Assistant Professor


Postdoctoral Fellow, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, Harvard University
Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Chicago, 2012
M.A., Anthropology, University of Chicago, 2008
B.A., English and Anthropology, Rice University, 2004 (with honors)

CAS Speaker Bureau Topic(s)

Family in Japan; Japanese child welfare; mental health in Japan; national and cultural ideologies in Japan; cultural anthropology of Japan

Research Interests

Kinship; medical anthropology and mental health; social determinants of health and well-being; semiotics; narrative; engaged anthropology; anthropology of Japan

Regional and Thematic Interests

East Asia


My research in Cultural Anthropology explores how social inclusion and exclusion shape holistic well-being and embodied experience. I bring together three domains that generally are understood separately—kinship, medical anthropology, and semiotics—to examine how past and present social relationships are experienced in visceral, embodied terms. I consider myself an “engaged anthropologist,” and endeavor for my research to be both theoretically rigorous and relevant to my interlocutors.

In Japan, my research focuses on the stakes of disconnection from family networks. I conduct ethnographic research at child welfare institutions, with foster and adoptive families, and with networks of youth who grew up in state care. I have also conducted research on infertility treatment, which informs my thinking on the ways “blood ties” are understood in Japan. I examine how kinship ideologies articulate with discourses of Japanese national and cultural identity, how these discourses shape understandings of what is “normal,” and how these concepts of normalcy are caught up in global circuits of knowledge surrounding human development, child rights, and concepts of “care” under the rubric of social welfare. 

I am developing a new, transnational project exploring how psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers, and former state wards in Japan and North America theorize attachment and childhood interpersonal trauma. I am particularly interested in the ways that neuroscientific evidence is mobilized in the context of claims regarding early life adversity, development, and a person’s ability to make interpersonal connections. In the context of transnational knowledge translation and the circulation of psychiatric expertise, this project considers how ideologies about culture play into understandings of health and well-being, policy development, and service provision in Japan and North America.

Selected Publications

Under review: “Beyond blood ties: Intimate kinships in Japanese foster and adoptive care.” In Intimate Japan, ed. A. Alexy and E. Cook. (In preparation: “Ketsuen wo koete: Nihon no satooya yōiku, yōshiengumi katei ni okeru shinmitsu na kazoku kankei” (Beyond blood ties: Intimate kinships in Japanese foster and adoptive care) [in Japanese].)

Under review: “Embodying absent kinships in Japanese child welfare institutions.” In The Cambridge Handbook for the Anthropology of Kinship, ed. S. Bamford. Cambridge University Press.

Forthcoming: “Politics of chance: Theorizing the experience of Japanese state care.” Japanese Studies.

Forthcoming: “‘Coming to look alike’: Materializing affinity in Japanese foster and adoptive care.” Social Analysis 60(2): 2016.

2014 “Developmental logics: Brain science, child welfare, and the ethics of engagement in Japan.” Social Science & Medicine, 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.11.036.

2013 “Japan.” In Child Protection and Child Welfare: A Global Appraisal of Cultures, Policy and Practice. Penelope Welbourne and John Dixon, eds. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 144-169.

2010 “Making the oral contraceptive ‘for me’ in Japan: Managing the semiotics of reproductive health in virtual space.” In Liberalizing, Feminizing and Popularizing Health Communications in Asia. K. K. Liew, ed. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 129-48.