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Chika Watanabe


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 co-lead 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. 

I also collaborate with researchers and practitioners on the project Voices of Resilience (Voces de Resiliencia), an outcome of the project 'Translating Bosai Values: Investigating the Role of "Playfulness" in Disaster Cooperation between Japan and Chile' (funded by Toyota Foundation). We develop fun educational materials for disaster preparedness from life history interviews conducted with older people in the town of Talcahuano, Chile. Check out the Voces website:

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

We live in a world of intensifying disasters. My overall interests revolve around temporalities of preparedness and anticipation in this global context. I currently have 3 main areas of work.

  • Playful and creative methods of preparedness among preparedness educators in Japan and Chile.

For this project, I've been largely working with children but also older people, families, schools, and other citizens in both countries. I'm currently writing an ethnographic book on what I call 'resourcing the future' that I see among my interlocutors. Preparedness educators turn one thing into another, playfully, through a reparative improvisation of everyday objects, concerns, and relations to bring the future into the present. Their work points to a way to theorise an anthropology of survival that does not hinge on catastrophic thinking. The book is tentatively titled Making Survival Possible: Disaster Preparedness through Play in Japan and Chile. This project has been funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the Toyota Foundation, and the University of Manchester. 

  • Intergenerational kin-making and memory work as a way to understand and build resilience in the face of disasters.

This stems from my project with children and older people on play and disaster preparedness. Interviewing older people about their experiences of disaster led to a realization that resilience in the face of disasters needs to be understood in the context of people's whole lives and experiences of hardship of all sorts, not only disasters. We need to decentre disasters to make disaster research and DRR inclusive. I've also come to realize that, while 'resilience' is a problematic concept, it is also meaningful for our interlocutors. I'm preparing a project with other researchers in the UK, Japan, Chile, and Vietnam on the intersections of intergenerational kin-making, memorialization, and participatory climate action and disaster preparedness. See related work, Voces de Resiliencia project website here

  • Patchwork ethnography.

I am committed to foregrounding the ethos of patchwork ethnography through my research practices, writing, and teaching. My collaborator Gökçe Günel and I are working on a 'textbook' of patchwork ethnography based on our patchwork ethnography syllabus

I have also conducted ethnographic research on international cooperation around disaster preparedness between Japan and Chile. 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. 

Previously, I've worked on Japanese aid in Myanmar, analyzing the double-edged quality of solidarity, and the need to situate humanitarian endeavours in specific regional histories. It involved considerations of secularity and the 'non-religious', moral imaginations, and imperialist aspirations. A result of this project was Becoming One: Religion, Development, and Environmentalism in a Japanese NGO in Myanmar (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019). 


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


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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