The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Ethnographic Knowledge under Post-Socialist Conditions, Redefined Positions and Effects: Unwinding the Multipolarity of the Anthropological Discipline as an Institution

Joint Research Coordinator TAKAKURA Hiroki

Reserch Theme List


This research will elucidate the position of anthropology as an institution in areas that formerly belonged in the socialist block, and to ethnographically analyze in terms of the social context arising from that knowledge. The primary emphasis will be Soviet anthropology, which established theories different from Western anthropology. Our objectives are to clarify the methods used for systematic organization of that knowledge, and how the methods generated differences in cultural (folk beliefs, ethnic groups) objects for study. This attempt is an historical analysis of the form that modern anthropology took as it was established in the national academic education system. However, we will establish variables for Russia and the socialist regime. By focusing on clarifying the methods we seek to develop our consideration of the differences with non-Western anthropology. Specifically, one common object of our study will be the attraction or lack thereof, or strength of the attraction, of Soviet anthropology for Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Mongolia and China. We also will seek to confirm if the unique characteristics of anthropological research exhibited peculiarly under the Soviet regime continue to exist today. Under these common working hypotheses we will seek to pursue our research from three standpoints: (1) history of theory, (2) interrelationships with contiguous fields, and (3) functional worth in relation to today’s knowledge.

Research Results

Aside from the last year during which we arranged the research results, during the two and a half other years of the project our research committee convened 10 times and 30 individuals, including guest speakers, made presentations. Our research committee was able to point out the possibilities for establishing anthropological approaches to the post-socialism complex of problems. The special characteristics involved here are (1) on-the-spot surveys based on participatory observation such as were not possible during the era of socialism, and (2) problems created by socialism alive today stemming from the internalization of socialism in everyday life. A special feature of the methodology of post-socialist anthropology is analysis of the history of tradition-socialism- current situation as phases during the same period. This approach too has limitations. However, since we now have post-socialism and with the change of eras in the areas being studied, the effectiveness of such a viewpoint is being lost. Having said that, in our joint research through on-site research we sought to point the way to the possibilities for post-socialist ethnographic research. That in turn should open new horizons for research comparing these findings with anthropological research from other regions. At the same time, we believe that we contributed to finding points common with regional research carried out by the former Soviet Union (in history, political science), so that while establishing interest in the awareness of problems/theoretical basis, our ability to establish personal exchanges will contribute to the development of future research. Our reevaluation of Soviet ethnological studies was also important. This is a field that went almost untouched in the past. While clarifying the theoretical significance to the history of thought of a Soviet ethnology that hitherto has been thought of only as a form of outdated political ideology, we sought to shed light on its institutional context from the standpoint of social history. From this perspective we were able to indicate the possibilities for anthropological knowledge and institutional alternatives. Through this joint research, our team members achieved major results in confirming the effectiveness and limitations of post-socialist anthropology, especially in terms of the issues discussed above. We also highlighted the scholarly fields of anthropology and area studies as they stand in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, China and other regions that were under socialism. We were able to train several younger researchers, in which the age-group is small.