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Synthetic primatology: what humans and chimpanzees do in a Japanese laboratory and the African field


Against the background of humanities writing about animal agency, this article examines primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa's work with his ‘research partner’, the chimpanzee Ai, and her conspecifics at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute and in an outdoor laboratory in Guinea from 1976 to 2016. This latest chapter in the history of Japanese primatology describes an attempt at synthesizing benchwork and fieldwork. It examines how what both humans and chimpanzees can do varies across a whole spectrum of scientific practices, bridging the gap between controlled experiments and field observations. While some recent animal studies literature has presented laboratory animals as deprived of agency and thereby implicitly attributed agency to creatures of the wild, this historical and ethnographic account does not take the analytic category of agency for granted, but examines how Japanese primatologists think about the ways in which chimpanzees interact with each other, with humans and with their environment.

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1 Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, ‘The Ai Project: historical and ecological contexts’, Animal Cognition (2003) 6, pp. 199211, 199.

2 The exception that proves the rule is an article in a philosophy journal, co-authored by a primatologist: Arruda, Caroline T. and Povinelli, Daniel J., ‘Chimps as secret agents’, Synthese (2016) 193, pp. 21292158 .

3 Bradshaw, Gay A., ‘An ape among many: animal co-authorship and trans-species epistemic authority’, Configurations (2010) 18, pp. 1530 ; Savage-Rumbaugh, Sue, Wamba, Kanzi, Wamba, Panbanisha and Wamba, Nyoto, ‘Welfare of apes in captive environments: comments on, and by, a specific group of apes’, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (2007) 10, pp. 719 .

4 Hacking, Ian, The Taming of Chance, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990 .

5 Asquith, Pamela J., ‘Of bonds and boundaries: what is the modern role of anthropomorphism in primatological studies?’, American Journal of Primatology (2011) 73, pp. 238244, 239. See also Crist, Eileen, Images of Animals: Anthropocentrism and Animal Mind, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999 .

6 Anderson, Amanda and Valente, Joseph, ‘Introduction: discipline and freedom’, in Anderson, Joseph, Anderson, Amanda and Valente, Joseph (eds.), Disciplinarity at the Fin de Siècle, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002, pp. 118 .

7 Of course, quantum physics introduced a non-determinist logic into the natural sciences, but it has not affected the behavioural sciences in any significant way other than inspiring speculations about whether quantum effects in the brain could serve as a basis for free will. But even the stochastic nature of quantum effects could hardly serve as a basis for animal agency, as post-humanists understand it.

8 Asquith, Pamela J., ‘Some aspects of anthropomorphism in the terminology and philosophy underlying Western and Japanese studies of the social behaviour of non-human primates’, D.Phil., University of Oxford, 1981 , at; Asquith, ‘Negotiating science: internationalization and Japanese primatology’, in Strum, Shirley C. and Fedigan, Linda M. (eds.), Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 165183 ; Asquith, ‘Sources for Imanishi Kinji's views of sociality and evolutionary outcomes’, Journal of Biosciences (2007) 32, pp. 635641 ; de Waal, Frans B.M., ‘Silent invasion: Imanishi's primatology and cultural bias in science’, Animal Cognition (2003) 6, pp. 293299 ; Haraway, Donna J., Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, New York: Routledge, 1989, pp. 244258 ; Hiroyuki Takasaki, ‘Traditions of the Kyoto school of field primatology in Japan’, in Strum and Fedigan, op. cit., pp. 151–164.

9 Asquith, Pamela J., ‘Introduction’, in Imanishi, Kinji, A Japanese View of Nature: The World of Living Things (ed. Asquith, Pamela J.), London: Routledge, 2002, pp. xxixxliii, xxxi.

10 Imanishi, Kinji, ‘A proposal for shizengaku: the conclusion to my study of evolutionary theory’, Journal of Social and Biological Structures (1984) 7, pp. 357368 .

11 Imanishi, op. cit. (10), pp. 357, 360.

12 Kutsukake, Nobuyuki, ‘Lost in translation: field primatology, culture, and interdisciplinary approaches’, in MacClancy, Jeremy and Fuentes, Agustín (eds.), Centralizing Fieldwork: Critical Perspectives from Primatology, Biological and Social Anthropology, New York: Berghahn Books, 2011, pp. 104120 ; Asquith, ‘Negotiating science’, op. cit. (8); Takasaki, op. cit. (8).

13 Nakamura, Michio, ‘Interaction studies in Japanese primatology: their scope, uniqueness, and the future’, Primates (2009) 50, pp. 142152 .

14 Imanishi, op. cit. (9), pp. 73–74, 75.

15 Imanishi, op. cit. (9), pp. 30–31.

16 Imanishi, op. cit. (9), p. 74.

17 Imanishi, op. cit. (9), p. 75.

18 Goto-Jones, Christopher, Political Philosophy in Japan: Nishida, the Kyoto School and Co-prosperity, London: Routledge, 2009, p. 3 .

19 Nakamura, op. cit. (13), p. 146.

20 See also Sakura, Osamu, ‘Kinji Imanishi. A Japanese view of nature: the world of living things. Translated by Pamela J. Asquith, Heita Kawakatsu, Shusuke Yagi and Hiroyuki Takasaki’, Primates 2005 (46), pp. 287289 .

21 Sleeboom, Margaret, Academic Nations in China and Japan: Framed by Concepts of Nature, Culture and the Universal, London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 4749 .

22 Ingold, Tim, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, New York: Routledge, 2011, p. 215 .

23 Latour, Bruno, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 216 ; for disagreements within this camp see the attack on actor-network theory by Ingold, Tim, ‘When ANT meets SPIDER: social theory for arthropods’, in Knappett, Carl and and Malafouris, Lambros (eds.), Material Agency, New York: Springer, 2008, pp. 209215 .

24 All quotes not accompanied by citations are taken from interviews, which the author conducted in 2015.

25 Kohler, Robert E., Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab–Field Border in Biology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002 .

26 Nakamura, op. cit. (13).

27 Imanishi, op. cit. (10), p. 367.

28 Nishida, Kitaro, An Inquiry into the Good, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992 .

29 Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, ‘Sociocognitive development in chimpanzees: a synthesis of laboratory work and fieldwork’, in Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, Tomonaga, Masaki and Tanaka, Masayuki (eds.), Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees, Tokyo: Springer, 2006, pp. 333, 20.

30 Hayes, Keith J. and Hayes, Catherine, ‘The intellectual development of a home-raised chimpanzee’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1951) 95, pp. 105109 ; Gardner, Allen R. and Gardner, Beatrix T. (eds.), Teaching Sign Language to Chimpanzees, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989 .

31 Asano, Toshio, Kojima, Tetsuya, Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, Kubota, Kisou and Murofushi, Kiyoko, ‘Object and color naming in chimpanzees’, Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B 58 (1982), pp. 118122 ; Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, ‘Use of numbers by a chimpanzee’, Nature (1985) 315, pp. 5759 ; Matsuzawa, ‘Form perception and visual acuity in a chimpanzee’, Folia Primatologica (1990) 55, pp. 2432 .

32 Oden, David L., Thompson, Roger K. and Premack, David, ‘Spontaneous transfer of matching by infant chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes ’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes (1988) 14, pp. 140145, 144.

33 Premack, David and Premack, Ann J., The Mind of an Ape, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983, p. 56 .

34 Fechner, Gustav Theodor, Elements of Psychophysics (ed. Boring, Edwin Garrigues and Howes, Davis H., trans. Adler, Helmut E.), New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966, p. 1 .

35 Rumbaugh, Duane M. (ed.), Language Learning by a Chimpanzee: The Lana Project, illustrated edn, New York: Academic Press, 1977 .

36 Cited in Asquith, ‘Some aspects of anthropomorphism’, op. cit. (8), p. 318.

37 Asquith, ‘Some aspects of anthropomorphism’, op. cit. (8), p. 248.

38 Asano et al., op. cit. (31). Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, ‘Colour naming and classification in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)’, Journal of Human Evolution (1985) 14, pp. 283291 .

39 Skinner, Burrhus Frederic, Verbal Behavior, Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957 .

40 Berlin, Brent and Kay, Paul, Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969 .

41 Sapir, Edward, Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1921 . Whorf, Benjamin Lee, Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (ed. Carroll, John B.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956 .

42 Berlin and Kay, op. cit. (40), p. 109. Chomsky, Noam, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965 .

43 Skinner, op. cit. (39). Radick, Gregory, ‘The unmaking of a modern synthesis: Noam Chomsky, Charles Hockett, and the politics of behaviorism, 1955–1965’, Isis (2016) 107, pp. 4973 . Chomsky, Noam, ‘A review of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior’, Language (1959) 35, pp. 2658 .

44 Grether, W.F., ‘Chimpanzee color vision I: hue discrimination at three spectral points’, Journal of Comparative Psychology (1940) 29, pp. 167177 ; Riesen, A.H., ‘Chimpanzee visual perception’, in Bourne, Geoffrey H. (ed.), The Chimpanzee, vol. 2, Baltimore: University Park Press, 1970, pp. 93119 .

45 Matsuzawa, op. cit. (38), p. 290.

46 Inoue, Sana and Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, ‘Working memory of numerals in chimpanzees’, Current Biology (2007) 17, pp. R1004R1005 .

47 Kuklick, Henrika and Kohler, Robert E., ‘Introduction to “Science in the Field”’, Osiris (1996) 11, pp. 114, 3.

48 Langlitz, Nicolas, Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012 .

49 Malinowski, Bronislaw, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, London: Routledge, 1922 .

50 Goodall, Jane, In the Shadow of Man, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1971 .

51 For example, Hayes and Hayes, op. cit. (30); Terrace, Herbert S., Nim: A Chimpanzee Who Learned Sign Language, London: Eyre Methuen, 1980 ; Fouts, Roger, Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me about Who We Are, New York: Morrow, William, & Co., Inc., 1997 . For an opinionated but thorough overview see Wallman, Joel, Aping Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 ; Dupré, John, ‘Conversations with apes: reflections on the scientific study of language’, in Dupré, Humans and Other Animals, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002, pp. 236257 .

52 Wieder, D. Lawrence, ‘Behavioristic operationalism and the life-world: chimpanzees and chimpanzee researchers in face-to-face interaction’, Sociological Inquiry (1980) 50, pp. 75103 .

53 Geertz, Clifford, ‘Thick description: toward an interpretive theory of culture’, in Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, New York: Basic Books, 1973, pp. 330 .

54 Savage-Rumbaugh, Sue, Fields, William M., Segerdahl, Pär and Rumbaugh, Duane, ‘Culture prefigures cognition in Pan/Homo bonobos’, Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia Y Fundamentos de La Ciencia (2005) 20, pp. 311328, 313.

55 Sakai, Tomoko, Hirata, Satoshi, Fuwa, Kohki, Sugama, Keiko, Kusonoki, Kiyo, Makishima, Haruyuki, Eguchi, Tatsuya, Yamada, Shigehito, Ogihara, Naomichi and Takeshita, Hideko, ‘Fetal brain development in chimpanzees versus humans’, Current Biology (2012) 22, pp. R791R792 ; Takeshita, Hideko, Myowa-Yamakoshi, Masako and Hirata, Satoshi, ‘A new comparative perspective on prenatal motor behaviors: preliminary research with four-dimensional ultrasonography’, in Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, Tomonaga, Masaki and Tanaka, Masayuki (eds.), Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees, Tokyo: Springer, 2006, pp. 3747 .

56 Kano, Fumihiro, Tomonaga, Masaki and Warrant, Eric James, ‘Head-mounted eye tracking of a chimpanzee under naturalistic conditions’, PLoS ONE (2013) 8, p. e59785.

57 Ueno, Ari, Hirata, Satoshi, Fuwa, Kohki, Sugama, Keiko, Kusonoki, Kiyo, Matsuda, Goh, Fukushima, Hirokata, Hiraki, Kazuo, Tomonaga, Masaki and Hasegawa, Toshikazu, ‘Brain activity in an awake chimpanzee in response to the sound of her own name’, Biology Letters (2010) 6, pp. 311313 ; Ueno, Ari, Hirata, Satoshi, Fuwa, Kohki, Sugama, Keiko, Kusonoki, Kiyo, Matsuda, Goh, Fukushima, Hirokata, Hiraki, Kazuo, Tomonaga, Masaki and Hasegawa, Toshikazu, ‘Auditory ERPs to stimulus deviance in an awake chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, towards hominid cognitive neurosciences’, PloS One (2008) 3, p. e1442.

58 Matsuzawa, op. cit. (1); Matsuzawa, op. cit. (29).

59 Matsuzawa, op. cit. (1), p. 208.

60 Boesch, Christophe, ‘What makes us human (Homo sapiens)? The challenge of cognitive cross-species comparison’, Journal of Comparative Psychology (2007) 121, pp. 227240 ; Boesch, ‘Taking development and ecology seriously when comparing cognition: reply to Tomasello and Call, 2008’, Journal of Comparative Psychology (2008) 122, pp. 453455 .

61 Takada, Akira, ‘Mutual coordination of behaviors in human–chimpanzee interactions: a case study in a laboratory setting’, Revue de primatologie (2013) 5, pp. 121, 16.

62 Takada, op. cit. (61), p. 17.

63 Kohler, op. cit. (25), p. 174.

64 McGrew, William C., The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 45 .

65 Radick, Gregory, The Simian Tongue: The Long Debate about Animal Language, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007 .

66 Yamakoshi, Gen, ‘The “prehistory” before 1976: looking back on three decades of research on Bossou chimpanzees’, in Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, Humle, Tatyana and Sugiyama, Yukimaru (eds.), The Chimpanzees of Bossou and Nimba, Tokyo: Springer Japan, 2011, pp. 3544, 3740 .

67 Kawai, Masao, ‘On the rank system in a natural group of Japanese monkey (I) – the basic and dependent rank’, Primates (1957) 1, pp. 111130 .

68 Zuberbühler, Klaus, ‘Experimental field studies with non-human primates’, Current Opinion in Neurobiology (2014) 28, pp. 150156 .

69 Daston, Lorraine and Galison, Peter, Objectivity, New York: Zone Books, 2007 ; Mitman, Gregg, ‘Cinematic nature: Hollywood technology, popular culture, and the American Museum of Natural History’, Isis (1993) 84, pp. 637661 ; Montgomery, Georgina M., ‘Place, practice and primatology: Clarence Ray Carpenter, primate communication and the development of field methodology, 1931–1945’, Journal of the History of Biology (2005) 38, pp. 495533 .

70 Tetsuro Matsuzawa, ‘Field experiments of tool-use’, in Matsuzawa, Humle and Sugiyama, op. cit. (66), p. 160.

71 Radick, op. cit. (65), p. 364.

72 Radick, op. cit. (65), p. 368.

73 Matsuzawa, op. cit. (70), p. 157.

74 McGrew, op. cit. (64), p. 182.

75 Montgomery, op. cit. (69).

76 Matsuzawa, op. cit. (70), p. 163.

77 Hockings, Kimberley J., Bryson-Morrison, Nicola, Carvalho, Susana, Fujisawa, Michiko, Humle, Tatyana, McGrew, William C., Nakamura, Miho, Ohashi, Gaku, Yamanashi, Yumi, Yamakoshi, Gen and Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, ‘Tools to tipple: ethanol ingestion by wild chimpanzees using leaf-sponges’, Royal Society Open Science (2015) 2, pp. 16 .

78 Fuentes, Agustín and Hockings, Kimberley J., ‘The ethnoprimatological approach in primatology’, American Journal of Primatology (2010) 72, pp. 841847 .

79 Leblan, Vincent, ‘Introduction: emerging approaches in the anthropology/primatology borderland’, Revue de primatologie (2013) 5, pp. 116, 3.

80 Fuentes, Agustín, ‘Naturalcultural encounters in Bali: monkeys, temples, tourists, and ethnoprimatology’, Cultural Anthropology (2010) 25, pp. 600624, 600.

81 Fuentes, op. cit. (80), p. 610.

82 Fuentes, op. cit. (80), p. 603; Imanishi, op. cit. (9), pp. 74–78.

83 Kimberley J. Hockings, Gen Yamakoshi and Tetsuro Matsuzawa, ‘Dispersal of a human-cultivated crop by wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in a forest–farm matrix’, International Journal of Primatology, 2 November 2016, pp. 1–22.

84 Hockings, Kimberley J., McLennan, Matthew R., Carvalho, Susana, Ancrenaz, Marc, Bobe, René, Byrne, Richard W., Dunbar, Robin I.N., Matsuzawa, Tetsuro, McGrew, William C., Williamson, Elizabeth A., Wilson, Michael L., Wood, Bernard, Wrangham, Richard W. and Hill, Catherine M.Apes in the Anthropocene: flexibility and survival’, Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2015) 30, pp. 215222 .

85 Nishida, op. cit. (28), p. 65.

86 Asquith, op. cit. (9), p. 35.

87 Imanishi, op. cit. (9), p. 74.

88 Imanishi, op. cit. (9), p. 86.

89 DeMello, Margo, Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human–Animal Studies, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 50 .

This research would not have been possible without the generous support of Tetsuro Matsuzawa and his colleagues at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute, Japan, and in Bossou, Guinea. I am also grateful to Satoshi Hirata, Naruki Morimura and Mike Seres, who introduced me to their work at Kumamoto Sanctuary, and to Osamu Sakura and Cat Hobaiter, who provided very different angles on chimpanzee life and Japanese primatology. For comments on earlier drafts of this paper, I would like to thank Talia Dan-Cohen, Gabriela Bezerra de Melo Daly, Hugh Raffles, Tobias Rees, Wakana Suzuki and two anonymous peer reviewers. I also profited from the piercing critiques of the participants of the Berlin workshop Evidentiary Practices, especially Michael Guggenheim's.

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