Diversity and knowledge in the age of nation-building: Space and time in the thought of Yanagita Kunio

Takehiko Kojima, Florida International University


The study examines the thought of Yanagita Kunio (1875–1962), an influential Japanese nationalist thinker and a founder of an academic discipline named minzokugaku. The purpose of the study is to bring into light an unredeemed potential of his intellectual and political project as a critique of the way in which modern politics and knowledge systematically suppresses global diversity. The study reads his texts against the backdrop of the modern understanding of space and time and its political and moral implications and traces the historical evolution of his thought that culminates in the establishment of minzokugaku. My reading of Yanagita’s texts draws on three interpretive hypotheses. First, his thought can be interpreted as a critical engagement with John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of history, as he turns Mill’s defense of diversity against Mill’s justification of enlightened despotism in non-Western societies. Second, to counter Mill’s individualistic notion of progressive agency, he turns to a Marxian notion of anthropological space, in which a laboring class makes history by continuously transforming nature, and rehabilitates the common people (jomin) as progressive agents. Third, in addition to the common people, Yanagita integrates wandering people as a countervailing force to the innate parochialism and conservatism of agrarian civilization. To excavate the unrecorded history of ordinary farmers and wandering people and promote the formation of national consciousness, his minzokugaku adopts travel as an alternative method for knowledge production and political education. In light of this interpretation, the aim of Yanagita’s intellectual and political project can be understood as defense and critique of the Enlightenment tradition. Intellectually, he attempts to navigate between spurious universalism and reactionary particularism by revaluing diversity as a necessary condition for universal knowledge and human progress. Politically, his minzokugaku aims at nation-building/globalization from below by tracing back the history of a migratory process cutting across the existing boundaries. His project is opposed to nation-building from above that aims to integrate the world population into international society at the expense of global diversity.

Subject Area

International Relations|Political science

Recommended Citation

Kojima, Takehiko, "Diversity and knowledge in the age of nation-building: Space and time in the thought of Yanagita Kunio" (2011). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3502113.