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

Anthropological Studies of “Work” with a Gender Perspective

Joint Research Coordinator NAKATANI Ayami

Reserch Theme List


gender, work, cross-cultural comparison


The objective of this research is to take phenomenon and social concepts relevant to work in the broad sense as the object of study to scrutinize issues related to how they have changed or been maintained within the interaction of change to existing gender standards and political/economic conditions through a comparative research framework for the detailed results. While considering research concerning work accumulated from economics, sociology, history, and philosophy, we will also attempt to explore the possibilities for approaches that grapple with these issues from an anthropological perspective.

Specifically, we would like to address the following questions for the societies that are our objects of study: (1) specific determination of the content of activities classified as either work or non-work and who is responsible for the activities; and (2) changes of the consciousness of individuals engaged in specific activities and social evaluation under the impact of industrialization, colonization, socialization and globalization. (3) Through investigation of these processes of the changes and the relation between the societies and gender standard as shared questions, we hope through general discussions to elucidate the cultural multiplicity of the concept and practice of work in a broad sense.

Research Results

This project was a conscious attempt to stretch (or enlarge) the concept of work  /  labor, freeing these categories from the conventional starting point of discussions of working life as solely consisting of waged labor . In most cases, the group used “work” to refer to both waged and unwaged  types of labor, also bearing in mind that distinctions between “work” as a broader concept and “(waged) labor” vary between cultures. Our aim was not a comprehensive or transcultural definition, but to find an approach closer to the reality of working lives and local distinctions between work and non-work, taking into account the experiences and perspectives of the actual parties concerned in the societies in which our research was conducted.
We did not confine our investigations to economic differences in compensation (compensated or uncompensated, much or little), but also included worker demographics (gender, age, life stage, social position), workplaces (home, community, inside or outside the home country, the significance of crossing borders), social and political factors (post-Socialist, globalization, etc.), and gender (changes in or reinforcement of gendered division of labor and prestige). We looked at how work fits into the worker’s life as a whole, what meaning it has for society as a whole, and what changes are occurring. Our emphasis on gender was more than simply a questioning of the gendered division of labor. In contrast to earlier research in which it seemed natural to focus on labor and, in particular, on compensated labor, our expanded definition of work allowed us to shed light on the uncompensated household labor provided by women. Our aim was to find effective ways to incorporate our findings into a reconsideration of contemporary work as a whole, informed by greater awareness of these issues.
Our results included the clarification of the following questions.

  1. Linkages with a society’s “structure of prestige.”
    Differences like those among Italian men in their desire to start their own businesses and the values assigned by Bushman hunters and gatherers to the mutual help and sharing of hunting and gathering versus wage labor, where “there is nothing to bring back,” demonstrate how different types of work are ranked in terms of prestige, which depends more on the way prestige is structured in that society than on the income generated. On the other hand, there are also societies in which having or not having an income is seen as highly significant.
  2. Changing "place" and the value of work
    When the location of work changes, workers may be affected by new regulations and forms of evaluation, or the existing framework may continue to apply. Thus, for example, in Bulgaria and Thailand, women who leave the village to find work are recognized as "breadwinners." In the Philippines and Indonesia, however, women who leave to find work in the Middle East or other parts of the world are seen as failing to provide the care for family members that is their primary duty.
  3. Rules governing worker attributes and the proper scope of work
    As illustrated by the husbands of female embroiderers in Uzbekhistan, who conceal their own involvement in embroidery, those who do work that is seen as improper for their status may find its value discounted or ignored. This tendency is closely related to a society's handling of gender differences.

The results of this joint research project are now being prepared for publication.