Dimitra Christidou

Does ‘pointing at’ in museum exhibitions make a point?

A study of visitors’ performances in three museums for the use of reference as a means for initiating and prompting meaning-making

By treating the museum visit as a social experience leading to shared meaning-making through interaction and collaboration, my research explores the ways visitors direct others' attention, render public their personal fancies and subsequently share meaning by referring to the displayed exhibits. At the same time, this qualitative research acknowledges the intertwined interaction of the personal, sociocultural, physical and institutional context by treating the museum experience as a situated, mediated, social and multimodal process. In addition, based on relevant research exploring visitors' verbal and nonverbal discourse, this research focuses on the social practices visitors use for sharing their personal fancies with their co-visitors.

Throughout this research the term performance is used to refer to visitors’ responsive and situated verbal and non-verbal behaviours. By studying the unfolding nature of visitors’ performances in different museum contexts (an art gallery- The Courtauld Gallery, a science centre– the Wellcome Collection’s Medicine Man gallery, and an ethnographical museum- the African Worlds’ gallery at the Horniman Museum and the Gardens) this research focuses on, gathers and compares possible ways different types of exhibits gain meaning for the visitors’ group as a unit. Looking closer at the ways performances are produced, recognised and shared during the visit, the importance of joint attention and reference becomes salient, unveiling the dynamics of visitors' performances not only for the person performing, but also for others sharing the same space.

Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis provided the methodological resources through which the situated, social and moment-by-moment occurrence of performances was captured through audio and video recordings coupled with field observations. Visitors in groups of at least two people interacting in front of specific exhibits were chosen as participants summing up more than 300 hours of filming from March 2010 till April 2011 at these three London-based museums.

Funding organisation

  • Greek State Scholarships (I.K.Y.)


 Educational background

  • 2001- 2005 BA in History and Ethnology, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece, Department of History & Ethnology
  • 2006- 2008, MEd in Contemporary Learning Environments and Development of Teaching Material, University of Thessaly, Greece, Institute of Primary Education

Academic Publications

Vemi, V. & Christidou, D., 2009. Labels in museums. The case of the Archaeological Museum of Volos. Museology Notebooks 6

Christidou, D., 2010. Re-Introducing Visitors: Thoughts and Discussion on John Falk’s Notion of Visitors’ Identity-Related Visit Motivations. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20. Available online: http://piajournal.co.uk/index.php/pia/article/view/pia.344


Christidou, D., 2011. ‘Pointing at’ in museums: let’s get meaning-making started. Paper presented at the Graduate Conference of the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, on 16th of February 2011, London, UK.

Christidou, D., 2011. ‘Pointing at’ in museums: let’s get meaning-making started. Poster to be presented at the Annual Conference of the American Visitor Studies Association, Chicago, IL., 23-27th of July 2011.

  • Tag cloud.jpg – Research’s World cloud
  • Museums.jpg- The participant museums

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