With a new year upon us and all sorts of possibilities—most of them unknown at this time—our blog entries will take on a slightly different flavor. We intend to remain true to the name of this blog, the Intentional Museum, by presenting a monthly series on Intentional Practice in museums. Throughout this series, we’ll discuss how we see intentional practice emerging in our work with clients as well as investigate how professionals working in different areas of the museum field think about intentionality. In addition to reflecting on how we see intentional practice emerging in our clients’ work, we’ll interview people from a range of museums and areas of the profession and talk with them about how they infuse intentional practice into their thinking, actions, and aspirations. Perhaps we will be reaching out to some of you!
As we embark on 2015, it might be useful to recall the meaning of intentionality. When my interest in intentionality surfaced, I did a little background research to learn about its origins. Little known to me at the time, the word “intentionality” has deep philosophical roots. Timothy Crane, a professor of philosophy in Cambridge who is best known for his work on intentionality, credits Franz Brentano for reintroducing the concept in 1874; it derives from the Medieval Latin. Brentano’s Thesis, as it is known, “can be expressed by saying that one cannot believe, wish, or hope without believing or wishing something.” Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of “intend” is “to direct the mind on,” which harkens back to Brentano’s original explanation of intentionality noted as “the direction of the mind on an object.” These above definitions are considered scholastic definitions, although I feel like they suggest that when the mind is focusing attention on something (a concept or even intended impact) it is possible to move mountains, which doesn’t sound very scholastic. I can feel the intensity of Brentano’s Thesis, and it is with that intensity that I have come to appreciate intentionality and its power to help museums achieve their aspirations.
After digging a bit deeper, I discovered that the way I apply the term in my practice with museums is more similar to how the field of social cognition defines and uses the term. In 2001 Bertrum F. Malle, Louis J. Moses, and Dare A. Baldwin edited a book called Intentions and Intentionality: Foundations of Social Cognition. And according to the Psychology Wiki, which provides different uses of the term, the following use is offered under social cognition: “Human perceivers consider a behavior intentional when it appears purposeful or done intentionally—that is, based on reasons (beliefs, desires) and performed with skill and awareness.” The social cognition use of the term aligns well with all that I have attached onto intentionality, for example, the notion of intentional practice, the four quadrants—all comprised of actions, and (of course) Impact. I believe intentionality is required practice if museums are going to make a difference in the quality of people’s lives, which is how I define “impact.” Without an intense focus on taking actions to achieve a well-defined end result, the end result will be difficult to achieve; ahhhh, if only impact would just magically appear . . . .
We’ll publish a new post in our Intentional Practice series once a month, on the third Wednesday of each month. Stay tuned for the next post on January 21st!