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

The Political Anthropology of Communities in East and Southeast Asia

Joint Research Coordinator HIRAI Kyonosuke

Reserch Theme List


The objectives of this research are, through comparisons of actual examples of various types of communities, to shed light on the processes through which people participate in their communities, and how that participation gives rise to the creation of communal elements. In a broad sense, what we term communities refers to various things ranging from the commonalities resulting from locality ties and blood ties to conceptual commonalities like nations created through traditions and symbols. Nevertheless, in recent years with the advancement of globalization, the traditional values of people and lifestyle patterns have wavered considerably.

This situation has led some towns to pursue local redevelopment resulting in community development and new types of communities engaged in cooperative activities, while participation- and movement-oriented communities have garnered a significant amount of attention. This research will investigate how modernity systems and discourse are creating frameworks of governance, as well as the possibilities for resistance to the governance and freedom on the part of communities.

Research Results

This research committee held seminars twice in FY2006, five times in FY2007, four times in FY2008, and once in FY2009 for a total of 12 research meetings, with members from both inside and outside Minpaku presenting research reports and discussing the contents. Researchers who were not committee members were also invited for the presentation of research reports and exchange of information. Our research committee considered the following three questions. (1) What kinds of opportunities are needed to become a member to create a community? (2) What kinds of ties do communities have with a society and nation and what political status do they have? (3) What possibilities for social change do these communities contain? After establishing these three questions, group members used the results of their individual field research to make reports that highlighted the expressions of diversity in different communities, and investigated the ways in which opposition to and independence from community integration are expressed.

In the end, we were able to classify the community research for which each member was responsible into one of three clusters: (1) communities in social movements, (2) communities and the nation state, and (3) migration and communities. Furthermore, we were able to shed light on how new-style communities, which were an object of investigation by this research committee, have a common sharing of knowledge concerning the places, persons, goods, information, and activities organized in daily activities. We showed how these forms of knowledge in particular can spawn both possibilities of opposition and freedom to the frameworks for integration created by modern systems and discourse. While at present globalization makes possible practical movements of people, information and goods, which in turn has shaken communities in different regions in Asia, individuals living in these areas are being sorely pressed to question how they should individually live their lives. Amidst such developments, this research sought to identify newly emerging phenomena in the form of varied types of communities rooted in the spontaneous will of citizens, recognize possibilities for cultivating spaces for dialogs that can find solutions to problems not available within the systemic framework of the nation state, and shed light on the process for creating public elements from such communities, and contacts among traditional communal bodies and the nation state. In that sense, these findings were significant.