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

New Approaches to Family Studies in Anthropology

Joint Research Coordinator KOIKE Makoto

Reserch Theme List


family, kinship, modern world


The goals of this research are to reassess anthropological research on the family so as to make the research more responsive to contemporary problems. We can name a variety of issues appearing in the world today, including those related to reproductive medicine, international adoptions, international marriages, transnational families, care for the aged, and changes in the family due to development and modernization. Therefore, we wish to break new ground in family studies by constantly asking ourselves what are the root questions concerning parent-child relations and families. We are intent on addressing issues such as these, which at first glance might seem disparate, from the standpoint of the family. Our desire for this is not to sever the accumulation of anthropological research on the family and kinship, but rather to study post-Schneider family research, particularly considering the research of scholars such as Strathern and Carsten.

Considering the doubts voiced concerning the validity of the analytical concept of the family itself, we plan to study its limitations, as well as concepts to substitute for family/kinship, for example by debating the validity of the concept of relatedness, so as to be able to construct innovative paradigms for family studies.

Research Results

For this joint research, which started in 2010, 12 research meetings were held and 21 research reports presented, mainly by anthropologists. Scholars of folklore, sociology and law participated in cross-disciplinary discussions that touched on subjects outside anthropology.
The research presentations were divided mainly into the following four themes.

  1. Discussions of diverse parent-child relationships that included those on new types resulting from reproductive medicine, and relationships not based on blood ties, such as those between foster children and foster parents. Although the parent-child relationship has been discussed through the ages, it is becoming increasingly important in contemporary society. The discussion concluded that the concept of plurality of “parents” goes beyond a single framework.
  2. An anthropologist made a presentation about nursing care for the aged and children, an area studied mainly by sociologists. This prompted discussion on the problems facing families and access to care. One discussion centered on the importance of flexible household composition and kinship organization when considering care beyond the narrow paradigm of single families.
  3. Some discussions focused on international and intercultural marriage, and the practice of polygamy in the USA, which differs from conventional concepts of marriage. Same-sex marriage was discussed also. All presentations attempted to redefine the meaning of marriage, a central theme of anthropology, from a contemporary viewpoint.
  4. The diverse aspects of transnational families formed by migrant workers and international marriages were noted as of increasing importance with the advance of globalization. Discussion culminated in a reconsideration of both the problems of globalization and also the meaning of the family.

The common element of the above four themes is an attempt to reexamine the challenging questions of “What is family?” and “What is marriage?” Although these issues have been examined since the birth of anthropology, they were discussed again by adding the results of research that tackles the new problems faced by the contemporary world.