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

Subsistence Activities and Production Systems in Socio-historical Perspective

Joint Research Coordinator MATSUI Takeshi

Reserch Theme List


Anthropologists must observe the entire process of subsistence activities from gathering to consumption, essential economic activities within highly industrialized societies and information-oriented societies, and the contemporary connection between the intricate facts that include indigenous peoples' enjoying the benefits of welfare while branding agricultural products through the media. Unless we observe how subsistence activities and production systems have been socially constructed, on what historical processes they have been based and what symbiotic ties have been forged, we will be unable to produce an overall anthropological picture. Conversely, doing so could lead to historical elucidation of the concealed unity of social and economic factors. In shedding light on the complex fusion methods among macroeconomic production systems and microeconomic actual subsistence activities that have been treated as economic phenomena, we must unify the two initially essential elements of subsistence and production as a single target of examination and illuminate its historicity. That is the research objective of this research project and gives the project its sociohistorical design. First we need to realize that we cannot comprehend the various problems resulting from the complex conditions surrounding the coexistence of low-degree industrialized societies that have been treated as special by anthropologists and high-degree industrialized societies. We cannot comprehend changes to those conditions, if the problems are illuminated solely by a one-way impact of concepts that emanated from highly industrialized societies such as globalization or empire.

More than anything else, we need to observe from a broad perspective the ideologies, systems and social designs surrounding the various basic concepts about the recognition, possession and usage of material natural resources and the way they are used through labor as well as how they changed historically. Alternatively we will likely have to individually compare them with developments concerning extremely contemporary phenomena. Based on the research the team members gather concerning these themes, this research should lead to systematic classification and theorization about broad variation in ethnography and historical changes.

Research Results

Subsistence activities and production, operating as a single axis, are worthy of study in terms of juxtapositions between many opposing elements, including micro- and mega-perspectives, field work and theory, and anthropology and economics. With contemporary anthropological study replete with diversity, this study is without a doubt an optimal area for exploring issues that investigate and apply the expansion of latent possibilities. In today's rapidly changing world, we are experiencing globalization in terms of the potential for standardization and calculation. Alternatively globalization is stimulating powerful revivals of the forces of localization, nationalism and regionalism. With the knowledge that such case study research is already taking place through painstaking fieldwork in Asia, Africa and Oceania, we gathered together researchers interested in these major problems. Based on previously gathered data, we took advantage of various interests and methods in our attempts to describe and analyze what is already known. We believe that the regional variety, diversity of methods, wide framework of inquiry transcending the bounds of anthropology and other subjects helped us to produce previously unavailable results. The three-and-a-half years this research group devoted to presenting reports and discussion, as well as the release of outlines of individual research and adjustments to the research, helped to display to the fullest the diversity of anthropological approaches to conditions attendant to globalization and at times running counter to it, while from the regional culture variations we were able to analytically reconsider the concepts of globalization and its abridgment. Most likely, the alternate side of this endeavor was that our work showed the effectiveness of anthropological thought and methods even when applied to broad concepts such as modernization and labor.