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

An Anthropology of the Street

Joint Research Coordinator SEKINE Yasumasa

Reserch Theme List


The city can be viewed as the epicenter of the power space in which the modern paradigm reigns supreme. However at the feet of the city a fourth world has appeared. This world absorbs those individuals who have dropped out from competitive society and who display otherness, which modern systems cannot easily absorb. Strangely enough, a new phenomena spawned by this deviation has been the appearance of a return to an ancestral paradigm emphasizing premodern folk wisdom.
Lefebvre sought an urban revolution that would search out city-like things having concluded industrialization does not equal urbanization. Modernization has propelled a high degree of industrialization. The question is, however, if we can actually claim that urbanization has proved successful. The street is the ideal place in which to search for unprecedented city-like things. The reason is that here things appear which go beyond industrialization-style modernization. In this way searching for an anthropology of the street can be expressed as the anthropology of “super modernity,” a quote from Marc Auge. This search should become a work that forms the kernel of attempts to develop a same-era global anthropology.

  • Note on Copyright of Summary
    The summary of presentations here is a work in progress, and the copyright remains with the presenters of the reports and contract partners for summarizing. Consequently, quoting without permission from the presenter and contract partners is strictly prohibited. Questions about the extracts should be made to the project organizer, Yasumasa Sekine.

Research Results

Anthropology of the street raises the banner of leaving neoliberalism behind and represents a commitment putting the brakes on mainstream tendencies to be trapped in an actual lifestyle within the cage of audit cultures in which one suffocates without even knowing it. In seeking the path to resistance to this exclusionist ultra uniformity, we need to turn our attention to the role of local knowledge and street knowledge. These kinds of knowledge were produced amidst and coexist with many complications, where specific solutions are required to address the peculiar realities faced in those locations. Neoliberalism is the control-type authority society described by Deleuze. There the break between home and street has been responded to through forms of community demarcations which distribute disparities from high and low. The street today duly reflects these no-relation relations between the two separate communities. The two sides influence each other through their coexistence, but the survival of these different worlds is due to their differing response mechanisms. In that sense, local things and the street have points of commonality. Both are spaces that have been held back by mainstream authority. The power of globalization has held back local areas, while the street has been held back by the authority of the home. In that sense, both are spaces where connective spaces for subaltern lifestyles are possible. The lifestyles in these connective spaces are such that contestation is possible even amidst conditions in which these spaces are subjected to various mainstream pressures, and lifestyle construction survival proceeds amidst unstable and difficult-to-sustain ephemeral living conditions. These connective crevices are not self-established spaces. They are areas immediately adjacent to mainstream spaces which have a parasitic relationship with them. These areas are identifiable because of how their appropriated way of presenting themselves is premised on the strong spatial meaning assigned by mainstream society. The locus of the street, consequently, is already tapping into the energy of the mainstream; otherwise the street could not assert itself. That is the kind of peripheral connection and space. The locus represents a negation of the power of the triumphant by steadfastly adhering to its original position of clinging to defeat where it can survive and thrive. In India, with main trunk roads the center area for vehicle traffic and the sidewalks on the sides, both roads and sidewalks thrive as street areas. If it were not for this contested meeting point, although these are undoubtedly roads, these roads would not be street locations as subjects for our discussion. In contemporary Japan, since the sidewalks have been almost entirely subjected to the power of the mainstream, we have to look to parks or cheap cafes to find counterparts to the sidewalks of India as spaces appropriated for contact.
Our research showed that among the various aspects that were expelled or expunged, moving from order to disorder, we naturally observed city-like things found in the lifestyle realm of the defeated street a non-uniform diversity. That is, we again shine the light on the “utilization of disorder” in the sense that Richard Sennett used the term in his “The Uses of Disorder: Personal and City Life” (Sennett, 1975). At that time within the depressions and crevices of the bios of the mainstream order that have enveloped the world, we find that untamed Zoë life forms have worked their way in. We will have to search for ways to conceive of frontiers of thought where they can reconnect with the lifestyle order. There we undoubtedly will discover a range of practical application that is not practical application, of streetwise that is not streetwise. For that reason, at the ideological level this represents not just simple denial and overturning of mainstream value consciousness and language, but also without a doubt we need to engage in a fundamental reappraisal based on total understanding rooted in the physicality of lifestyle sensations and lifestyle feelings. This in turn should lead to the promotion of structural discrimination as the mainstream language naturally changes form through practice, a change of viewpoint that makes discrimination in third party relationships ineffective. That is the reason we will have to wait for a full-scale ethnography of the street.
My definition is that the street which thrives in the connection zones no doubt creates a place that is a vortex of commonality created through a combination of tactical efforts and accident. However, this definition does not apply to conditional places which can arise through substantialization, but rather the places exist in a vortex born through the commingling of leveling and conditioning.