The best books that encourage readers to question the status quo

Who am I?

My areas of expertise are museum management and arts administration. More specifically, I study structures of arts organizations and how they are connected or disconnected to their communities and larger societies using the systems theory and concept of mutual causality. In the process, I point out where the systems (i.e., museums) become stagnant and find a leverage point to address that stagnation by bringing in new input and different ways of thinking about the culture and structure of the organization. In most of my research, I try to find blindspots of following or doing “what was just there (i.e., status quo)” instead of evaluating what it did and how it can be improved. 

I wrote...

Transforming Museum Management: Evidence-Based Change through Open Systems Theory

By Yuha Jung,

Book cover of Transforming Museum Management: Evidence-Based Change through Open Systems Theory

What is my book about?

Museums must change to illuminate the histories, cultures, and social issues that matter to their local population. Based on a unique longitudinal ethnographic study, Transforming Museum Management illustrates how a traditional art museum attempted to transform into a more inclusive and community-based institution.

Using open systems theory and the Buddhist concept of mutual causality, it examines the museum’s internal management structure and culture, programs and exhibitions, and mental models of museum workers. In providing both theoretical and practical foundations to transform management structures, this accessible volume will benefit stakeholders by proposing a new culture and structure to arts institutions, to be more relevant, diverse, and inclusive. This book will be an invaluable resource for researchers and advanced students of museum studies, cultural management, arts administration, non-profit management, and organizational studies.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood

Why did I love this book?

This book illustrates how difficult it is to break out of one’s social structure and status because of the stubbornness and injustice reflected in our larger, societal structure that is reproduced from generation to generation. This book is successful in that MacLeod demonstrates how social inequity and immobility based on race and poverty play out in real people’s lives over a lifetime and how difficult it is to break out of the “status quo” that keeps people disadvantaged and out of reach for opportunities for social mobility. 

By Jay MacLeod,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ain't No Makin' It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic text addresses one of the most important issues in modern social theory and policy: how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next. With the original 1987 publication of Ain't No Makin' It, Jay MacLeod brought us to the Clarendon Heights housing project where we met the 'Brothers' and the 'Hallway Hangers'. Their story of poverty, race, and defeatism moved readers and challenged ethnic stereotypes. MacLeod's return eight years later, and the resulting 1995 revision, revealed little improvement in the lives of these men as they struggled in the labor market and crime-ridden underground economy. The…

Book cover of Overcoming Overtourism: Creating Revived Originals

Why did I love this book?

This book introduces a problem of cultural overtourism, too many people visiting museums and historical sites to the point they are extremely overcrowded and often damaging to the sites. Frey suggests, instead of limiting people coming to these sites, expand the demand side by providing more sites that are exact replicas of them through “Revised Originals.” This book helps readers rethink the status quo of cultural heritage tourism and how it can be reimagined to preserve important historical sites all over the world and generate user experiences that are not crowded but transformative. It’s a completely different way to think about what is authentic and what it means to experience it.

By Bruno S. Frey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Overcoming Overtourism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cultural Overtourism is a comparatively new term, and refers to historical sites, museums and places that are extremely crowded by tourists; hence, a type of tourism that has negative effects on both the cultural sites and the people who live there. This problem has sparked more and more protests. Accordingly, many cultural institutions and cities are now taking measures to limit the flow of tourists.

In this book, Bruno S. Frey - a renowned and frequently cited economist - suggests, on the contrary, an extension of the supply of cultural sites in the form of "Revived Originals". By this he…

Book cover of Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems

Why did I love this book?

This book spoke to me as a scholar of systems theory and due to my upbringing in Buddhist culture. Macy discusses how core teachings of interdependence in Buddhism and the mutual causation concept of general systems theory are similar. This book emphasizes the interdependent relationships among different people, things, societies, and ecosystems as mutually affecting and not unidirectional, leading to and encouraging collective action toward mutual benefits. I also love this book because it can introduce readers to philosophical thoughts that are other than Western, which we tend to be bombarded with in academic publications and education in the US. 

By Joanna Macy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book brings important new dimensions to the interface between contemporary Western science and ancient Eastern wisdom. Here for the first time the concepts and insights of general systems theory are presented in tandem with those of the Buddha. Remarkable convergences appear between core Buddhist teachings and the systems view of reality, arising in our century from biology and extending into the social and cognitive sciences. Giving a cogent introduction to both bodies of thought, and a fresh interpretation of the Buddha’s core teaching of dependent co-arising, this book shows how their common perspective on causality can inform our lives.…

Book cover of The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living

Why did I love this book?

This is a book that got me thinking about how biodiversity is so important in the ecosystem and that includes people and societies we created. We try to separate ourselves from “nature” but this very thinking creates wicked issues. Capra argues that in order to solve the most pressing issues of our society, our way of life must reflect that of nature, leading to an ecologically sustainable future. It helps people think about their positioning and relationships to nature and how interconnected we all are. The value system and hierarchical thinking of humans above nature can be rethought, especially helpful in the times of climate change and subsequent social issues.

By Fritjof Capra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hidden Connections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fierce attack on globalism - and a manifesto for change - by one of the world's leading scientific writers.

Recent scientific discoveries indicate that all life - from the most primitive cells, up to human societies, corporations and nation-states, even the global economy - is organised along the same basic patterns and principles: those of the network.

However, the new global economy differs in important aspects from the networks of life: whereas everything in a living network has a function, globalism ignores all that cannot give it an immediate profit, creating great armies of the excluded. The global financial…

Governing the Commons

By Elinor Ostrom,

Book cover of Governing the Commons

Why did I love this book?

This book provides examples of collective action and collaboration in solving society's wicked problems, especially depletion of shared resources or commons (e.g., forests and fisheries). Ostrom talks about the local solutions, often through voluntary organizations, based on what matters to local people creating a sustainable system for protecting and transforming community goods or commons. While this book is mainly focused on natural resources, this idea of managing commons from voluntary and local actions helped me rethink how to manage intangible commons like arts and culture. In other words, rethinking how arts and cultural organizations are traditionally managed and funded (focused on affluent people and their taste because they are the ones who usually fund them) to a more community-based approach (funding from diverse sources including governments and individuals and programming that matters and relevant to local people).  

By Elinor Ostrom,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Governing the Commons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The governance of natural resources used by many individuals in common is an issue of increasing concern to policy analysts. Both state control and privatization of resources have been advocated, but neither the state nor the market have been uniformly successful in solving common pool resource problems. After critiquing the foundations of policy analysis as applied to natural resources, Elinor Ostrom here provides a unique body of empirical data to explore conditions under which common pool resource problems have been satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily solved. Dr Ostrom uses institutional analysis to explore different ways - both successful and unsuccessful - of…

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