SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Thing Beliefs: Hoarding and the Art of Getting Rid of Stuff in Contemporary Japan

Fabio Gygi
Fabio Gygi (SOAS)

Date: 22 January 2014Time: 5:05 PM

Finishes: 22 January 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G50

Type of Event: Seminar


This paper critically examines some of they ways the phenomenon of agency and animation has been dealt with in anthropological theory (Gell 1998, Gilmore 2009). Rather than arguing that animated objects are the result of a certain religiously inflected belief, I shall argue that animation is a strategy to deal with the ontologically difficult status of accumulated things and thus a form of boundary work.
In my own fieldwork among hoarders and declutterers in Japan, it struck me that the belief of animation was often used to explain hoarding behavior from the outside by social workers and psychologists. So-called clutter consultants or declutterers on the other hand have devised different rituals of divestment which were aimed at helping hoarders to let go of things, assuming that for them, the things were imbued with some sort of life of their own. My ethnographic data on these rituals however suggests that rather than to cut a connection that existed before the ritual of divestment, the ritual animates things in order to `kill` (=dispose of) them, that is, it allows the things to attain a stable status of `alive/dead` that is different from the ontological limbo they existed in before. By looking at two examples from my fieldwork, I intend to show how in the case of hoarding it is the interstitial status of the hoard that conveys agency to the things it contains.  

Speaker Biography

Fabio Gygi specialises in Material Culture and Medical Anthropology. He obtained his PhD in social anthropology from UCL with a thesis on hoarding in Tokyo entitled 'Gendered Disorder(s)? "Rubbish Houses" and "Women who cannot tidy up" in Contemporary Japan'. Before joining SOAS in September 2013, he spent three years as an assistant professor of sociology at the Doshisha University in Kyoto. He has at least two books in him, one of which should materialise in the not so distant future.

Contact email:

Contact Tel: 020 7898 4892/3