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

Anthropological Studies of Suffering and Care

Joint Research Coordinator UKIGAYA Sachiyo

Reserch Theme List


From Suffering to Creativity, Modern Medical Professionals, Original Care

Major Objectives (Extract of Application 3 Research Objectives)

In contemporary society, against a backdrop of a declining birthrate and an aging society, generation gap, disparity between greater incidence of chronic diseases and available medical care, economic disparities, manipulation of life and death issues, diversity of values, and other elements the society is increasingly pressuring individuals to make their own decisions and choices regarding how to live, grow old, endure sickness and die. Even as individuals and those around them experience suffering, so too have specialists who have become entangled in thorny theoretical problems again had to confront suffering (the experience of suffering equals its elimination). This research will address questions related to the meaning of suffering as it arises in specific lifestyle situations in our contemporary society or clinical situation, and will reassess methods for care of suffering. In doing so, we will attempt an anthropological reconstruction of the concepts of care and suffering which can be in a fundamental style that is applicable to constituting the lives of all human beings. The special characteristics of this research are that it will incorporate suffering research which looks at things from the perspectives of the civil functionaries of cultural anthropology, as well as from the suffering (care) community. At the same time, this research attempts to understand one more kind of suffering that is the object of study for structural specialists on post-modern systems concerning questions related to living, growing old, becoming sick and dying.

Thus, we want to consider how these relate to the suffering of people who are ill as studied up until now as an object of study for medical anthropology. We hope to inform society of the significance of anthropological research into suffering and care, and in order to contribute to previously existing medical and welfare locations, we intend to engage in academic exchanges with researchers in fields adjacent to anthropology and specialists in the fields addressing living, growing old, sickness and death. Through these activities we will be presenting a form of mutual-participation joint research.

Research Results

This Inter-University Research Project examined suffering and care as basic human responses to birth, aging, sickness, and death, in order to construct concepts of suffering and care through discussion of studies conducted both in Japan and overseas.

First, the meaning of “suffering” and “the art of responding to suffering” by professional caregivers involved in clinical situations in contemporary society were examined. Research on how suffering and care are embraced by specialists in modern institutions demonstrated that the issues are resolvable into the following three points:

  1. By revealing the suffering experienced by professional caregivers, a topic left unconsidered in previous academic debate, and sharing it in society, we created common ground for professional caregivers, researchers and "ordinary" people to think about what care should be.
  2. By emphasizing what should be called "original care," in contrast to the specialist's "standard care," we showed how original care, which directly addresses suffering, is the origin of all care.
  3. We showed how medical treatment is a joint project involving multiple actors, including the patient, the patient's family, and health, medical and welfare professionals. Professionals are required to be aware of their own suffering and be good at imagining patients' sufferings by linking their own experience of facing suffering. At the same time, patients are also expected to be able to think about professional roles by appreciating what professionals suffer. Both the patients' and professionals' experiences regarding suffering provide opportunities for the emergence of new forms of treatment through co-working.

Second, the same concepts were examined for "ordinary people" who experience suffering in the course of their daily life. To clarify suffering and care during the daily lives of "ordinary" people, we are able to construct solid and dynamic concepts by considering new thinking about uncertainty, creativity and generativity". By focusing attention on the uncertainty and creativity inherent in suffering, and on "original care" as the basis of care, we demonstrate the proposition that care is to face distress directly, and that challenging distress will elicit new measures of "local art". In other words, it is possible to demonstrate that the connection between suffering and care is neither too close nor too remote, since care that excludes suffering is infeasible. Further, by including generativity" we can clarify how the practice of care in response to suffering is conducted within the context of everyday life. The inheritance of knowledge and practice surrounding suffering and care in local circumstances is designated as a component of local culture.