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Department of Social Anthropology



I am a social and medical anthropologist specialising in Japan, with primary research interests spanning health and wellbeing; aging and the life course; and art and creativity. I have conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork with two distinct groups of people in the Kansai region of Japan: independently living older people (and those in their circles of care); and contemporary artists. Among both groups I have been especially interested in themes of motivation and purpose, life choices, reflexivity, and agency. I am currently leading an AHRC-funded project entitled ‘The Work of Art in Contemporary Japan: Inner and outer worlds of creativity’. 


My first monograph, ‘Making Meaningful Lives: Tales from an Aging Japan’ (based on my doctoral dissertation at the University of Oxford and published in 2019 by University of Pennsylvania Press), explores the lived experience of aging in urban Japan, and the ways in which older people construct a meaningful and satisfying life through narrative activity and practices of care which pervade everyday sociality. The book describes their efforts to navigate pervasive tensions between dependence and freedom, or between a rich social life and a desired level of separation in which the burdens imposed by ‘sticky’ social relationships are minimised; it argues that balancing acts of this kind are central to what it means to live well. This fieldwork among older Japanese also underpins a series of journal articles addressing a broad range of topics including care; hope and hopelessness; happiness; and gratitude, among others. 


In my recent recent publication with the University of Cambridge Press ‘The Process of Wellbeing: Conviviality, care and creativity’ I develop an anthropological perspective on wellbeing as an intersubjective process. Rather than a state or achievement, wellbeing comes into view here as an ongoing process that involves human and nonhuman others. It does not pertain to the individual alone, but plays out within the relations of care that constitute people, moving and thriving in circulation through affective environments.


My research on art and artists, carried out alongside my work with older people, has sought to understand the nature of artistic production and creative collaboration in contemporary Japan, and to explore art as a form of meaningful work. It moves beyond stereotypical Western notions of the ‘lone’ creative artist by showing how creativity is a deeply socially and distributed phenomenon that emerges within particular configurations of relationships, in what I describe as an ‘atmospheric’ way.  This work seeks to develop an analytical framework based around the concept of the art event, and using this to bridge conventional divides between performance and visual art, and between audience and artist. 


I am the Principal Investigator on an AHRC funded Leadership Fellowship project, entitled ‘The Work of Art in Contemporary Japan: Inner and outer worlds of creativity’. In this project, drawing on visual and sensory methodologies alongside narrative phenomenology, the aim is to understand how artists combine narrative and non-narrative resources in building both a sense of self and a distinctive understanding of the creative process. I am also currently a co-investigator on an AHRC Research Network Scheme Grant, ‘Groups, Clubs, and Scenes: Informal Creative Practices in Japan’, with Dr Jennifer Coates (University of Sheffield). 


Research interests

Anthropology of the life course and aging; wellbeing; meaning in life; life stories; narratives; motivations; art and creativity; imagination; temporality; future; hope; anthropological theory; Japan and Europe.


Books and edited volumes

Kavedžija, Iza, ed. (2020). The Ends of Life: Time and meaning in the later years. Special issue of Anthropology and Aging 41 (2). 

Kavedžija, Iza, ed. (2020). Decameron Relived. Fictions, Fieldsights.

Kavedžija, Iza (2019). Making Meaningful Lives: Tales from an aging Japan.  Contemporary Ethnography Series. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kavedžija, Iza and Walker, Harry, eds. (2016). Values of Happiness: Toward an Anthropology of Purpose in Life. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Kavedžija, Iza, ed. (2016). Ethnographies of Hope in Contemporary Japan. Special issue of Contemporary Japan 28(1).

Kavedžija, Iza and Walker, Harry, eds. (2015). Happiness: Horizons of Purpose . Special issue of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(3).

Articles and book chapters  

Kavedžija, Iza. (2020). An attitude of gratitude: Older Japanese in the hopeful present. Anthropology and Aging 41 (2): 59-71. 

Kavedžija, Iza. (2020). Introduction: Ends of Life: Time and meaning in the later years Anthropology and Aging 41(2): 1-8. 

Kavedžija, Iza. (2020). Communities of care and zones of abandonment in ‘super-aged’ Japan. In Jay Sokolovky (ed.) Cultural Contexts of Aging. Worldwide perspectives. (4th updated edition). Preager: Westport (Connecticut), 211-230.  

Kavedžija, Iza. (2019). “I move my hand and then I see it”: Sensing and knowing with young artists in Japan. Special issue of the Asian Anthropology Feeling (in) Japan: Affective, Sensory and Material Entanglements in the Field, edited by Andrea de Antoni and Emma Cook 18 (3) 222-237.

Kavedžija, Iza. (2019). Poetry First Prize (tie). Anthropology and Humanism. 44(1):169-170.

Kavedžija, Iza. (2019). Learning discomfort: A ‘good enough teacher’ and teaching through challenge. Special issue of the Teaching Anthropology Creativity and Controversy. Vol 8(1).

Kavedžija, Iza. (2019). Gratitude. In Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon. Edited by Cymene Howe and Anand Pandian. Punctum Books. In Press. 

Kavedžija, Iza. (2018). Of manners and hedgehogs: Building closeness by maintaining distance. In Moralities of care in later life. Special Issue of The Australian Journal of Anthropology 29(2): 147-157.

Kavedžija, Iza (2016). The age of decline? Anxieties about aging in JapanEthnos 81 (2): 214-237. (Published online  16/05/2014).

Kavedžija, Iza. (2016). Introduction: Reorienting Hopes. In Ethnographies of Hope in Contemporary Japan. Special issue of Contemporary Japan Journal 28(1).

Kavedžija, Iza (2015). The good life in balance: Insights from aging JapanHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(3): 135-156.     

Walker, Harry and Kavedžija, Iza (2015). Values of HappinessHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(3): 1-23.

Kavedžija, Iza (2015). Frail, independent, involved? Care and the category of the elderly  in JapanAnthropology and Aging 36(1): 62-81. ISSN 2374-2267.

Kavedžija, Iza (2011). Inside and outside the new global community: Human rights discourse in Japan and beyond. Ethnological Forum [Etnoloska Tribina] 41(34):127-151.

Kavedžija, Iza (2008). Invisible Others: Buraku and modern Japanese literature. [Nevidljivi Drugi. Buraku i moderna japanska književnost]. Ethnological Forum [Etnoloska Tribina] 38(31):81-91.



Dr. Iza Kavedzija on Happiness and Ikigai – Insights From Ageing JapanPodcast by Nick Kemp. January 10, 2021

On stories in the pandemic. Stories are 'soul-fire'. CBS Interview (and Podcast), November 13, 2020. 

Beyond Japan Ep. #14: ‘Super-Aged’ Japan with Dr Iza Kavedžija, Centre for Japanese Studies, Sainsbury Institute and the University of East Anglia (Interview by Oliver Moxham, Podcast)

Social care Japanese style – what we can learn from the world’s oldest population, The Conversation, May 2018

The Japanese concept of ikigai: why purpose might be a better goal than happiness, The Conversation, 14 December 2017

Eikoku News DigestInterview in Japanese, 15 September 2016 vol.1467  


Teaching and Supervisions



I welcome applications from students interested in wellbeing, older age, narrative, emotions and affect, hope, happiness, anthropology of art, or creativity; or pertaining to Japan or Eastern Europe. 

Research supervision: 
Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology
Subject Manager (Anthropology), MPhil in Health Medicine and Society
Fellow, Robinson College
Office hours: appointment by email
Dr Kavedžija

Contact Details

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