CAILLET Laurence

Regional fields


Thematic fields

comparative epistemology, religious anthropology, anthropology of modernity, biographical method, history of Japan’s Japanese ethnology


Japan, epistemology, knowledge, religion, Buddhism, Shinto, ritual, biography, autobiography, family, relationships to values, universality, history, writing, myth

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Women’s work: collecting and sorting matsutake, fragile luxury mushrooms, Kyushu island, 2002 (photo L. Caillet)

Laurence Caillet studied both orientalism and ethnology, and has a PhD from the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (INALCO / L’Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales) as well as an HDR (Habilitation à diriger des recherches / accreditation to supervise doctoral thesis) from the EHESS (L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales / School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences). She belonged to a team of Japan specialists associated with the Collège de France before joining the LESC in 1993 as a professor at the University of Paris West Nanterre La Défense.

Her objectives are of two types: to facilitate access to knowledge of Japan, in which she specialises; and to compare working methods developed in a hypermodern context with those of colleagues who work in other parts of the world formerly subjected to colonisation. The ethnology of Japan – a country where the ethnology of the self is well developed – is deeply marked by the coexistence of two traditions of knowledge, one stemming from the archipelago’s relations with China, the other from the assimilation of Western knowledge. This practice involves working in conjunction with specialists inside and outside Japan, and with ethnologists in general.

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Dewa Sanctuary, known for the effectiveness of its blessing services in the fight against car accidents,
Yamagata, 1999 (photo L. Caillet)

From a thematic and regional perspective, Laurence Caillet gives special attention the history of the ethnology of Japan and epistemological reflection. More generally, she works on methods of knowledge construction, especially in the field of religion. The study of scholarly and ordinary rituals has supplied the ethnographic material on which this reflection is based.

She is also interested in the models constructed in the course of relations between Japan and the West, in which a strongly individualistic West is opposed to an authentic, local Japanese culture based on the existence of groups governed by a fictitious form of kinship. She analyses Japan’s modes of modernisation, and in her texts and practices she makes continual reference to rural Japan, the crucible of Japanese and Asian values, and to the invention of an alternative form of encompassing universality that is not based on principle.

Principales publications

  • 2010, Méprises et dérives, ethnographie d’une autobiographie recueillie, L’Homme, 195-196: 163–192.
  • 2009, Mes chers collègues, les moines, ou le partage de l’ignorance, Ateliers du LESC, 33 http://ateliers.revues.org/8202 [special issue: F. Fogel and I. Rivoal (eds), La relation ethnographique, terrains et textes. Mélanges offerts à Raymond Jamous].
  • 2009, Le mariage dans le Japon contemporain, in S. Melchior-Bonnet and C. Salles (eds), Histoire du mariage (Paris, Robert Laffont): 1057–1078.
  • 2006 éd., Ethnographies japonaises [special issue], Ateliers, 30.
  • 1991, La maison Yamazaki (Paris, Plon).
  • 1991, Espaces mythiques et territoire national, L’Homme, 117 (1): 10–33.
  • 1991, La civilisation japonaise, in Histoire des mœurs, III (Paris, Gallimard): 978–1038 [Encyclopédie de la Pléiade].
  • 1981, Syncrétisme au Japon, Omizutori (Paris, EPHE).
  • 1981 (reed. 2002), Fêtes et rites des 4 saisons au Japon (Paris, Presses orientalistes de France).
  • 1979, La fête des petits Garçons, Cahiers d’études et de documents sur les religions au Japon, vol. 1.


Publications available at the Éric-de-Dampierre library

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Mis à jour le 16 January 2014

Professeur émérite, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, Département d’ethnologie, de préhistoire et d’ethnomusicologie
[Emeritus Professor]