attachment (the Information and Communication Sciences), or the analysis of affects and perception phenomena (social psychology). However, the deployment of information and communication technologies in the field of culture blurs these porous disciplinary boundaries and thus allows for a dialogue between concepts such as online audiences, communities, audiences, or users. By focusing more specifically on the audiences of museums and heritage institutions, the purpose of this call for papers is to highlight the wealth of work in ICS that is interested in these issues as well as the plurality of methods of analysis (qualitative or quantitative) concerning the audiences of these cultural organizations in the digital age. This special issue is thus a continuation of issue 16 of the SFSIC journal, published in 2019, whose theme was the renewal of forms of museum mediation made possible by digital technologies and media. From the study of narratives to the study of audiences, the aim is to grasp all the changes brought by the expansion of digital practices within professional practices of cultural fields (Tardy and Renaud, 2015 and 2016; Andreacola, 2020).

Regarding the study of audiences, the tradition of epistemic research was first marked by the seminal work of Pierre Bourdieu (1969). He sought to demonstrate the inequality of access to culture in order to situate cultural practice within a perspective of domination. Subsequently, Cultural Studies marked a turning point in the analysis of cultural audience ; in particular the research of Michel de Certeau, who considered reception as a key moment in the production of cultural or informational content in order to place the receiver as an actor in the process of co- construction of meaning. This work still constitutes today solid epistemic pillars for the study of cultural practices mediated by the digital.

The recent study published in July 2020 by the French Ministry of Culture, “Fifty years of cultural practices in France”, reveals a considerable rise in digital practices over the last ten years. This study notes, for example, that for the younger generations, digital practices have become the majority, to the detriment of mass media, while the baby-boomers are still reading and visiting museums… Similarly, while young people continue to go out and visit cultural venues, it is no less true that cultural activities mediated by digital media are cultural practices that are predominantly observed among young people. On a broader perspective, works on cultural practices regarding usage of digital tools and devices underlines intersections between cultural universes and the identity of the public, their singular relationship to culture, digital

devices and creative cultural content (Culture et Recherche, n°134, winter 2016-2017). These profound mutations have given rise to a plurality of methodological approaches and have demonstrated the interest of considering the notion of “context of sociability networks” (Thévenin 2015).

On the side of cultural institutions, the pioneering work of Joëlle le Marec (2007) has underlined that visitors (in museums and libraries) are expert audiences whose sensitivity to the political and institutional dimension is sometimes underestimated by professionals. She thus considers cultural practices as socially situated activities and proposes to study sociabilities from the notion of composite. Composite is defined as a dynamic process which places the study of publics in a plural approach going from semiotics to reception studies or the sociology of publics. This notion of sociability would also benefit from being confronted with the concept of forms of life (Fontanille, 2015) in the sense that individual or collective cultural practices are based on the appropriation of representations constructed in the continuum of our lives and fall under several types of sociability: a primary sociability (family heritage) as well as secondary sociabilities (the capacity to invest in practices based on life experiences or predispositions constructed in the relational environment). Jacqueline Eidelman, Hana Gottesdiener and Joëlle Le Marec's work on the construction of visitors' careers and identities can also be used to better understand their appropriation of the digital activities made by cultural organizations in their name (2013).

Similarly, the living experience design approach (LivXD), as defined by (Leleu-Merviel, Schmitt, Useille, 2018), emphasizes the need to integrate the practices of individuals in the design of experiences involving digital or non-digital devices. The individual's experience is then considered beyond mere usage as to anticipate the complexity of the public's practices based, most often, on an action research approach (Lamboux-Durand, 2014). Thus, cultural practices mediated by digital technology can be understood as a joint spectator/user experience with the work, with the people taking part in its reception and are analyzed by taking into account the multiple interactions such as socially situated representations that take place before, during and after a visit to a museum or a performance.

At the crossroads of these epistemic frameworks, this call for papers focuses on empirical or heuristic studies to question the practices of audiences (audiences, amateur audiences, cultural professionals, online or in situ, etc.) from different angles:

  • To question the digital practices of cultural audiences in terms of access, sharing, enrichment of works as well as digital cultural content and to decipher the roles assigned to audiences - critics, experts, influencers, fan communities, co-creators, etc. - in the promotion and dissemination of cultural content.

  • To Observe differentiated or joint practices from a generational perspective (young audiences, seniors) and question the segmentation of audiences practiced by managers of cultural institutions or services as to shift the design’s focus of digital cultural devices.

  • To study the transformative dimension of the mediations operated by digital cultural objects on the experience and the behavior of cultural consumption by questioning, for example, the new forms of composite sociabilities impelled by these devices or by analyzing the place given to sensitive experiences in an immersive context.

  • To analyze the contribution of digital devices for access to culture for the public who are prevented or far from it and to propose more broadly a critical return on public policies, which focuses on call for projects, accompanying the digital transformation of cultural activities.

  • To question the digital imagination of cultural professionals (professionals of cultural institutions or designers of creative cultural content) and to study the integration, within heritage establishments, of these new business models stemming from the cultural industries and marked by their vulnerability in the face of constantly changing technologies and practices.

  • To analyze how the sanitary situation we are experiencing has led cultural institutions to rethink new editorial proposals that hybridize online and situated mediation and that may give rise to more or less perennial actions.


  • (to be discussed with the editorial board of the journal: publication planned for 2023) 30 March – 30 June: publication of the call for papers, submission of abstracts

  • 30 June – 30 July : reply to authors

  • 30 July – 30 September: submission of full text 30 August - 30 October: review of papers

  • 30 November – 15 January: finalization of articles

  • 1st March: submission of the special issue to the journal.

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