What is Anthropology?
The field of anthropology (including Social and Cultural Anthropology) involves research into the diversity of human life, focusing on social organization, institutions, forms of life, and material culture.
Anthropology demonstrates that the customs, institutions, myths, and worldviews of the world’s peripheral (once called “primitive”) societies, although they may initially seem strange, are founded on rational and deeply philosophical understandings that play an essential role in maintaining these societies and enabling them to adapt to the natural environment.
In the past, an anthropologist would have typically chosen to live in a remote community of farmers or hunter-gathers in Amazonia or Oceania in order to understand their society and culture. However, in response to a contemporary world in which societies change constantly and new cultures continue to emerge, the nature of anthropological enquiry has also changed. Anthropologists now study the process through which new forms of sociality and cultures are produced by investigating variety of fields such as international development sites, migrant communities in big cities, and laboratories working to produce new technology.
While anthropology has been changing, some of its most essential, thrilling aspects have stayed the same: anthropologists still conduct long-term fieldwork in order to understand how their subjects (not only human beings, but also animals, spiritual beings, and things) see and understand themselves and their environments. Anthropologists also try to comprehend their subjects holistically, drawing on a wide range of perspectives. Finally, anthropologists aim to relativize often taken-for-granted understandings of humanity and the world by elucidating through these methods..
The Structure of the Anthropology Department
The Department of Anthropology at Osaka University consists of two research units: Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Culture.
The Anthropology Unit conducts research in all areas of Anthropology, while the Science, Technology and Culture Unit focuses on the relationship between science/technology and society/culture.
These two units work together, teaching and providing joint seminars, classes, and supervision. The Science, Technology and Culture Unit is unique to Osaka University,
offering collaborative opportunities not available at other universities.
What can one learn in the Science, Technology and Culture Unit at Osaka University?
In modern society, science and technology play an important role in shaping our lives. In the past, science and technology were considered forms of universal knowledge based on rationality, not shaped by social relations, which change to reflect different times and places.
However, we are now more aware of the many ways in which they are interrelated—as demonstrated by recent events, including the nuclear accident during the Great Eastern Japan earthquake. Nevertheless, we still know very little about how social relations affect the production of science and technology and vise versa. In what ways do culture and social structure influence science and technology? What impact does new technology have on society? Do scientists and engineers have their own subculture that differs that of “ordinary” people?
The anthropology of science and technology explores the ways in which culture and society intersect with science by focusing on people’s actions (known as “practices”). Anthropologists try to achieve an in-depth understanding of the two-way process by which culture influences science and science influences culture—by exploring in detail these practices.
In the Department of Anthropology at Osaka University, teaching staff and postgraduate students are investigating the relationship between science and technology and culture and society by focusing on following themes:
- Interactions between state modern technology, traditional canal networks, and rural society in the flood prevention system that protects Bangkok, Thailand
- Interaction between iPS cell research in regenerative medicine and Japanese society—the sense of the body and views of life and nature held by the scientists using iPS cells in the laboratory.
- The role of discourse and practice of innovation in local regeneration projects in Japan
- The relationship between human beings and machines in Japanese science fiction and the interaction between science fiction imaginings and robotics
- The interaction between medical technology and a patient’s daily life (made possible by medicine) in treating diabetes in Japan
- The development of an indigenous machine industry and the formation of machine industry clusters in Thailand