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

Rethinking Hyphenated Anthropology: An Ethnographic Approach to Modes of Response

Joint Research Coordinator IWASA Mitsuhiro

Reserch Theme List


attitudes, hyphenated anthropology, application


In recent years we have seen a sharp rise in “hyphenated anthropology” in which embellishments such as ‘medical’ or ‘development’ are added to the term ‘anthropology’. This rise has led to thoughtful discussion, including also related areas of research and practice. This kind of research often results in fragmented division into certain areas according to the schema of contemporary intellectual criticism reigning in a particular discipline. The result is a tendency for descriptions to focus solely on teleological behavior. This research project seeks to recapture the original appeal of ethnographic research, that is, with those involved approaching the field from various standpoints and interests, including non-target behavior, to return to the viewpoint that allows us to capture the entirety of progress both diachronically and synchronically. The objective is to discover common bases that will allow anthropologists to be involved in areas belonging to other disciplines.

This research project, therefore, pays attention to “attitude”, which is the preparation or emotional tendency for our response regarding the target and related conditions. We are especially aware of any “letting go attitude” (overlooking, connivance, dodging, resignation and other stances) or “a bogged down attitude” (overly concerned, inflexible, distressed and other stances) in on-the-spot developments. These attitudes from individuals involved need to be found through special language expressions, emotional interaction and the experiences of the researcher himself or herself. Then such forms of behavior, both related and unrelated to the purpose, should be described and corrected to pursue the goal, in an attempt to reapproach an ethnography of immediate totality. Through such work, anthropology can discover common bases for involvement with other disciplines.

Research Results

The group met 7 times during this 30-month project. While addressing two key concepts, attitude and response, the members discussed case studies based on their fieldwork in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Topics included religious practice, indigenous peoples' movements, business, and conflict. These case studies became the medium through which discussion of the key concepts proceeded.

Broadly speaking, the term "attitude" has two sets of meanings. On the one hand it refers to words, expressions and gestures that express how people feel or think about events. On the other it refers to the mental and physical preparations made when approaching events. Our discussions focused on these two sets of meanings. The first we labeled "response" and the second "attitude." From this perspective, attitude refers to how bodily behavior is shaped by culture, giving form to response, i.e., how people respond to events. In other words, "attitude" refers to a fundamental positioning with which participants enter an event.

However, it became immediately apparent through consideration of the case studies that response does not necessarily parallel attitude. Discontinuities may arise as events unfold and others respond to what is going on. Moreover, such gaps may alter the flow of events in creative ways. Alternatively, they may lead to hesitation, breaking the flow of events. By including the actualities of how different individuals interact as events unfold in ethnographic accounts, we draw attention to the importance of gaps between attitude and response. Paying attention to these gaps in ethnographic descriptions may enrich our understanding of people who may appear negative, passive in response, or simply acquiescing in what is going on.

This project has only begun to reconsider hyphenated anthropologies in the light of our findings. Although it is clear more work is needed, this project has laid foundations for future research.