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

An Anthropological Exploration in Risk, Uncertainty and Future

Joint Research Coordinator AZUMA Kentaro

Reserch Theme List


risk, infrastructure, subject


This research, through consideration of the concept of risk, aims to review the lifestyles of people who are directly confronted with future uncertainty. Along with the advance of globalization, we have seen more intimate global-scale ties concerning people, things and information. As a result, people in various societies have more than in the past become embroiled in conditions of uncertainty. Such uncertainty has given rise to the expression "risk society." Risk is found in various sectors, looming as things that require calculation of probabilities and volitional decisions, which in turn become a problem demanding attention. For anthropologists risk is a problem directly facing people which can be an object of survey. Alternatively risk is something inherent in various forms in research. The question is then what the mechanisms of risk are, and in the application of risk to various areas, what the impact on lifestyles in various societies and basic concepts, such as personality, subjects, and social things is. An additional question is what the relationships are between such risks and attitudes and practices regarding future uncertainty that anthropologists have previously discussed. This joint research considers these issues through discussions among fellow anthropologists who face risks in various areas of development, medical care and environmental issues.

Research Results

The results of this joint research project were as follows.

  1. A simple framework was developed for exploring the concept of risk and employed as the basis for scholarly examination of catastrophe theory, ecological anthropology and other anthropological research related to risk. Medicine and social welfare, financial markets, science and technology, development, and disasters were selected as sub-themes. A review of field data related to the risk concept clarified appropriate directions for an anthropology of risk ready to address issues in risk management, new forms of social integration, and development of a social theory of uncertainty and possible futures.
  2. Presentations by group members and guest speakers, reassessing work on specific topics, in light of their own specific expertise, helped to clarify what forms of research on risk are possible within the overall framework of an anthropology of risk. Through this process the group extracted two definitions of risk, one narrow, one broad. In addition, we identified three aspects of the risk society, risk embedded in systems and technologies, functional arrangements that assume that human beings are risk-conscious subjects, and the ideological discourse surrounding the concept of the risk society.
  3. Preparations for publication of research results have begun. Issues under discussion include (a) developing a comprehensive positioning for risk research in anthropology and (b) how to fit each member's topic and field research into this framework. Drafts of an introduction to the book as a whole and introductions to its parts have been written, and all members are now planning to contribute essays on their research. Discussions aimed making research results available to the public have begun with an editor from a commercial publisher and a detailed proposal compiled and presented to the publisher.