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Chimpanzee Culture WarsRethinking Human Nature alongside Japanese, European, and American Cultural Primatologists$
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Nicolas Langlitz

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691204284

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691204284.001.0001

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The Birth of Cultural Primatology from the Spirit of Japanese Uniqueness

The Birth of Cultural Primatology from the Spirit of Japanese Uniqueness

(p.25) 1 The Birth of Cultural Primatology from the Spirit of Japanese Uniqueness
Chimpanzee Culture Wars

Nicolas Langlitz

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the birth of cultural primatology in mid-twentieth-century Japan, looking at the prehistory of the chimpanzee culture wars. The story begins in 1948 with the observation of a troop of Japanese macaques on a subtropical islet. As Kinji Imanishi and his students fed them sweet potatoes on the beach, the monkeys invented a way of washing off the sand in the sea. Subsequently, they passed on the new behavior from generation to generation. The Japanese primatologists conceived of this social transmission as preculture. They framed their anthropomorphic conceptualization, as well as a research practice that made no effort to minimize human interference, in terms of Japanese culture. Soon Imanishi's anti-Darwinian evolutionary theory became engulfed in national and international controversy over its association with nationalist politics and its breach of the divide between science and the humanities. Ironically, this self-consciously Japanese brand of scholarship had not only appropriated European and American elements of evolutionist thought, including the idea of animal traditions, but also stirred up a controversy over primate cultures that polarized primatology far beyond the boundaries of national cultures.

Keywords:   cultural primatology, Japan, Japanese macaques, Kinji Imanishi, Japanese primatologists, preculture, Japanese culture, nationalist politics, animal traditions, primate cultures

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