PhD (2008) Geography - University of Colorado-Boulder
MA (2002) Geography - University of Colorado-Boulder
Recent awards and publications:
Forthcoming. Ryokan: mobilizing hospitality in rural Japan. University of Hawai’i Press.
2020. “How to finish: Writing in a stressful world,” in Studying Japan: Research Designs, Fieldwork and Methods Eds. Nora Kottmann and Cornelia Reiher, Nomos, pp. 405-413.
2020. “Commentary: Online teaching doesn't have to suck for students or educators," Channel News Asia. 26 September, 2020.
2020. “The promise and pitfalls of gradeless learning: responses to an alternative approach to grading,” Journal of Further and Higher Education (with Ragupathi) 44(7), pp. 925-938.
2018-20. "Home on the Dot" (Seasons 1-3) podcast co-produced with NUS students (Season 3 is a special series on Covid-19) - listen in iTunes, SoundCloud or at tinyurl.com/homeonthedot Featured on the Economical Rice Podcast (11 June, 2019) and in NUS News (7 September, 2018)
2019. Inspiring Mentor Award, NUS (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences).
2018. “Liberating Work in the Tourist Industry,” in Rethinking Japanese Feminisms, Bullock, Julia C.; Kano, Ayako; Welker, James, eds., Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 119-130.
2018-20. LIFT Grant (NUS, $71,413) to support "Home on the Dot," a podcast and research project studying podcasting as a teaching and learning tool.
2017. Outstanding Educator Award, NUS. Public Lecture with Adrian Lee "Collaboration: A Dialogue on the Product and Process of Education" can be seen here. Click on the “video” link.
2017. “From Volunteers to Voluntours: shifting priorities in post-disaster Japan,” Japan Forum 29(4), pp. 558-582. Quoted on this topic in The Japan Times.
2017. “Assessment and Learning without Grades? Motivations and Concerns with Implementing Gradeless Learning in Higher Education,” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), pp. 361-377 (co-authored with Kiruthika Ragupathi and Luo Simei).
I am a cultural geographer with broad research interests in the geographies of home and the geographies of teaching and learning.
Geographies of Home
My work on the “Geographies of Home” approaches the subject across geographical scales, from the body to the nation. For the former, I have analyzed gendered and embodied service work in Japan’s tourism industry, specifically in its traditional inns, or ryokan. My focus on the home at the scale of the body has contributed to mobility studies through my introduction and exploration of the notion of the “production of fixities.” This idea engages the mobilities paradigm in the social sciences, not only by acknowledging that mobility requires both the fixity of concrete and steel and the relative fixity of people, but also by exploring the simultaneous layering of mobilities and fixities experienced by individuals, particularly in certain areas of the tourism industry. This focus on the scale of the body has also led me to contribute to debates in workplace geographies and qualitative research methods. I have shown that although embodied experience, situated corporeal knowledge(s), and bodily mobility lie at the forefront of many research agendas within geography, the body itself has been largely ignored. By taking seriously bodies at work through what I call “working participant observation,” I show how the general notion of flexible labor often associated with post-industrial society becomes realized in workplaces and forms of work intended to create a sense of (nostalgic, national, gendered) home.
At the scale of the community and the nation, I have explored the spectacular postwar depopulation of rural Japan and the ways that tourism has served to produce rural villages as a home of national identity, seemingly separated in time and space from contemporary urban Japan. For both domestic and international tourists alike, rural Japan is often considered an authentic home of Japaneseness that remains relevant and accessible via tourism. My work has shown how real economic and social problems in the countryside bring new opportunities for rural communities to claim their relevance in the formation of Japanese identity. Through long-term engagement with the hot springs resort community of Kurokawa Onsen (over 10 years), I have shown the role that local actors have played in creating and enacting a particular local and national landscape which has not only strengthened the community’s status as an exemplar of the idealized aesthetics and social relations of the past, but also shown it to be a rare rural community that has successfully adapted to economic and cultural opportunities of the present.
This work on the geographies of home will appear in a book titled Last Resort: labor, tourism and identity in Japan. It features small family businesses in Japan’s economically and demographically troubled countryside, drawing attention to some business’ successful efforts at community revitalization, as well as their reliance on a highly flexible and mobile workforce that enables each family’s long-term financial and familial stability. Last Resort introduces the people whose lives and labor converge in ryokan, including business owners, chefs, cleaners, drivers, gardeners, and front desk clerks. Based primarily on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork spent working in a handful of ryokan, as well as a decade of follow-up visits, I examine this diverse group that together makes tourists feel at home. I explain not only the physical and emotional work that produces ryokan, but also the divergent expectations of family, career, and self among employees and owners. As I show, the ryokan often provides a last resort for individuals to reach divergent goals, such as regional socio-economic revitalization, household continuity, job skill development, economic prosperity, self-fulfillment, and even, for some of the women who work in these businesses, escape from domestic violence through poorly-paid service work.
Geographies of Teaching and Learning
My second main research focus relates to the “Geographies of Teaching and Learning.” This includes interest in the physical locations of teaching and learning, as well as the effectiveness of teaching and learning policies and practices. My interest in teaching and learning locations includes research on overseas field courses and virtual classrooms. For the former, I have reviewed work on field learning in Geography and related disciplines and incorporated best practices in my own field module in Japan. I have also reflected deeply on this course and constantly revised it, all while incorporating student feedback on ways to encourage more active and student-driven learning. This has led to several publications and academic presentations. I have paid attention to virtual spaces for teaching and learning through research on the challenges and opportunities associated with using Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to teach about and with popular culture. This project analyzed popular culture-based courses offered by all major MOOC providers, both in 2012, and again in 2015. In addition to collecting information on all such courses, I also corresponded with faculty members from around the world who created such courses. My findings acknowledged the MOOC format for its potential to democratize education, while also warning that copyright issues threaten to hinder the creation of popular culture MOOCs, except by wealthy institutions. See media about this research in Times Higher Education.
I have also done research on the effectiveness of policies and practices related to teaching and learning. The foremost is my project, “Assessing the impacts of Grade-free Learning” (2014-present). When NUS introduced a Gradeless First Semester in 2014, I set out to understand its effects on students and faculty. I began with an online survey that received over 1200 responses, which I repeated over six month intervals and expanded to a faculty-specific survey and focus group interviews. This work resulted in a review of the history of grading and pass/fail systems around the world, as well as important findings about the limitations of the current policy to relieve student stress and aid student transition to university life. It also joins an emerging set of voices questioning the relationship between grades and learning within education literature. I have co-authored two journal articles on this research.
In addition to these two strands of SoTL research, I have also published on various pedagogical innovations and the problematic of teaching and learning area studies. Moreover, I co-edited a volume entitled Teaching Japanese Popular Culture (with Deborah Shamoon, 2016) that promises to reach a wide audience of instructors at the university and secondary school level who either do, or wish to, teach about or with Japanese popular culture. Ideally, the book will improve their teaching approaches and practices, thus leading to an even wider impact through their students. Susan J. Napier, Professor of Japanese Studies, Tufts University calls it an “incredibly valuable book” that will be “invaluable both to those of us who work on popular culture and in Japanese Studies.” Mark McLelland, Professor of Sociology at the University of Wollongong, writes, “The editors have brought together an essential volume that needs to be read by all those engaged with Japanese culture in the classroom.”
I teach both General Education modules [courses] and modules related to contemporary Japan. I also co-produce (with students) a podcast inspired by my module on "Home." "Home on the Dot" (Seasons 1 & 2) can be heard on iTunes, SoundCloud or tinyurl.com/homeonthedot Learn more at the Economical Rice Podcast and NUS News. I also appeared on a panel about podcasting in Singapore at the 2019 Singapore Writers Festival and have shared the pedagogical benefits of podcasting at various venues.
I have received multiple teaching awards at NUS, including the Outstanding Educator Award (2017), the University Annual Teaching Excellence Award (for 2013-14; 2012-13; 2011-12), the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award (for 2015-16, 2013-14; 2012-13; 2011-12), and the FASS Innovator Award (2011-12), for my use of technologies in and outside the classroom. I also earned the Graduate Student Teaching Excellence Award at the University of Colorado (2006).
My Teaching Dossier for complete details about my teaching philosophy, responsibilities, teaching strategies and outcomes, student feedback, samples of exercises and student work, and more.
I teach or have taught the following:
Introduction to Japanese Studies (JS1101E/GEK1002) is a large (270-460 students) general education module that provides an overview of the history and geography of Japan, including contemporary social and political issues. The module includes both lecture and tutorial meetings (20 students each). Over the years, I have constantly revised the module in several ways: introducing individual student response systems ("clickers"), followed by the NUS-built Archipelago system, to monitor learning, conduct surveys, and stimulate discussion and peer learning in the large lecture theatre. I have also used Google Maps so students understand how Japan changed through both time and space. I have also taken a proactive stance regarding the issue of plagiarism, through early lectures and a research process that helps students learn effective ways to synthesize scholarship, instead of simply copying or reshaping it.
Home (GET1003/GEM1046): This general education module explores the political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of the complex idea of home. Major topics include: sense of place, home technologies and design, gender and housework, home and travel, globalization, nationalism, homelessness, and exile. The course aims to provide students with a new appreciation for the complexity of the places – house, neighborhood, nation, planet – they call home. The course resembles a flipped classroom, since I spend very little time lecturing and instead students spend most of classtime in small and large-group discussion based on advanced readings completed ahead of time. By establishing a student learning-centered approach from Day 1, after a few weeks students readily volunteer to take the microphone and share their ideas in the large class of around 100 students. This module has inspired the podcast "Home on the Dot," as well as research into the value of student podcasts as a learning tool.
Approaches to Japanese Studies (JS2101): this module introduces new majors in Japanese Studies to the discourses, methods, and controversies that have shaped scholarship on Japan since the early twentieth century. Students spend the semester developing a research proposal on a topic of their choice. They begin the process by reading an ethnography about Japan, then deconstructing it into its original research proposal. What were the likely research questions? What were the gaps in the scholarship that the original work tried to address? What groups, institutions, or sites did the researcher plan to study in order to answer those questions, and what ethical and practical obstacles did the author need to navigate in order to do the project? In the end, students go through the same process with a topic of their choice and end the module with their own research project proposal. In past iterations, I incorporated an "Author Meets Critics" exercise that allows students to directly engage with leading scholars in Japanese Studies and sparks their interest in the field (see Publications for an article presenting the results of this exercise).
Japan: the Green Nation? (JS3226): this module explores the complex history of the conceptualization, use and abuse of the environment in Japan. The module follows four central themes: nature, waste, energy, and disaster. Through short lectures, seminar discussions of readings, individual presentations, roleplay, and a research paper, students develop a critical lens to evaluate Japan's "green" credentials. Students contribute to a class blog at Japan: The Green Nation? and in the past they have used Google Docs to construct a shared timeline of Japan's postwar nuclear events, which encouraged peer learning.
Field Studies in Japan (JS3229): This module has two components. The first is a week of intensive coursework on Japan's heritage, environment, qualitative research methods, and/or tourism theory, depending on the year's theme. Next is ten days of study in Japan, where we visit locations in Kyushu and elsewhere that demonstrate some of the challenges and opportunities facing contemporary Japan. We tour facilities and talk with public servants, NPO representatives, business owners, and local resisdents. Students participate in a homestay and/or a farmstay, and they do some exchange with Japanese university students (when possible). Past module themes have included: critical heritage studies (2016-18), heritage and ecotourism (2015), heritage and tourism (2014), regional revitalization (2013), sustainability and ecotourism (2012), and ecotourism and human/environment relations (2011). Students always present their findings in some public forum, either online or in a public place like the Japan Creative Centre (Singapore) and this module has stimulated research articles and conference presentations (see Publications). For more information, see the Learning Spaces Blog. A portion of the cost of student participant has been generously underwritten by several organizations.
Japanese Political Economy (JS4227): This course concentrates on the political economy of postwar Japan. It avoids studying Japan merely as an economic machine, and instead asks what constitutes the economic and how the economy operates at different geographic scales, from the global to the household and the individual. Topics include: the construction state, the Japanese economic "miracle", the leisure state, neoliberalism and the household, globalization, and the feminization of labor. In the latest version, we focused specifically on the question of whether or not neoliberalism offers a useful or accurate conceptual framework for explaining Japan. A student paper from the module was published in ejcjs. This module also involves students in an Author Meets Critics exchange with leading scholars. For more information about the module, see the Japanese Political Economy Wiki at NUS: https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/JPE2012/Home.
I advise and welcome graduate work related to mobilities, gender, and work, particularly in contemporary Japan.
I am a cultural geographer of contemporary Japan. My research analyzes how identity and meaning are built, practiced, experienced, and read in cultural landscapes. I have studied these processes through the lenses of tourism and labor, which has led to publications in Mobilities (2015: Selected for reprint in Mobilities (Critical Concepts in Built Environment), Ole B. Jensen, ed), Landscape Journal (2014), Area (2012), Tourism Geographies (2008), and in a volume on Rethinking Japanese Feminisms (2018). This work will appear in "Last Resort: Labor, Tourism, and Identity in Japan," (under contract with University of Hawai'i Press). I have also contributed to debates on the future of area studies in EPD: Society and Space (2016) and the problematic convergence of civil society and tourism in post-disaster volunteer tourism in Japan Forum (2017).
I am also interested in the geographies of teaching and learning. Along these lines. In 2018 I was awarded a LIFT Grant ($70K) to research podcasting as a teaching and learning tool and to produce the "Home on the Dot" podcast, which takes inspiration from student research projects to analyze the multifaceted meanings of home in Singapore. The first season of "Home on the Dot" premiered on 9 Aug 2018 and included ten episodes. In 2020 we began airing Season 3, which is devoted to stories of how Covid-19 has impacted home. Some episodes have been listened to more than 400 times, with listeners in 20+ countries. The podcast has been featured in various media (Economical Rice Podcast, NUS News), and I spoke about it at the 2019 Singapore Writers Festival. I am PI on a project analyzing "gradeless learning" (Journal of Further and Higher Education, 2020, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 2017). I have written about field-based learning (Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 2015; Education About Asia, 2014; and blog); teaching Japanese popular culture (co-editor of Teaching Japanese Popular Culture, by the Association for Asian Studies 2016), MOOCs (book chapter and article in electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, 2013); and scholarship as conversation (Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2016).
ARTICLES IN JOURNALS
CHAPTERS IN BOOKS
EDITORIAL WORK ON BOOKS
SHORTER ARTICLES/COMMENTS IN JOURNAL
Grants, Service and Distinctions