Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor's Name

John F. Stack

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Clement Fatovic

Third Advisor's Name

Eduardo Gamarra

Fourth Advisor's Name

Steven Heine


Yanagita Kunio, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Japan, Nation-Building, Cultural Diversity, Culture and International Relations, Non-Western Political Thought

Date of Defense



The study examines the thought of Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), an influential Japanese nationalist thinker best known as a founder of the discipline of Japanese folklore (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 (jōmin) 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.





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