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‘Museums, Class and the Pandemic’ report launch: An interview with Dr Serena Iervolino

By Gilang Desti Parahita

Dr Serena Iervolino launched the research report entitled “Museums, Class and the Pandemic: An Investigation into the Lived Experiences of Working Class Londoners” at a hybrid panel discussion held at the Museum of London Docklands on January 11, 2023.

She co-authored the publication with Dr Domenico Sergi, Senior Curator (Curating London) at the Museum of London. The report is one of the outputs of their collaborative project “Inequalities, Class and the Pandemic” (2021-2022) co-funded by the Museum of London and King’s College London, which Drs Iervolino and Sergi envisaged, developed and led in partnership.

As part of the project, 15 low-paid, low-skilled Londoners working in several sectors such as supermarkets, cleaners, carers, bartenders, retail, teaching assistants and food delivery riders were interviewed. These workers, who are normally undervalued and taken for granted, became “essential” during the pandemic, but continued to receive low incomes and faced high risks of exposure to COVID-19.

The research’s participants were of diverse genders, ages, nationality, and ethnicity and were based in the inner and outer London boroughs. Nine interviews were acquired in the Museum of London’s permanent collection and will be preserved for perpetuity.  

Several critical issues emerged about the lived experiences of these “essential workers” during the pandemic. These include the inequalities determined by their structural position in the job market, the sense of vulnerability and precarity they experienced during the pandemic, the feeling of solidarity and mutual support amongst communities of “essential workers” as well as participants’ individual agency.  

The findings of the project allowed Drs Iervolino and Sergi to reflect on how museums can more proactively engage with class differences and structural inequalities beyond the pandemic. Their report sets the stage for and fosters discussion around how museums should strive to document, collect and interpret the experiences of working-class people, beyond the pandemic and the city of London.

The hybrid launch event was attended by 118 people (either in presence or online). Attendees included museum scholars and academics in allied fields, museums and arts professionals, activists, students and representatives of international and national museums organisations including the UK’s Museums Association and ICOM. ICOM’s President, Dr Emma Nardi, was a notable remote attendee.

The full report can be found here. The recording of the event can be accessed here.