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Huizinga/NICA Workshop ‘On Agency’

What is agency and how does it manifest in a museum setting? We can understand our own agency empirically as our capacity to carry out an intentional action. At the same time, we can acknowledge  potential limitations in executing what we intended, and the value judgements we make in this process. A specific question here becomes: How do the agencies of others shape and impact our experience and understanding, especially in relation to art and culture?

This workshop explores the concept of agency in relation to cultural history and artistic production. It takes the museum setting as a space within which agency is articulated, and uses the collection and exhibition design of the Stedelijk museum as a case study. Through on site practical activities and in class discussion, we will consider:

  • How does agency enter the discussion around art and our experience of it?
  • Whose agencies manifest in a museum setting and how are these conditioned?
  • How can different agencies be prioritised or contested?

This workshop gives you the opportunity to explore the concept of agency through art. You will apply theory through practical exercises and direct experience; and examine art, culture and museum practices in a real-life setting. You will consider different types of agency, evaluate their premises and test out alternative ways these can be manifested. This workshop fosters critical thinking, observation and collaboration. It will benefit students who study culture, art, philosophy, sociology and curating.

References (texts will be provided)

  • Pierre Bourdieu, “The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed”, Poetics, 12:4-5 (1983), pp.311-56 (excerpts will be specified prior to the workshop)
  • Alfred Gill, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Clarendon Press, 1998), pp.16-23; pp.126-33

Preparatory assignment

Students should prepare a paragraph on how they understand agency and/or provide relevant references to be presented in class.


10.00 – 11.00 Introductory discussion

11.00 – 11.30 Transfer to the Stedelijk museum

11.30 – 13.00 On-site activities

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch break; transfer to te seminar room

14.00 – 16.00 In-class activities

16.00-17.00 Round-up discussion

Date and registration

Unfortunately the session on 2 November and the re-run on 3 November fully booked. Please contact Zora van Harten via for a spot on the waiting list.


Register (0/9 spaces left)

This course is fully booked. For a spot on the waiting list, contact