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

What it Means to be “Social”: A Study of the Anthropology of Europe

Joint Research Coordinator MORI Akiko

Reserch Theme List


The objective of this research is to reconsider modern social concepts from the standpoint of European anthropology, so as to search for new social concepts to analyze our globalized contemporary world.

European civil society has emphasized the self-reliant individual, but in actual society there are many individuals who have been separate from the scope of the citizenry. The question is how European anthropologists try to portray such societies. This research will concentrate on such key concepts as community, association and individual/citizen, and will investigate basic concepts repositioning them within European social contexts. Through this research we will seek to create an image of contemporary global society.

As far as European anthropological approaches are concerned, this research intends to focus on the following three points. First, the question is how the basic concepts of modern social science have actually been applied in reappraisals of the repositioning within local European contexts. Second, we are interested in how actual human behavior and phenomena are reflected in ethnographic descriptions. Third, we will examine perspectives on issues in European society as evidenced in information found in research compiled on the non-Western world.

Research Results

“Social” is a concept that emerged through the process of cities mushrooming in Europe in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries in which poverty and alienation became critical problems. The concept was essential to the establishment of social welfare and governmental structures. The foundation for the formation of basic concepts in the social sciences also involved consciousness of the social.

This joint research was implemented from the perspective of the anthropology of Europe to clarify the degree and scope of social in the cultural context of local society in Europe. At the same time, we reinvestigated analytical concepts of anthropology and sociology: how they are conceptualized and in what social context they have been positioned.

In the contemporary local context in France, community is a term that delineates the boundary between the inside and outside. Going beyond the boundary of the community is the very meaning of being social. Consequently, social ties (lien social) do not refer to the relationship between different individuals that share common values, but to the relationship between individuals who nevertheless maintain their differences. This usage of social, as opposed to community, is found also in Germany, and shows that the community is regarded as a barrier to social integration.

Investigating social ties and the usage of the concept of “social” in the ethnography of Europe, it has become apparent that the way of imagining community is undergoing a big change since the late twentieth century, as social structures have shifted from ‘high modern’ to ‘late modern’. We are preparing our findings for publication as a collection of monographs.