UCL Anthropology


Ben Epstein

UCL Anthropology Ben Epstein


UCL Email: ben.epstein@ucl.ac.uk            

Year of Start: 2015

Supervisors: Dr. Aaron Parkhurst, Dr. Joe Calabrese, Professor Roland Littlewood

Subject: Medical Anthropology

Fieldsite: Japan

PhD Research

Disaster Mental Health: Research and Practice in Japan

My research traces psychosocial interventions in disaster affected communities living along the Sanriku Coast of the Tohoku Region (三陸海岸, Sanriku Kaigan) and Fukushima Prefecture after the Great East Japan Earthquake. I consider the work of disaster mental health practice from the point of view of experts, looking beyond the epidemiological literature to explore the social influences and power dynamics at play within the emerging psychosocial field as it expands into novel terrains.

This ethnographic study of people in their everyday situations and clinical interactions aims to grasp what specialists think about their care practices as practices and the role of psychiatric discourse as a language of resistance and a form of social critique. This includes a focus on knowledge horizons, creativity, imagination, normativity and uncertainty in light of divergent approaches from molecular psychiatry for the diagnosis and treatment of disaster-stress response. Contributing to broader social studies of science and medicine, with a focus on the consequences of complex humanitarian emergencies on the perceived cause and relativity of mental illness, it is hoped the project will highlight productive gaps between policy, research, and practice, articulating with current debates in the anthropology of disaster and global mental health.

Research interests

  • Medical Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Disaster
  • Social Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Global Mental Health
  • Japan


Epstein, B. (Forthcoming 2020). “Pollution of Risk and the Risk of Pollution: Disaster Mental Health in Fukushima and Miyagi.” The Anthropology of Pollution, Roland Littlewood et al., Berghahn, New York.

Presentations & Conferences

Apr 2019: Invited Speaker: Health, Risk Disaster (HeaRD) UK-Japan Network. Fukushima Medical University. Ethnographic Perspectives on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support since 3.11

Sep 2018: BAJS Conference 2018: Crisis? What Crisis? Continuity, and Change in Japan. Governing mental health in the wake of 3.11: ethnographic reflections from the margins.

Jul 2018: EASST2018 Lancaster University conference. Meetings – Making Science, Technology and Society Together. Evaluating carework and searching for scientific grounding in the disaster zone: disaster mental health activities in northern Japan.

Apr 2018: SANT/FAS 2018 Uppsala University conference: Vulnerabilities. Managing vulnerabilities or building resilience: policy orientations to competing goals in managing the mental health fallout of 3.11.

Apr 2018: Crosscurrents of Commensuration: CRASSH Conference University of Cambridge. Commensuration as Groundwork. Ethnographic Reflections on Mental. Health and Psychosocial Support Interventions After the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Oct 2017: University of Copenhagen Workshop. "Care in Asia: beyond and across a clinic." Coping with Catastrophe: Disaster Mental Health After 3.11

Sep 2017: European Association of Japanese Studies (Lisbon). Coping with Catastrophe: Mental health practice in the wake of 3.11

Jan 2017: Japan Foundation Fellow’s Conference. Presentation: Disaster Mental Health Research and Practice in Japan since 3.11

Feb 2016: British Association of Japanese Studies: Post-Graduate Conference. Disaster Mental Health in Japan: Pathways to Resilience

Nov 2015: Royal Anthropological Institute, Anthropology and Humanitarian Crisis. Paper: Disaster mental health interventions and local ideas of resilience in Japan.

Teaching Experience

  • Co-convener UCL Anthropology and Psychiatry
  • Teaching Assistant UCL Anthropology of the Body
  • Tutor University of Oxford Social Anthropology: An Introduction
  • Anthropology Tutor at The Bridge Academy in London (IB in Anthropology)
  • Teaching Assistant UCL Medical Anthropology
  • Guest Lecturer UCL The Anthropology of War
  • Teaching Assistant UCL Anthropology and Psychiatry
  • Teaching Assistant UCL Medical Anthropology
  • Teaching Assistant University of Edinburgh: Introduction to Social Anthropology

Education History

MSc by Research, Medical Anthropology, University of Edinburgh. (2013)

BA (Hons) Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS. (2011)

Honours, Awards & Funding

Research Fellowship

2016 -18: Japan Foundation Fellowship. (October 2016- March 2018)

Awards And Research Grants

2015: Inoue Masaru Scholarship (UCL)

2014: Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation

Additional Information

Other Professional Activities And Membership

Invited Peer-Reviewer: Transcultural Psychiatry (Journal)

Junior Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute 2008-present

European Association of Social Anthropologists 2014-present

Medical Anthropology Young Scholars 2014-present

British Association of Japanese Studies 2016-present

European Association of Japanese Studies 2016-present

European Association for the Study of Science and Technology 2018-present


Fluent in French, Italian, English. Japanese (N2 Level)