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Department of Social Anthropology



My research examines the mutual production of emotion, politics and emerging media technologies, with geographic concentrations on Japan and the UK. Currently I am investigating practices of emotion modeling in the development of affect-sensitive software, social robots and artificial emotional intelligence. Through an ongoing project called Model Emotion, I work across disciplines with anthropologists, psychologists, computer scientists and robotics engineers to trace how theoretical models of emotion are built into machines with the capacity to evoke, read or even in a philosophical sense have emotion in ways that foster care and wellbeing. Comparing how this process unfolds differently in places like Japan and the UK, I explore how designing robots with emotional intelligence is shifting research agendas within the psychological science of emotion, as well as transforming people’s capacities to relate affectively with emerging forms of artificial life.

I am theoretically driven by the question of how people working with technologies of language, art, engineering and design leverage knowledge of emotion to various political, ethical and aesthetic ends. I have explored this theme through previous projects on the soft power of Japanese popular culture, the ethics of melodrama in Japanese public broadcasting, and the aesthetics of melancholy in the literature of Murakami Haruki. In each of these projects I test different methods for conducting qualitative research on affect, feeling and sensation in order to cultivate a sensitivity to emotion that contributes to anthropology as an evolving discipline, as well as to public understandings of difference across cultural and epistemological divides. This approach to research also informs my pedagogical philosophy in the variety of courses I have taught in anthropology, cultural studies, social theory and ethnographic research design.


2019 “Critique as Connection within the Anthropology of Affect and the Senses.” Special Issue: Feeling (with) Japan: Affective, Sensory and Material Entanglements in the Field. Asian Anthropology, Vol. 18, Issue 3.

2019 “The Future of LOVOT: Between Models of Emotion and Experiments in Affect in Japan.” Platypus: The CASTAC Blog (July 23).

2019 “Japan’s Emerging Emotional Tech.” With Patrick W. Galbraith. Anthropology News. Vol. 60, Issue 1 (January/February).

2018 “Is Robot Empathy a Trap? Scientists Explore What Robot-Human Intimacy Could Mean for Love, Work, Communication, and Even War.” Podcast. With Hirofumi Katsuno, Jennifer Robertson, and Chip Colwell. Sapiens Magazine Podcast (August 18).

2018 “Contemplating the Robotic Embrace: Introspection for Affective Anthropology.” More-than-Human Worlds: A NatureCulture Blog Series (June 20).

2018 “Critique in the Gap.” Comment on Sasha Newell’s “The Affectiveness of Symbols: Materiality, Magicality, and the Limits of the Antisemiotic Turn.” Current Anthropology Vol. 59, Issue 1.

2018 “The Globalization of Melancholic Affect: Escaping Soft Power through the Literature of Murakami Haruki,” in Paul Hansen and Blai Guarne eds., Escaping Japan: Reflections on Estrangement and Exile in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge.

2017 “Affect: An Introduction,” in Daniel White guest ed., “Openings and Retrospectives.” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 32, Issue 2.

2017 “Notes Toward an Affective Anthropology of International Relations.” GIS Journal, Vol. 3.

2015 “Consumption as Care: Media, Labor, and Ethics Among Women Professionals in Japan.” GIS Journal, Vol. 1.

2015 “How the Center Holds: Administering Soft Power and Cute Culture in Japan,” in John Ertl, John Mock, John McCreery, and Gregory Poole eds., Reframing Diversity in the Anthropology of Japan. Kanazawa University Press.

2014 “Tears, Capital, Ethics: Television and the Public Sphere in Japan,” in Jie Yang ed., Markets and Affects in East Asia. Routledge.

2011 “Paranoia, Public Spheres and Time in Tokyo: A Report from the Ground Six Days after the March 11 Quake.” Anthropology News May 2011: Energy and Energopolitics, V53(5).

Affiliated Researcher
Dr Daniel  White

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