Frederik Vejlin - new Phd at the Department of Anthropology

Fredrik will join cas with the project: "Finding the Soul of Sociality in the Social Robot: Exploring human-robot relations in Japan through the lens of techno-animism".

06.09.2017 | Camilla Dimke

My name is Frederik Vejlin. I have a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Aarhus University, with an exchange semester at Hokkaido University, Japan. At Hokkaido University, I took courses on anthropological approaches to the study of Japanese culture and society, as well as Japanese language courses. After returning to Denmark, I started the master’s degree in General Anthropology and Ethnography at AU (which I, in accordance with the 4+4 scheme, will complete alongside the work on my PhD-project).

My project is provisionally entitled “Finding the Soul of Sociality in the Social Robot:
Exploring human-robot relations in Japan through the lens of techno-animism.” Briefly, my project aims to study human-robot relations in Japan, attending to both how these relations are created through the everyday interaction between humans and social robots, and how such relations can be understood through the conceptual framework of techno-animism. Specifically, several scholars have argued that the Shinto notion of kami, which refers to a form of vital energy that connects all living beings on an ontological level, infuses robots and other technological and artificial entities, as well as humans, plants, and animals. By possessing a kami-nature, robots must also have the potential for manifesting such capacities as agency, sociality, and personhood.

It is this assertion that my project seeks to critically interrogate. I am interested in studying whether the idea of techno-animism is, in fact, merely conceptual conjecture, or if it has some bearing on the attitude towards the increased integration of social robots into Japanese society. And if so, how does techno-animism influence people’s everyday interactions and relations with social robots? And what could this teach us about the future of both human and non-human forms of sociality?

As of now, I do now have a specific field site in order. However, I am currently on fieldwork at the Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories in Japan (until the beginning of December), and I hope to make some connections for further field work while I am here.

I look forward to meeting you all when I return to Denmark.