Bioethics Blogs

Encased: Plotting Attentions through Distraction by Melissa Biggs

Cases set boundaries; cases draw you in. Often imagined as they appear in traditional museums – archipelagos of order in ordered spaces with carefully placed markers for larger narratives – cases partition, sequence, and present artifacts and information for visitor attentions. As anthropologists interested in museums and other exhibitionary spaces, we consider the parameters around what is encased and what is not encased. Where does the visitor experience of the museum actually begin, and how do you know?

Much of our work in recent years focuses on the establishment and expansion of public exhibition venues for Native American self-representations of histories and sovereignties, following the advent of Indian gaming. [i] Our research often oscillates between the realms of public stories presented in museums and at historical landmarks, and the kinds of public stories and thematics employed in casinos and spaces such as gardens, village greens, and hotel lobbies. For this project we visited casino and non-casino Native sites in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Southern California, and studied casino design in Macau and Las Vegas.

We seek to provoke certain kinds of reading spaces or experiences for the reader. One of the ways we see our writing working in this case is by evoking the kind of dense, overlaying, immersive experience that casinos offer. The images we provide are designed to be evocative; the way the text and the photos work together is part of our analysis.

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Our case in point here is the Mohegan Sun, in Uncasville, Connecticut. We choose this as our case of focus because it willfully blurs distinctions between casinos and more traditional exhibit spaces.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.