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

Practices and Emotions: New Perspectives on Development Anthropology

Joint Research Coordinator SEKINE Hisao

Reserch Theme List


emotion, development, practice


The aim of this project is to explore the potential of applied anthropology by drawing attention to the emotions expressed in the context of development and development aid. By close examination of the emotion words (anger, happiness, sadness, satisfaction, desire, etc.) used to describe the behavior, thinking, and speech of individuals involved in overseas ODA (Official Development Assistance) and NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) activities and related to PR (public relations) and educational activities inside Japan, we hope to get beneath the usual abstract level to better understand the emotional experience embodied in these activities. We know from ethnographic descriptions that emotions, sentiments and changes in feeling play an important role in the development process. Our goal is to gather examples of the lived experience of these changes, to identify the constituent elements of the constructions of reality embodied in them, and develop methods for effective use of emotion in development activities. arch group hopes through repeated discussions to elucidate this latent potential and strive for a systematic anthropology of peace. At that time we do not propose to settle for mere theory or critical discussions, but to seek actual on-site activities related to peace that can be put into practice and yield constructive results.

Research Results

Early sociology interpreted emotions in only two dimensions; primary, physiological emotions, and secondary emotions generated socially from relationships with others. In short, the understanding of sociology is layered so that when secondarily verbalizing, or acting out the primary emotion, people refer to “feeling rules” as an adjustment tool. They do this in ways appropriate to their circumstances. However, the theory does not explain that within the same group or society different people express their emotions differently. Despite the existence of “feeling rules” in society that serve as a basis for the emotions of each person, apparently a personalized version of the rules is applied according to context.
Many “cases of emotion” presented in this collaborative study relate to conflict and empathy in practice. These conflicts and feelings of empathy stemmed from an anthropologist’s emotions and those emotions of the actors (the local people, etc.). In other words, the anthropologist also fulfilled the role of a practitioner, and was in conflict with an infinite number of “personalized versions”.
For example, one of the reports considered the attitude of an investigator who worried about the applicability of research by asking, “What role can your research play in the practical field?” This report is a discussion of an investigator who had joined an ODA support activity, and pondered the ethical questions of “Who is this survey for?” and “Who does international cooperation benefit?” The anthropologist lived in a locality as a JICA Expert, but felt ashamed (self-disgust) when his comfortable life in an urban house that JICA had prepared was seen by the chief of a village in which he had stayed previously for more than a year. The report deals with the JICA Expert’s life in a city and his stay in a village, and indicated the importance of the attitude of investigators when moving between two selves. It is also important to understand their feelings of shame when joining fieldwork and activities for international cooperation.
Another report pointed out that each person from outside a society who works on assistance activities internalizes his/her own “methods (forms)” for field investigations, which can be different from those of other people. Introduced is the development of an emotional conflict between experimental scientists wanting to introduce new technologies, field workers seeking to undertake a collection of conventional practices, and those engaging in development assistance projects who assign the highest priority to what is to be disseminated. All these and other reports indicate conditions that require people involved in assistance activities to use all their resources to understand the field of assistance. This must be done through the emotions they experience, meaning that assistance activities are built on the complicated emotional relationship between supporters and the local people being supported.
Although this collaborative study did not reveal a connection between the understanding of emotions and practical development activities, it did involve many participants, among whom those from the “Emotion and Development: A New Perspective for Anthropological Practice” workgroups posed many questions and offered many comments in the 47th conference of the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology. The same can be said of the feedback from participants in the project session for “Development and Aid Practice, and Emotion: A New Approach to Human Reality” in the 24th National Conference of the Japan Society for International Development. These events recognized the potential of future research on the connection between emotions and practical activities.