Dr Inge Daniels

Inge Daniels

Associate Professor in Social Anthropology

Fellow of St Cross College

I am a social anthropologist who focuses on the study of material and visual culture. My research interests include gift exchange and economic anthropology, the commodification of religious forms, the material culture of luck, amateur photographic practice, the anthropology of (domestic) space and the built environment, ethnography and exhibition display.

 My main fieldwork site is Japan where I have lived and worked for more than seven years, and where I have conducted several long-term ethnographies.

Awards

Oxford University Teaching Excellence Award 2014-2015
ICAS Book Prize 2013 Reading Committee Accolades / Social Sciences for The Japanese House
Oxford University Teaching Excellence Award 2007-2008

Contact

The Fame of Miyajima
For my PhD at the University College London (2001) I followed a famous souvenir/charm - the Miyajima rice scoop - as it moved through time and space (Munn 1979) from its production in factories and craft shops, via sales in souvenir shops and temples on Miyajima island (south of Hiroshima) to its consumption in urban homes in the Kansai region (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto). This work reaches important conclusions about the relationship between the gift and the souvenir and the role of every day, functional goods in the creation of spiritual and social value. One of the main outcomes of this project was an exhibition called ‘Souvenirs in Contemporary Japan’ at the British Museum (2001) that explored the various ramifications of souvenirs for producers, distributors and consumers in Japan. A subsequent article published in the JRAI focuses on the material properties of things and questions the supposed opposition between the religious and the commercial, and the functional and the aesthetic (2003).



The Japanese House
In 2003 the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science funded a one-year ethnography of the material culture of contemporary urban Japanese homes. This research uses ethnography to confront widespread, a-historical stereotypes that depict Japan as the quintessential “other”. The complexities and contradictions of real lived in Japanese homes are contrasted with the essentialist depictions of the minimalist Japanese house. The research has resulted in a number of journal publications (2008 Home Cultures, 2009 Journal of Material Culture, 2012 Social Analysis) as well as a richly illustrated monograph entitled ‘The Japanese House: Material Culture in the Modern Home’ (Berg 2010). This publication resulting from a 2006 follow-up research project with professional photographer Sue Andrews (funded by the British Academy) challenges the relationship between image and text in conventional anthropological monographs. It aims to question widespread stereotypes that depict Japan as the quintessential exotic 'Other' by revealing the familiar messiness and contradictions of everyday domestic life. This is the first academic study that is based on living for a prolonged period of time with Japanese families inside their homes, thereby revealing the importance of backstage activities such as storage, cleaning, and bathing in the reproduction of social life. It highlights the impact of post-war changes to the exterior, the layout and the use of dwelling, while paying particular attention to domestic tensions as inhabitants try to balance the relationship between the individual and the collective, negotiate multiple connections between the home, the community and the State, and create beneficial alignments with spirits, ancestors, and the material world. More generally, the book offers a model for studying the house worldwide that accounts for both local specificity and common, cross-cultural human experiences.


‘At Home in Japan’
My monograph, The Japanese House, formed the concept and the catalogue for a multi-sensory, immersive exhibition ‘At Home in Japan - Beyond the minimal house’, held at the Geffrye Museum in London in 2011. Through this exhibition, I aimed to foster a better understanding of everyday life inside contemporary urban Japanese homes, thereby enhancing the appreciation of Japanese culture, and demonstrating the fallacy of the traditional minimalist stereotype with which it is commonly associated. Based on my ethnographic data the exhibit recreated a standard Japanese flat that was filled with everyday objects donated by participants in her research, while taped sounds and life-size photographs taken inside the homes studied, as well as written commentary by both myself and the Japanese participants, were employed to evoke what it feels like to be at home in contemporary Japan. This multi-modal approach does not treat culture and experience as text, but creates an immersive space filled with everyday goods (instead of unique iconic objects) that visitors can explore with all their senses. Thus, people could put on slippers, look inside closets, open drawers, try on clothing, sit on chairs and sofas, and generally pick up and handle any of the objects used in the exhibition. Importantly, the exhibition did not assume one mode of ‘passive’ learning, but, by stressing complexity and ambiguity, it challenged any totalizing view and aimed to foster a more personal, intuitive understanding, thereby empowering both the audience and those depicted.

Experiments in Living Ethnography’
Together with two of my Msc students, I conducted an ethnography of sixty visitors to the exhibition, which demonstrates that through its innovative uses of photographs and objects, the exhibition has been able to take museum practice in a new direction by enriching visitor experiences. I am currently completing a monograph entitled ‘Experiments in Living Ethnography’ that draws on the findings of this study to explore how anthropologists and museum practitioners may benefit from using innovative visual methods and representations, as well as three-dimensional environments, to disseminate research results more effectively to wider audiences. 

Areas of expertise

Material and visual culture, anthropology of Japan (East-Asia), economic anthropology, anthropology of space and built environment, commodification, religious practice, ethnography, exhibition design.

Teaching

  • Option: Objects in Motion – Current Debates in Visual, Material and Economic Anthropology. Website.
  • MSc/MPhil Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology
  • MSc/MPhil Social Anthropology

Professional Activities

I am acting as an external examiner for:

  • the MA in History of Design at the Royal College of Art in London (2013-2016)
  • the MA in Material and Visual Culture at UCL (2014-2017)

I have acted as the External Examiner for PhD Dissertations in Social Anthropology at UCL, LSE and SOAS.

Editorial Boards

Home Cultures - The Journal of architecture, design and domestic space.
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

I regularly review papers for the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, The Journal of Material Culture, Material Religion, Social Anthropology, and Environment and Planning.

Abby Loebenberg - 'On Thin Ice: Playing dangerously indoors and out in Vancouver' (graduated July 2011)
Abby's thesis explores localised global consumption through ethnographic research about children's television and associated material and spatial practices in Vancouver, Canada. Adult ideas and concerns about danger and the safety of children are contrasted with how children use various elements from television programmes to both understand and negotiate space (public, semi-public and private) and create peer cultures.

Ian Ewart - 'The Anthropology of Engineering: a Cross-cultural Approach' (graduated March 2012)
From a layperson’s point of view, engineering is associated with industrialisation and the scientific method; a streamlined solution-provider, generating the best answer to a practical problem. Non-industrialised cultures that have demonstrated engineering prowess, on the other hand, are seen as having overcome their lack of science and conquered the natural world. Both assumptions will be explored through parallel fieldwork in Borneo and the UK that examines the process of engineering as it actually happens.

Tomohiro Morisawa - 'Objects of Creativity: Ethics and Aesthetics of work in the production of animation movies in Japan' (graduated January 2013)
 
Tomo's thesis examines ways in which the contrasting discourses of creativity and artisanship articulate the work ethic and aesthetic ideals of animators and other 'creators' involved in the production process of animation movies in Japan. Based on fieldwork at an animation production company, his research will critically engage with emerging anthropological issues of creativity, skill, work, and intellectual property.

Iza Kavedzija - 'Living Well: Changing concepts of the ‘good life’ in Japan through the lens of the ideal home'(graduated February 2013)
Iza's research focuses on ideas of the 'good life' in contemporary Japanese society, particularly as reflected in notions of the ideal home. By looking at how the life choices of the elderly and the young are shaped in relation to decreasingly well defined social roles, it aims to explore the changing realities of constraint and choice under the condition of 'late modernity'.

Andrew Bowsher - Limited Edition: The Consumption of Music Box Sets and the Politics of Distinction (graduated October 2014) 
Based on fieldwork in Austin, Texas, Andrew's thesis examines the interplay between consumer cultures and production in the circulation of specialist music products. By focusing on the music box set, a highly prized commodity which appeals to Western collectors of music that exist outside of mainstream popular culture, he questions assumptions in anthropology about subcultural behaviour in popular culture, the interplay between production and consumption of commodities, and the creation and negotiation of value in systems of exchange.

Julien Dugnoille - The Seoul of Cats and Dogs: An Ethnography of animal welfare in contemporary South Korea (graduated April 2015)
In 1988, the South Korean government decided to hide every dog meat restaurant in Seoul in order to avoid potential diplomatic incidents during the Olympics. This marked a turning point in South Koreans’ attitudes towards the consumption of dogs within their own society, oscillating, from then on, between guilt and national identity. While cats and dogs are still consumed as food, they have increasingly become people's pets. Thus, in the last twenty years, animal welfare has become a widely controversial topic. Through an ethnography based inside three animal shelters in Seoul, Julien’s research will unveil South Korean animal welfare’s attitudes in terms of adoption strategies, euthanasia policies, work interactions and ideological conflicts. It engages with wider anthropological issues such as the study of human-animal relationships, ethics, education and nationalism.

Hege H. Leivestad – Ambiguity on Wheels – Caravan Immobilities in Contemporary Europe (graduated November 2015)
Hege H. Leivestad’s work deals with a particular material object: The caravan, and the way social life is constituted in and around it. Based on fieldwork among caravan- and motorhome dwellers in Sweden and Spain she asks what it actually means in 21st century Western Europe to live a life on wheels. In so doing, the thesis ethnographically unpacks the various modalities of dwelling that take place among people for whom the caravan constitutes an extension of an already existing domestic sphere as well as for those where the caravan has become a primary, and often contested, home.

Mary Miller – Drawing things together: an archaeologically-illustrated ethnography of London homes (graduated November 2016)

Mary’s research explores how archaeological practice might benefit the anthropological study of material culture in overcoming the critique that its focus on the social comes at the expense of the material. Through an ethnography that uses both participant observation and archaeological illustration she will examine the interrelationships, movements and changes of objects over time inside three London homes.

Anne-Marie Sim – "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and Other Tales: An Ethnography of Childen in Greater London (graduated January 2017)

This dissertation draws on long term immersive fieldwork in children's worlds, documenting their everyday practices and spontaneous narratives, to explore how children imagine through inter-subjective action in real time potential futures.

Ryotaro Mihara – An ethnography of the Japanese anime industry in India (graduated July 2017)
Although it has long been said that the Japanese domestic anime market is shrinking, anime remains popular overseas (which is often labeled in Japan as "Cool Japan"). One would therefore assume that, in order to survive, players in the Japanese anime industry would expand their business interests and focus their attention abroad. However, this is not happening and through an ethnography of companies that are trying to expand the anime industry in India my research aims to answer this "puzzle".

The Japanese House

Monograph

2010. The Japanese House: Material Culture in the Modern Home. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Refereed Articles and Chapters

2015. Feeling at Home in Contemporary Japan: Space, Atmosphere and Intimicay. In Emotion, Space and Society 15: 47-55.

2014. Museum Experiments in Living Ethnography: 'At Home in Japan' in London? In Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology 38(4): 513-531.

2012. Beneficial Bonds: Luck and The Lived Experience of Relatedness in Contemporary Japan. In Social Analysis vol. 56 issue 1. Special issue: Economies of Fortune edited by Caroline Humphrey and Giovanni Da Col.

2009a. The ‘Social Death’ of Unused Gifts: Loss and value in contemporary Japan. In Journal of Material Culture 14(3): 385-408.

2009b. The Commercial and Domestic Rhythms of Japanese Consumption. In Time, Consumption and Everyday Life: New agendas and directions. E. Shove, F. Trentmann and R.Wilk (eds.), p.262-294. Oxford: Berg.

2009c. ‘Dolls are Scary’: What constitutes Japanese religious activity?. In Religion and Material Culture: A Matter of Belief. D. Morgan (ed.), p.153-170. Routledge: London.

2008. Japanese Homes Inside Out. In Home Cultures 5(2):115-140.

2003. Scooping, Raking, Beckoning Luck: Luck, agency and the interdependence of people and things in Japan. In The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9: 619-638.

2001. The 'Untidy' Japanese House. In Home Possessions: Material Culture Behind Closed Doors. D. Miller (ed.), Oxford: Berg.

Exhibitions

2011, The Geffrye Museum, London, UK.
Curator of the exhibition ‘At Home in Japan – Beyond the Minimal House’ (03/2011 - 09/2011).

2001, The British Museum, London, UK.
Curator of the exhibition ‘Souvenirs in Contemporary Japan’ (06/2001 - 01/ 2002). 

Selection of recent presentations

May 2013: Invited Speaker Departmental Seminar, Anthropology Department, University of Stockholm, Sweden. Paper title: ‘Museum Experiments in Living Ethnography’

March 2013: Keynote speaker at ‘Exhibiting Culture: Perspectives from Japan and Europe’ Symposium, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan. Paper title: ‘At Home in Japan in London?’

March 2011: Keynote speaker at ‘Understanding Atmospheres’ conference, University of Aarhus, Denmark. Paper title: ‘Kutsurogu: Atmosphere and intimacy in contemporary Japan.’

List of site pages