Call for paper: Waza

In Japan, under the term Waza (わざ) we mean the embodied know-how, the mastery of a craft act but also the processes and forms of tricks that go with it; it is loaded with profound meaning whose intensity is equivalent only to the pleasure experienced in performing or seeing performed an effective manual action. This word, the conceptions, practices and devices it implies will serve as a basis for questioning at new costs – closely mixing interaction and culture – the question of learning and transmission in both formalized and institutionalized universes and informal or performative ones. By calling on developmental psychology, primate ethology, hunter-gatherer anthropology, but also design, history, sociology or the sciences of education to participate, we intend to take up again these central questions of Francophone cultural technology, which is partly inherited from Japan’s popular and academic cultures.

Waza on the Move: ineffable art of learning

Call for contributions for a special issue of the journal Techniques & Culture
(to be published in spring 2021)

Preceded by the Techniques & Culture workshop
on Avril 29-30, 2020

In recent decades, increased attention has been given to the universality of human education and social learning of children in both human and non-human animal societies. For example, Gergely and his colleagues have argued that humans are universally equipped with the natural inclination to convey cultural knowledge through explicit intentions and that this natural pedagogy enabled humans to prosper (Cisbra & Gergely 2006, 2011; Gergely et al. 2002). Accordingly, for them education is defined as entailing the following traits: 1) Explicit pronouncements of knowledge that can be generalized by an individual who serves as a teacher; and 2) interpretations of pronouncements performed on the content of the knowledge by an individual, who serves as the student (Csibra & Gergely 2006: 257).However, there remains a limited understanding of the cultural and ecological foundations of education and learning. For instance, why children are enthusiastically involved in activities that are not useful to the subsistence of the targeted group is still (?) largely unknown. The pitfall of natural pedagogy, as proposed by Gergely and others, is that it premises the modern educational system, such as schools, to discusses education and learning. In contrast, ethnographic studies, which have relativized education and learning under the modern institutions, have the potential to offer a unique contribution by expanding the theoretical coverage and fields of those arguments (Takada 2016).

         As a notable example, using a Japanese term わざ (pronounced waza) as a key heuristic concept, a number of researchers have investigated the socialization process of tacit knowledge of humans, in which culture and technique are inseparably related. These studies have revealed that children or “cultural novices”often implicitly learn tacit knowledge, such as appropriate use of cultural tools and elegant body movements of traditional dances, without the explicit pronouncements of knowledge by a teacher, while being involved in social relationships of the expert group (e.g., Ikuta 2007).

Analogous to these, researchers have investigated social learning among juvenile chimpanzees, focusing on the process of acquisition of recognized skills through a master-apprenticeship (de Waal 2008; Matsuzawa et al. 2008; Shimada 2018), or explored relations between tradition, transmission and waza in complex tool-use behaviors (Joulian 2000, 2005).

         Adopting the term waza, this special issue of Techniques&Culture attempts to explore the cultural and ecological foundations of education and learning in human and non-human animal societiesfollowing five aspects:

Antfish. Pêche aux fourmis par les chimpanzés. © Masaki Shimada.

  • First, waza has usually been evaluated for its functions in local subsistence, or its evolutionary advantage in the historical development of both human and non-human animal societies. Following this perspective, the skills that do not have pragmatic uses (e.g., the tool play of children, or object play of juvenile non-human animals) are often overlooked with little consideration of their significance, or are perceived as under-developed or even wrong. Nevertheless, this perspective arouses several doubts when considering the waza of children, including juvenile animals. First, if pragmatic objectives do not motivate the deployment of waza, how can waza be developed? Can and should imperfection or maladjustment be part of the investigation? The answer is of course positive and concepts such as detriment, sabotage, or vengeance be associated with waza.The second set of doubts questions how children explore and discover the new affordances (Gibson 1979) of materials and tools through trial and error. When children’s body features and needs transform in the course of development, what kind of changes are brought to the practitioners’ perception on a certain waza?These questions also raise the anthropocentric dimension of studies on animal and human motor skills and their now century-old history.It is noteworthy that studying the tacit knowledge within non-human animal lives has an extensive history, even without using such a term as waza. Taking these studies into account, we may further ask whether the tacit knowledge of other species should be considered as waza? If so, how can we compare this with the waza of human?

Collaboration of naives and experts in livestock grouping. © 田暁潔 Xiaojie TIAN.
  • Secondly, the socialization involved in the acquisition of a waza seems to us to be an insufficiently explored entry into study – apart from perhaps historians or ethnologists of professionsand techniques (Julien, Rosselin 2003; Sigaut 2012, Bouillon & al.2017) -, and whose link with a “community of practice” (Lave & Wenger 1991) can be detailed in relation to the different forms of knowledge and performance. Previous studies on education often adopted a dichotomy between novices (non-skilled) and experts (skilled) or between the younger (who are supposed to know less) and older (who are supposed to be more experienced and skillful) generations to explain the cultural transmission of knowledge. However, such dichotomies are too simplistic to deconstruct the process of knowledge (re)generation in a particular space and time. In the actual practices of social interaction, conventional social roles, such as novice and expert, are often transformed into (or filtered by) positions, such as those who know and who do not know, which are contingent upon the progress of interactions in order to accomplish mutual understanding (Takada 2006). Detailed analysis of changing participation frameworks (Goffman 1981) will clarify the following questions, which are crucial to explore the sequential organization of social interaction: What kind of social relationships enable waza (re)generation? In which context is waza put into practice?

Ecole Escoulen, Aiguines, Var, France. Tourneur sur bois. © Frédéric Joulian.

  • The third challenge, legitimation of waza, raises several concerns related to the legitimatization of pragmatic skills and the authorizing of tradition. First, the concerns of how and whether the various forms of waza and relevant social interactions be recognized and established as the customs of a certain group. For instance, using a spear to hunt has been recognized as an important custom in hunter-gatherer societies (Lee 1979). On the other hand, using it to dig holes, or as hammers to make other toys, usages that are often found among hunter-gatherer children, have not been regarded as waza, nor been considered to associate with hunter-gatherer identity so far. Nonetheless, serious consideration about the ways that the community of practice encourage or discourage these usages would enlighten the process of legitimation (and non-legitimation) of waza. Similar arguments can be developed with respect to “modern” contexts and social situations. In which circumstances would waza be regarded as innovation and technology or knowledge? How would such waza diffuse within the society? Investigating these questions leads us to reconsider the dichotomy of traditional and modern and clarify the “social life” of waza.

Artisan à Kyoto, 1938. © André Leroi-Gourhan

  • The fourth challenge refers to the crossed and still poorly known history of intellectual relations between Japan and France concerning research in material culture as formalized by André Leroi-Gourhan when he went back from Japan before World War II, (Leroi-Gourhan 1941-43, Soulier 2011), and which is based largely on the formal and informal knowledge of Japan in the 1920s (Cobbi 2006; Kunik 2015). A large part of the concepts about material culture, efficiency and aesthetics can only be understood in the light of the Japanese emic and etic context, in which the notion of waza plays a key role. This issue is therefore also a way to revisit this history and to renew a dialogue on methods, reflexivity, learning and dissemination of waza, that has been interrupted between the two countries for almost 70 years.

Jeux d’enfants. © Akira Tadaka.

  • The fifth axis, that of the concretisation of know-how in objects, makes it possible to raise all cultural, economic, political , ecological and symbolic relations of praxis that can be brought out by studying the connections between the waza (and the embodied skills) and the systems of objects, whether they are in common use, produced over time, or specialized and artistic and which are both sometimes recognized as heritage elements. High technical skills acquired over years or decades of learning can sometimes not be seen in the objects produced, are not readable, or only by experts, or conversely, the manufacture of complex objects involves only a simple algorithm and the pressing of a finger on a button. In this issue, dedicated to hands, gestures and learning, all preliminary situations, such as those involving simulations, devices and toys, will be given priority. The waza of DIY enthusiasts will be able to coexist with that of contemporary design professionals, with situations of hybridization and innovation (Grimaud & al.2017) often opening up, through a side step, to more acute understanding of learning and manual intelligence.

Taken together, this special issue aims to explore the cultural and ecological foundations of education and learning, with a special reference to socialization to waza in both human and non-human animal societies. In this attempt, it sets “move” at the core of the analysis to facilitate reconsideration of waza as well as re-capture the process of waza (re)generation in social interaction of children with others. It focuses on the continuous transformation of waza adaptive nature and culturally distinctive meaning of tool uses, sequential organization of social interactions with respect to waza generation.

We welcome researchers and practitioners from very diverse backgrounds and disciplines, who will find an interest in the above-mentioned issues and will endeavour to share their analyses and experiences of learning in time and space,… in Japanese or French contexts, or of course, in other intellectual traditions. The proposals will be based on methodologies involving the analysis of empirical data (ethnographic, sociological, technological, technological, ethological, etc.) and their presentation and analysis in one of the three possible forms allowed by the journal.

> Download the call for papers (.pdf)

Conditions of submission

An abstract of a maximum of 3,000 characters, with about ten illustrations. Three forms of articles may be submitted:

  • an article for the online version available for immediate access, with a maximum length of 50,000 characters (including spaces) and in which all kinds of illustrations (photos, video, audio) are possible. It will also be presented in the frame of 4 pages in the paper version (with the announcement of the http link; 5,000 to 6,000 characters + 2 HD images).
  • an article for the paper version of the journal, ranging from 25,000 to 30,000 characters (including spaces) in its length along with a maximum of 10 HD images (300 dpi) in which the author will endeavor to reach out to readers outside their own field, an exercise involving a dual requirement of scientificity and readability (the journal being of interest for interdisciplinary readers in the human sciences and being published as a “journal book” to an extended audience).
  • an article which, on the contrary, relies on fieldwork and documents, in which the author, based on precise corpuses, will analyze 15 to 20 images, in a format of 15,000 characters (max.).

Practical details

Authors will need to contact the coordinators of the issue, Akira Takada, Xiaojie Tian, Masaki Shimada and Frédéric Joulian, through the journal’s editorial secretariat ( to submit their project (title and abstract, iconography project) with their name, contact details, institutional affiliation before 10 October 2019.

A meeting of the selected contributors is scheduled to take place in Marseille on 29 and 30 May 2020. The proposal and the full text can be sent in French or English; the paper volume will be published in French, but online articles can be published in English.

For journal standards, please visit: or contact the journal’s editorial team at


  • August 2019: Call for contributions
  • 10 October 2019: Deadline for receiving proposals and pre-selection
  • March 2020: Submission of contributions (v1)
  • 29-30 April 2020: Workshop at Marseille
  • May 2020: Feedback from evaluators
  • July 2020: Submission of contributions (v2)
  • Spring 2021: Issuing in bookshops

Références bibliographiques

Bouillon, D., Guillerme, A., Mille, M. & G. Piernas dir. 2017 Gestes techniques, techniques du geste. Approches pluridisciplinaires. Villeneuve d’Asq : Presses Universitaires du Septentrion.

Cisbra, G. & G. Gergely 2006 « Social learning and social cognition : The Case for Pedagogy » in Y. Munakata & M. H. Johnson dir. Processes of Change in Brain and Cognitive Development. Oxford, United Kingdom : Oxford University Press : 249-274.

Cisbra, G., & Gergely, G. 2011 « Natural pedagogy as evolutionary adaptation », Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366 : 1149-1157. doi :10.1098/rstb.2010.0319.

Cobbi, J. 2006 « “Le pays de la main”. Waza ou le savoir-faire au Japon » in S. D’Onofrio, F. Joulian dir. Dire le savoir-faire. Gestes, techniques et objets. Paris : Cahiers de L’Herne : 111-120

D’Onofrio, S., Joulian, F. (dir.) 2006 Dire le Savoir-Faire. Gestes, techniques et objets. Cahiers d’Anthropologie Sociale no 1. Paris : L’Herne.

Grimaud, E., Tastevin, Y.-P. & D. Vidal 2017 « Low tech, high tech, wild tech. Réinventer la technologie ? », Techniques&Culture 67 « Low tech ? Wild tech ! » : 12-29.

Gergely, G., Bekkering, H., & I. Kiraly 2002 « Rational imitation in preverbal infants », Nature, 415 : 755. doi :10.1038/415755a.

Gibson, J. J. 1979 The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston, MA : Houghton Mifflin.

Goffman, E. 1981 Forms of talk. Philadelphia, PA : University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ikuta, K. 2007 Learning from « waza » : Inquiry into the new form of human knowledge. Tokyo : University of Tokyo Press. (in Japanese)

Joulian, F. 2005 « Significant tools and signifying monkeys : The question of body techniques and elementary actions on matter among apes and early hominids » in L. Backwell & F. d’Errico dir. Proceedings of International Round Table « From Tools to Symbols. From Hominids to Modern Humans ». Witswatersrand University Press : Johannesburg : 52-81.

Joulian, F. 2000 « Techniques du corps et traditions chimpanzières », Terrain 34 « Les animaux pensent-ils ? » : 37-54. doi :10.4000/terrain.951.

Julien, M.-P. & C. Rosselin 2003 « C’est en laquant qu’on devient laqueur. De l’efficacité du geste à l’action sur soi », Techniques&Culture 40 « Efficacité technique, efficacité sociale » : 107-123.

Kunik, D. 2015 Des objets et des hommes : naissance des collections ethnographiques japonaises chez André Leroi-Gourhan et Shibusawa Keizō. モノと人間—アンドレ・ルロワ゠グーランと澁澤敬三における日本民族コレクションの誕生Ebisu 52 : 199-231. doi :10.4000/ebisu.1675.

Lave, J. & E. Wenger 1991 Situated Learning : Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Lee, R. B. 1979 The !Kung San : Men, women, and work in a foraging society. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1943-1945 Evolution et techniques. Paris : Albin Michel.

Matsuzawa, T., Biro, D., Humle, T., Inoue-Nakamura, N., Tonooka, R. & G. Yamakoshi 2008 « Emergence of culture in wild chimpanzee : Education by master-apprenticeship » in T. Matsuzawa dir. Primate Origins of Human Cognition and Behavior. Tokyo : Springer : 557-574.

Shimada, M. 2018 « Use of wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata) by mahale chimpanzees : A likely case of social learning via direct observation », Pan Africa News 25 (2) : 19-21.

Sigaut, F. 2012 Comment Homo devint faber. Paris : CNRS Éditions.

Soulier, P. 2011 « Collecting objects for museums. André Leroi-Gourhan in Japan (april 1937 – march 1939) » in F. Joulian dir. Techniques&Culture 57 « Geste et Matière André Leroi-Gourhan, découvertes japonaises » : 60-83.

Takada, A. 2006 « Explaining pathways in the Central Kalahari », in R. K. Hitchcock, K. Ikeya, M. Biesele & R. B. Lee dir. Senri Ethnological Studies 70 « Updating the San : Image and Reality of An African People In the 21st century ». Osaka : National Museum of Ethnology : 101-127.

Takada, A. 2016 « Education and learning during social situations among the Central Kalahari San » in H. Terashima & B. S. Hewlett dir. Social Learning and Innovation in Contemporary Hunter-gatherers : Evolutionary and Ethnographic Perspectives. Tokyo : Springer : 97-111.

Waal, F. de 2001 The ape and the sushi master : Cultural reflections of a primatologist. London : Allen Lane.


The journal Techniques&Culture focuses on the pragmatic, social and symbolic dimensions of technique, ranging from the most “traditional” to the most concrete. Material culture and materiality contribute to revealing and assigning concrete meaning to relations between people, or between people (societies) and their environment. The journal creates and co-publishes theme-based issues that provide an overview of the latest developments on major anthropological questions, targeting both scholars (rank A journal) and the public at large (available online and in bookstores).

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