Dr Maria Paula Arias

Social Media and Museum Brands as Networks: An Actor-Network Theory Study of the Manchester Art Gallery



This thesis questions the often-held passive and limited perspective of social media (technologies and audiences) in relation to museum brands. Accordingly, the thesis is driven by two main aims: to critically discuss a reconceptualisation of museum brands as actor-networks that result from the mediated and performative relationships between heterogeneous actors (including human and non-human, as well as digital and physical actors); and to explore the potential role of social media (including technologies and users) within these networks. This investigation is developed around a single case study, the Manchester Art Gallery, as it was embroiled in a mediatised debacle about its institutional purpose following an artist takeover event in 2018 — where Twitter users drove the online conversation that would later be informally dubbed ‘Nymphgate’. Using a longitudinal lens to its methodological framework of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), and drawing on a critical analysis of secondary literature, Twitter data and interviews with Gallery staff, the thesis examines the events that led up to the takeover event, and the impact that the event, its subsequent online conversation, and its legacy had to the Gallery brand network.


I am an early career researcher interested in how museums and galleries use social media. Particularly, I am interested in the ways social media platforms and their audiences are valued and, therefore, what their relationships are with the brands of such cultural institutions. Furthermore, I am interested in sociological approaches to museology and digital humanities — to this end, I am a proponent for the use of creative methodologies and mixed-methods, as well as an advocate for the mindful and ethical use of digital media in museological research. In this sense, my field of study extends from communications and marketing, to organisational management and institutional identity-making. I have academic training in a variety of social and digital research methods, including social media analysis of platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Furthermore, I’ve had the privilege of teaching and mentoring students in undergraduate and graduate programmes at various universities in the UK, including leading and co-convening courses, as well as supervising undergrad and MA dissertations. I am currently a Lecturer in Digital Media and Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University.


  • ‘A Feature or a Bug: Evaluating Digital Literacy in Postgraduate Museum Studies Programmes’ (co-presented with Dr. Sarah Feinstein, University of Leeds); Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage Live Projects Series; June 2021
  • ‘Exploring a Twitter Conversation Beyond its Hashtag’; Europeana Symposium: Research and digital cultural heritage: new impact horizons; May 2021
  • ‘From Museum Studies Programmes to Museum’s Hiring Pools: Evaluating digital literacy and skills taught in higher-education courses’ (co-presented with Dr. Sarah Feinstein, University of Leeds); Museum Computer Network (MCN); November 2020
  • ‘Re-assembling the Manchester Art Gallery Brand Network after a Twitter Event’; 5th AIMAC Doctoral Symposium; September 2020
  • ‘From takeover to debacle: An analysis of the Nympghate network using Twitter’; Association of Critical Heritage Studies; August 2020
  • ‘Nymphgate: A Case Study of Online Participation Gone Awry’; Participatory Cultures Symposium; Cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreak
  • ‘Ethical considerations of social media research in and for museums’; Ethics of Using Digital Media in Arts and Humanities Research; February 2019
  • ‘Using social media data for practical research’; MuseWeb; April 2019
  • ‘Framing ‘Nymphgate’ online: an analysis of social media reactions’ (co-presented with Martin Grimes, Manchester Art Gallery); November 2018
  • ‘Instagram Trends: Visual Narratives of Embodied Experiences at the Museum of Islamic Art’; Museums and the Web; April 2018
  • ‘Visual Narratives- Museum Visiting Experience on Instagram’; Researching Digital Cultural Heritage; November 2017
  • ‘Visual Trends: Decoding the Visiting Experience at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar’; Museums in Arabia; October 2017
  • ‘Instagram Images and Performative Memories’; Inclusive Museum Conference; September 2017


Contact details

Email: m.arias@mmu.ac.uk
Twitter: @ariasmariap