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

The Potential of Anthropological Approaches in the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence

Joint Research Coordinator ODA Hiroshi

Reserch Theme List


doing peace, positive peace, peace resource


The objectives of this joint research are to elucidate the possibilities and significance of an anthropological approach to peace and build what might be termed a field of peace anthropology. Peace in this sense would include a broad range of related themes such as conflict, war, violence, colonial rule, as well as dispute resolution and prevention, resistance, conciliation, peace-building, friendship and altruism. Peace is undoubtedly an extremely important contemporary issue, and discourse concerning peace has become a motive factor in various ways throughout global society. Despite its importance, up until now there has been no systematic anthropological treatment of peace. This is true in Japan and in many other countries, where peace anthropology remains at the undeveloped stage. Alternatively, we joint researchers from our experience in various research efforts have confirmed that the latent potential of the theme of peace for anthropology is extremely large. This research group hopes through repeated discussions to elucidate this latent potential and strive for a systematic anthropology of peace. At that time we do not propose to settle for mere theory or critical discussions, but to seek actual on-site activities related to peace that can be put into practice and yield constructive results.

Research Results

Our joint research project group met 14 times. The one meeting away from Minpaku was held in Okinawa, where we heard talks and exchanged opinions with five local guest speakers. Two additional guest speakers were invited to speak at meetings at Minpaku.
The primary goal of this research was to clarify the significance of an anthropological approach to peace. We would like to note, in particular, the following two results of this effort.

  1. Critical reassessment of earlier and now conventional peace discourses. Thus far, peace research has been dominated by theories developed in political science and international relations. The focus has been on sovereign states, which are treated as the fundamental units of analysis. No consideration has been given to how peace might be achieved through the efforts of non-state actors or the theoretical frameworks for such efforts. Also, in the context of international law, peace and war are clearly distinguished, and peace is always discussed in relation to war. When peace research addresses actual situations, the response is always predefined by issues defined by "international society" (development, peace-building, security guarantees). An anthropological approach has an important role to play in transcending these biases and enlarging the concept of peace.
  2. Enlarging the concept of peace. We examined the roles as actors in the peace process of those who had previously been seen only as beneficiaries of national or international support, taking into account evidence from fieldwork in Southern Sudan, Iwaishima in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Okinawa and Eastern Timor. We also examined the role of activities (flight or memorial services), which had not been seen as part of the peace process. These discussions shed light on the agency of such non-human actors as artifacts, facilities, ruins, works of art, and documents, showing how they work as part of the peace process through analysis guided by the concept of "peace resources." One result of these discussions was the recognition of the positive role of local non-state actors in making lasting peace. The practices of resisting violence, reaching across divisions, and engaging in other peacemaking activities always appear where peace is an issue. Refining a theoretical stance from which to grasp the importance of non-state actors and these types of activities is this group's most important result.

As we look to the future we see several topics in need of further exploration

  1. Expansion of the peace concept to include nature. The era in which peace research focused on sovereign states was a time when nature and society were conceived as fundamentally separate. When we view nature and society as a hybrid, it becomes apparent that we need to rethink the concept of peace from both peace theory and anthropological perspectives.
  2. Peace theory in relation to colonialism. This point was one that our group was unable to address as fully as it deserved. To understand peace outside the definitions of international law requires consideration of the historical context of peace-making in colonized territories, i.e. imperialism.
  3. Reexamination of anthropological classics and ethnographic materials in light of peace theory. Reviewing materials that are not directly related to peace may lead to a wealth of new discoveries.
  4. Peace exhibition planning. Exhibitions and museums dedicated to peace have tended to focus on victims of war and situations where peace is broken. We would like to proactively explore the potential of exhibits devoted to peace itself and to how peaceful relations are created and maintained, proposing alternatives based on awareness of these issues.