Research Report by Dr. Andrea De Antoni (OICD Research Fellow)

The research that I am currently carrying out with Tanaka Tomohiko, a professional IT expert, investigates representations and perceptions of outcastes (burakumin) in contemporary Japan through a multidisciplinary perspective. Through the theoretical framework of socio-cultural anthropology, social and semantic network theory, and social and ethno-psychology we are developing a relational conception of identity. The research is based on qualitative data collected through ethnographic fieldwork, as well as quantitative data collected through surveys and data mining on the Internet. Together these data sets will be analyzed with IT software visualization and calculation methodologies to create an “identity mapping” theory and methodology.

This method is one of the defining and most innovative features of the OICD approach. Although the focus of this project is on the case of burakumin, the research aims to develop a methodological approach that can be applied to a variety of different contexts where the root causes of discrimination and – to a certain extent – of conflict, need to be evaluated and understood.

While the majority of existing studies on the topic tended to focus on the construction of identity from the outcastes perspective (i.e. self-identification), this research shifts the focus on minority issues from the “victims” of discrimination to the “perpetrators,” thus attempting to understand how processes of identification and Othering create the conditions for discrimination. The basic idea is to shed light on the ways in which the “symbolic repertoire” about burakumin – or information and ideas that define outacastes stereotypes – is created, shared and propagated through information exchange occurring on websites, blogs, and message boards on the Internet.

In other words, this research proposes a new approach to the tracking and analysis of the online outlets of information, evaluating how stereotypical images of burakumin are constructed on the Internet, in order to provide a new perspective on the social and semantic connections that fuel discrimination against burakumin. Furthermore, the project aims to offer a dataset that can be manipulated and tested in order to increase the accuracy and wider applicability of the “identity mapping” theory and method. In fact, this research aims to develop a methodology based on social and semantic network analysis, that is underdeveloped in anthropology and the social sciences.

Although social network research and online ethnography (or “netnography”) have already been developed as investigative methods, they have generally been used for marketing research, and thus lack rigorous academic application. Conversely, studies that explored the theoretical aspects of the modelization of social networks lack an analysis of the peculiarities and the practicalities of social contexts. By applying “netnography” and social network theory to the context of identity research, this project aims to provide a unique perspective to anthropology and social sciences more generally. This research also strives to provide new ways to elaborate models, based on complexity theories that take into account the dynamics and relation among the data. This will also provide better potentialities not only from the perspective of modelization and data elaboration, but also for a clearer and more understandable visualization and theorization of identification processes in general.