KIRBY, Peter Wynn

J-GLOBAL         Last updated: Feb 1, 2013 at 01:58
KIRBY, Peter Wynn
University of Oxford
School of Geography and the Environment
Job title
Research Fellow


Peter Wynn Kirby is a Research Fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, and a Research Associate in the School of Anthropology at Oxford. He holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge. Dr Kirby came to Oxford as Brookes' Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology of Japan. Prior to taking up that post, he conducted nearly three years of research in France on waste and nuclear risk while based at the Centre de Recherches sur le Japon, EHESS, Paris. He also spent several years as a tenured assistant professor at Ritsumeikan in Japan and held a research post in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Tokyo University while engaging in extensive Japan-based fieldwork. While working in Japan, he returned to the UK to lecture on the 'cultures' of global environmentalism each winter in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge.

Dr Kirby is probably best described as an 'environmental anthropologist', though he chooses an extremely broad approach to environmental questions that challenges the apparent specificity of the term. While much of Dr Kirby's research has, then, been directed toward an analysis of environmental engagement and social action in Japan - most harrowingly in ethnographic pursuit of toxic waste controversies - his interests span a range of themes including reckonings of illness and health; interpretation of 'space' and movement; architecture, discipline, and resistance in cities; operations of social exclusion; the complex 'conversions' of material culture, from recycled garbage to reprocessed radioactive matter; and popular culture, particularly involving representations of dystopia.

His first book BOUNDLESS WORLDS, an edited collection, furnishes a perspective on human-scale movement over the uneven sociocultural terrain that anthropologists chart and navigate in their varied fieldwork. 'Space' as a conceptual regime, with its origins in Ancient Greece, creates distortions in how humans perceive their surroundings and, indeed, how scholars analyze sociocultural realms. The book chooses movement as its vehicle in attempting to get beyond the biases of 'space-thinking' and in turn addresses the ethnographic ramifications of this shift, bringing together nine scholars working in vastly different field settings - insular, nomadic, urban, corporate, military, and so on - to refine and present this anthropological approach to movement.

His second book, TROUBLED NATURES: WASTE, ENVIRONMENT, JAPAN, is a wide-ranging cultural analysis of waste and pollution in contemporary Japan, encompassing ideas of purity, attitudes toward hygiene, notions of health and illness, problems with dumping and vermin, processes of social exclusion, and reproductive threats. Throughout, waste and environmental health problems in Tokyo collide against diverse cultural elements linked to nature(s) - uneasy relations between animals and humans; 'native' conceptions of the foreign and the polluted; reproductive challenges in the face of a plunging fertility rate; and changing attitudes toward illness and health. In highlighting the practical ambivalence of Japanese environmental consciousness and the relatively recent post-Bubble appeal of frugality, sustainability, and recycling initiatives there, the book confronts pressing policy questions to which anthropology is well suited.

One current project considers experiences of nuclear risk and national / cultural constructions of energy, power, pollution, and waste primarily in Japan and in France - the two major nations that depend most on nuclear power, yet where the risks and benefits of nuclear power play out over vastly different sociocultural topographies. (Early work on this project was awarded Kakenhi funding by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 2005.) This extensive research before and just after the 2011 tsunami serves as the backbone of a book-in-progress analyzing nuclear culture and nuclear identity in disaster-torn Japan. He has also recently revised an article-length analysis of early postwar Japanese attitudes to nuclear risk as expressed in period journalism and Japanese popular culture - notably the rich, surprisingly relevant trove of nuclear-themed monster films from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Dr Kirby is naturally working on the massive debris problems and radioactive fallout that plague Japan in the wake of the triple-disaster in March 2011.

Dr Kirby has disseminated his research in such venues as The New York Times, The Japan Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Beast, Newsweek.

Research Areas


Academic & Professional Experience

Research Fellow, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
- Research Associate, University of Oxford
- Senior Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University
- Research Fellow, EHESS, Paris
Assistant Professor (tenured), Ritsumeikan


Simulated Natures: Performances of Leisure at an Artificial Beach in Tokyo.
Text, Practice, Performance   (1)    1999
The Architecture of Japanese Nature: An Anthropological View.
Cambridge Architecture Journal   (11)    1999
‘Making Radiation Visible’: Monsters, Fallout, and Postwar Japan’s Early Attitudes to Nuclear Risk. Special issue: ‘Nuclear Japan and the Effects of Radiation, 1945–60’, edited by Aya Homei.
Peter Wynn Kirby
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences   
(under review)

Books etc

Environmental Consciousness and the Politics of Waste in Tokyo: "Nature," Health, Pollution, and the Predicament of Toxic Japan.
University of Cambridge   2002   
Troubled Natures: Toxic Pollutants and Japanese Identity in Two Tokyo Communities.
In "Synthetic Planet: Chemical Politics and the Hazards of Modern Life." M. Casper (ed). London and New York: Routledge.   2003   
Getting Engaged: Pollution, Toxic Illness, and Discursive Shift in a Tokyo Community.
In J. G. Carrier (ed), "Confronting Environments: Local Understanding in a Globalizing World." Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.   2004   
Peter Wynn Kirby (ed.). Boundless Worlds: An Anthropological Approach to Movement.
Oxford and New York: Berghahn   2009   
Introduction: Lost in "Space": An Anthropological Approach to Movement.
In Peter Wynn Kirby (ed.), Boundless Worlds: An Anthropological Approach to Movement. Oxford and New York: Berghahn   2009   

Research Grants & Projects

Environmental anthropology
Anthropology, waste, pollution, toxic illness, ostracism, "nature," cities, space, dystopia, nuclear power, radiation, popular culture, monsters