Professor Inge Daniels

inge daniels web


Professor of 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.


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


Teaching and research interests

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

Economic, Visual, Material Anthropology,  Anthropology of Space and Built Environment, Anthropology of Japan (East Asia), Ethnography, Exhibitions.


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

Professional Activities

I have acted as the 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.


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.

Current DPhil students
Selected past DPhil students

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".

Maria Salaru - Climate Change | Social Change: An Ethnography of Energy-use in Urban Romania (graduated November 2017)

Through long-term fieldwork in Piatra Neamţ, Romania, Maria’s project explores how urban Romanians negotiate EU policies surrounding climate change. The particular focus is on how EU regulations of home energy saving affect new consumption practices in individual homes, which in turn impact on the local community and the urban landscape. Through this study she hope to reveal the changing understanding of the relationship between the private and public sphere. More specifically, she would like to shed light on the shifting role of the individual within the family, but also in relation to the community, the state and the EU in post-socialist Romania.

Caitlin Meagher - Finding Oneself at Home: Aspiration, consumption, and “the sharehouse lifestyle” in contemporary Japan (graduated March 2018)      

The dissertation, based on nineteen months of field research in Osaka prefecture, investigates the recent surge in sharehouses and sharehouse residents in Japan, where living with non-kin others was until recently strongly stigmatized.  It explores the marketing rhetoric, the discourses about home-sharing, and the actual practices within the sharehouse where fieldwork was conducted; it asks what it is that this lifestyle promises and the extent to which these promises are delivered on.  The focus is on young adults’ changing aspirations in contemporary Japan, the ways they attempt to realize these aspirations through consumption practices, the way the categories of public and private are strategically reconfigured through their uses of material culture, and the tensions that arise when young people undertake a new way of living for which they do not have any existing templates.

Tess Bird - Encouraging Providence: Uncertainty, Wellbeing, and the Making of New American Futures in the Home (graduated April 2018)

Employing both medical and material approaches anthropology, Tess’s research explores the everyday material culture of the urban American home in relation to bodily health and wellbeing. Through fieldwork in a selection of homes in Providence, Rhode Island, she considers materials and techniques that participants drew on in forming both temporary and sustainable wellbeing solutions in the face of everyday disruption. She argues that we must also attend to large-scale disruptions, such as climate change or political-economic turmoil, at the level of the home and immediate community, where the social and material tethers of life are most intimately negotiated. In this way, the American household becomes of fundamental site for understanding how American futures are made.

Julie Valk - Selling Japaneseness: an ethnography of kimono preservation and promotion associations in contemporary Japan (graduated July 2018)

Julie’s research is concerned with the Japanese national costume – the kimono. Julie’s research aims to expand anthropological understandings of the kimono beyond the traditional fields in which the clothing has been studied, such as the clothing’s role within the tea ceremony and the geisha community, through an ethnography of associations seeking to promote the wearing of kimono among women in contemporary Japan. Julie anticipates that her research will shed new light on women’s everyday experience of wearing kimono and reveal how modern women relate to their “traditional” dress. As her research is situated at the intersection between several key themes in anthropology – heritage, gender, material culture and learning – Julie expects that her research will provide a new angle from which to tackle these fundamental questions in anthropology.

Mayanka Mukherji - 'Storeys of Emptiness: An Ethnography of Empty Homes in London' (graduated October 2020)
Based on research in a luxury square and a council estate in Chelsea, London, Mayanka's thesis questioned widespread conceptualisations of empty homes as sites of decay and decline associated with a loss of community. She combined current debates about the transformation of homes into financial assets with the latest material culture approaches to land, belonging and the home, to offer unique insights into everyday experiences of living alongside empty homes. Her research brought attention to land-based practices unfolding at the heart of London - comprising gardening, visiting the nearby cemetery, scattering of ashes, and drawing of family trees - as her participants rooted themselves in place amidst flows of capital and the financialization of housing. By focusing on the practices of care that residents engage in to battle or conceal emptiness across the two sites, Mayanka hopes to reframe empty homes beyond the policy-oriented approach of solving the problem of emptiness, while allowing for a critical interrogation of which homes fall within this problematisation in the first place.

Charlotte Linton - Sustainability reconsidered:  An ethnography of natural dyeing in contemporary Japan (graduated in March 2021)

Across twelve months of ethnography Charlotte used design and apprenticeship methodologies by working as a dyer with craftspeople of naturally dyed textiles on the island of Amami Ōshima, southern Japan. Charlotte was able to explore the complex, often contradictory, intertwining of preservation practices, resource extraction, and access to land that define local relationships with the natural environment in Amami, a highly biodiverse island with strong cultural traditions. Her thesis provides unique insight into the manufacture of hand crafted commodities and asks whether sustainability narratives have an impact on everyday lived experienced of producers, venders and consumers of ‘eco-friendly’ textiles, or whether alterative, grassroots approach to ‘sustainability goals’ might have a longer lasting impact on the health of communities socially, economically and environmentally.

Selected publications
The Japanese House


2019. What are Exhibitions For? An Anthroplogical Approach. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

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.


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.’


AnthroTalking (2015): Inge Daniels on Amateur Photographic Practices in Contemporary Japan.