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

An Anthropological Study of the Complexity of Our Being in the “Fourth World”

Joint Research Coordinator ODA Makoto

Reserch Theme List


dual societies, singularity and actuality, fourth world situations


At the same time that we see homogenization proceeding by globalization and urbanization, amidst this homogeneity "exclusion" as a form of control has appeared. This exclusion differs from simple classifying by race, ethnicity or gender that we see with issues such as racism or Orientalism, but rather is exclusion drawn with flexible, complex lines that expresses itself in terms of the fourth world. Facing such conditions, for excluded individuals to put resistance into practice, attention is being given to the multitude strategy of overcoming the fluidity of globalization through other forms of global fluidity. However, even while this research plan attends to the multiplicity and diversity contained in the concept of multitude, the focus is rather on the local and trans-local (what Lévi-Strauss referred to as the "level of authenticity") in everyday practice that does not depend on the global fluidity as with the practice of resistance and the local that is in contraposition with the global, nor is it contrasted with the global. This is an actual nonlinear line which makes multidimensional lines produced through planned and linear thinking meaningless. With this research plan, we will examine the actual practice of maintaining raw multiplicity and diversity, even being excluded by planned and linear thinking, which can establish multiple contexts simultaneously. Then our objective is to illuminate places where there is multifaceted commonality with diversity created in globalization and urbanization.

Research Results

Our issue was how to describe “the fourth world.” The concept and the category, and the images used to symbolize it have been criticized as erroneous or rejected as ignoring the humanity of those who live in the parts of the world to which it refers. In the space of global discourse, the “fourth world” has, however, become a reality, not only for those who live in the fourth world but also essential for securing commitments to address the fourth world’s problems from those who live outside it. Everything said or done about the fourth world is squeezed into this framework and colored by its implications.
Use of the category has proliferated in the gaps between other values, with its liminal status giving rise to what we call a “complexity of being.” The “others” it described were treated as indescribable. Their experiences were treated as random, isolated, literally unspeakable events, conceived, in other words, in purely negative, not-this, not-that, terms. The actualities of their lives and experiences were not being communicated; questions asked were never answered. How, then, should fourth-world others be described? How should these questions be answered? How could the true complexity of fourth-world lives be conveyed?
Since things of which it is not possible to speak simply and clearly cannot be reduced to concepts or categories, a special effort is required to depict the complexity of their being. To adequately describe this complexity, it was necessary to review carefully, one-by-one, the language, concepts and thoughts that constitute the assumptions behind the label “the fourth world,” to see how they are used in a myriad of complex everyday situations and how they relate to each other. Our problem was not to find proper expressions (concepts or categories) for “realities”; but, instead, to describe “actualities” (the details in which the complexities of being reside).
To record actualities is not the same as noticing realities, conceived in abstract terms. It is, instead, to transform the observer’s own perspective through concrete and personal encounters with the other. It demands that the researcher’s own “self” be called into question while engaged with the other. Recording the terms in which these engagements take place requires a new form of description. The group’s most significant achievement was having participants in this project adopt this stance as they prepared their reports on their research.