No photo of Chika Watanabe

Chika Watanabe


If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile


I received my PhD in anthropology from Cornell University in 2013 and held a Postdoctoral Associate position in the Inter-Asia Program at Yale University in 2013-2014. I have worked with various development, emergency relief, and other NGOs since 2002 and continue to hold an interest in international aid work from both academic and practitioner perspectives. I completed an MSc in Forced Migration at the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford in 2005.

I am also undertaking a project with fellow anthropologists around the concept of 'patchwork ethnography'. We aim to 'bring out of the closet' the fact that professional and personal lives intersect in knowledge production, and that can be a strength in our theoretical and methodological interventions. Check out our webpage and follow us on Twitter @PatchworkEthno. 

Social responsibility

Engaged Anthropology

First funded by the Social Responsibility in the Curriculum Award in 2016-7 and now ongoing, my class 'The Anthropology of Development and Humanitarianism' revolves around a final visit from professionals in development and humanitarian aid. Students work in groups corresponding to the topics of expertise of each visitor and create a blog entry, where they explain how they think that anthropological analysis can help us understand development and humanitarian issues better. In 2021-2022, they produced lesson plans for Year 10 students (14-15 year olds). See their outstanding work here:

Research interests

Key words: Development, humanitarianism, NGOs, religion and the secular (esp. Shinto), ethics and morality, subject-formation, temporality (esp. futurity), disasters, preparedness, play, children. 

Euro-American aid programmes have often been seen to create unequal relationships between those who receive the help and those who give it. This is sometimes attributed to the radical differences from each other. The solution, then, is often seen to be the creation of proximate relations and solidarity with suffering distant others.

My book Becoming One: Religion, Development, and Environmentalism in a Japanese NGO in Myanmar (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019) turns that problem-solution formula on its head to understand wider practices of aid—specifically, Japanese aid programmes in Asia. Instead of the humanitarian impetus as a response to suffering distant strangers, Japanese aid actors in Asia begin from the premise that their work is to 'become one' with already-similar others and 'Mother Earth'. They do this by drawing upon visions of pan-Asian solidarity, ‘nonreligious’ 'Shinto' environmentalism, and the idea of ‘making persons’ (hitozukuri) through collective labour. My book illustrates the double-edged quality of solidarity, and the need to situate humanitarian endeavours in specific regional histories.

My interest in how knowledge and people are shaped in transnational interactions continues in my second project, which focuses on disaster preparedness. Cooperation between people from different countries to share best practices in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is crucial to strengthen each other’s abilities to survive disasters. The Resilient Cities Network and other global initiatives showcase this value. 

But 'cooperation' is not a simple process. How can different experiences of and approaches to disasters actually travel between varied contexts of risk, politics, and socioeconomic conditions? How do pedagogies of preparedness--techniques of persuasion--work in the face of potentially devastating catastrophes? I address these questions by looking at the case of disaster cooperation between Japan and Chile, especially how ‘playful’ approaches to disaster preparedness (e.g. through child-friendly games) travel across contexts. My analyses are inspired by feminist attention to incompleteness in translations and science, theories of futurity and temporality in preparedness, and ethnographers of aid who 'take seriously' the logics and ethics of practitioners. I am also committed to foregrounding the ethos of patchwork ethnography

My collaborators in Chile and I are undertaking oral history interviews with elderly residents of Talcahuano who have lived through the devastating 1960 and 2010 earthquakes and tsunamis. These oral histories will form the basis of children's games on disaster resilience, a photobook, an educational comic book (see here for our model), a curriculum unit for primary schools, and a short documentary film. All these activities come from the vision of Chile-based actors. This work has been and is being supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the British Academy and Leverhulme, and the Toyota Foundation. Check out or project website here


I have mainly taught the Anthropology of Development and Humanitarianism (final year UG and PGT course unit, since 2014) and the Anthropology of Kinship, Gender, and Sex (second year UG course unit, since 2019). In all of my classes, I seek to make learning meaningful to students, whether that is through a group project to research a humanitarian topic of their interest or a set of exercises to reflect on how theories of kinship and gender are relevant in one's own life. 

I have also been involved in various UG programming roles since 2016. I see my teaching-related roles as integral to my life as a researcher and academic. Rather than 'noise' that interrupts research, teaching has linked my day-to-day work with my research interests on pedagogy in disaster preparedness. This is again part of my feminist commitments to patchwork ethnography as a way to rethink knowledge production. 

Humanities Outstanding Teaching Award winner 2020, 2021, 2022.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Futures
  • Creative Manchester


Dive into the research topics where Chika Watanabe is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles


Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or