Jesse Bia

BA, University of Rochester. MPhil, University of Oxford. PhD, University College London (UCL). A cultural anthropologist specializing in medical anthropology and Japanese studies (contemporary and historical), Bia's research interests include: Japanese ritual processes (Shinto, Buddhist, folk); aging/gerontology; kampō; sociocultural impact(s) of cellular-based regenerative medicine treatments, especially using iPS; medical pluralities; and creative ethnography. Academic publications include journal articles, book chapters, and a forthcoming ethnography chronicling lived experiences of degenerative diseases and regenerative medicine/cellular engineering treatments in Japan. Media appearances include NHK, BBC, and TV Asahi. Sponsored as a visiting researcher at Osaka University (2014-2016) and recipient of an Inoue Masaru Grant. SLC, 2021–

Previous Courses

Asian Studies

Japan’s Heisei Era (1989–2019): Culture, Society, and Experiences

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will embark on an examination of Japan’s Heisei Era (1989-2019). Over the course of 30 years, this dynamic period of contemporary Japanese history gave rise to significant societal changes, profound cultural transformations, and multiple shared national traumas. Persistent demographic shifts produced far-reaching consequences, greatly altering individuals’ lived experiences and expectations. Devastating natural and manmade disasters deeply shaped collective and individual consciences. Desires for catharsis, escapism, recreation, and reflection reinvigorated popular culture across a plethora of mediums: J-pop, literature, puroresu, anime, and many more. Relaxed societal constraints facilitated new options for self-expression, livelihood, and interpersonal relations. Underrepresented voices were added to critical dialogues. We will examine the unique sociocultural phenomena and historical events that constitute the Heisei Era, utilizing a diverse and interdisciplinary array of primary sources—ethnography, literature, journalism, analyses, and narratives—augmented by albums and films. We will attempt to deconstruct the era from a monolithic entity into a series of interlinking but distinct features in order to better understand and evaluate it. We will explore key sociocultural developments of the Heisei Era: Japan’s rapidly aging and decreasing population, family structure, alienation, gender norms and reform, rural depopulation, historical reckonings, and more. We will investigate the ramifications of major events, such as the Aum Shinrikyo terror attacks; the collapse of the bubble economy; and the “311” Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. We will also examine influential Heisei-defining individuals and exemplars of popular culture, potentially including Hikaru Utada, Studio Ghibli, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hakuho, and Perfume. Our ultimate aim is to comprehend this immensely impactful period in recent Japanese history from a variety of perspectives through both academic analyses and the creative output of the period itself.



Medical Anthropology: Lived Experiences of Blood, Cells, and Synapses

Open, Seminar—Spring

Medical anthropology is the sociocultural study of human experiences with medicine, disease, health, death, illness, and the body. In this seminar, we will utilize medical anthropology to explore all of the above. Our focus is trained on the dynamic social worlds and diverse perspectives that individuals and cultures construct around pathogens, substances, and healing practices/treatments. We will analyze medical encounters, systems, and debates from around the world, utilizing a varied array of source material, including: ethnography, media, journalism, literature, film, and more. We will frequently examine cutting-edge issues at the forefront of global medical discourse. Deploying an interdisciplinary biocultural methodology, we will break down the artificial boundaries between the biological and the social and among medical systems and geographic regions, gaining a comprehensive understanding of medical pluralities. We will also highlight the environmental, structural, and cognitive influences on health and illness. The subtitle for our course is “Lived Experiences of Blood, Cells, and Synapses.” We will utilize those broad categories as figurative catalysts for our inquiries: “blood”—public health, infectious diseases, dialysis; “cells”—bioethics, in-vitro fertilization, cellular engineering; “synapses”—schizophrenia, neurodegenerative diseases, cyborgs, and much more. With heavy emphasis on engagement, participation, and in-class discussion, we will scrutinize unique case studies from myriad cultures and societies— from Haiti to South Korea to Mississippi and beyond—documenting connection, disjuncture, and overlap. As a fast-growing subset of cultural anthropology, medical anthropology is vital in these current times of COVID-19. This seminar will provide the unique opportunity to learn, in real time, a pivotal applied discipline currently being used to combat the ongoing global pandemic. The ultimate aim of this course is to provide a comprehensive overview of medical anthropology using real-world case studies of critical topics while simultaneously aiding in the development of a new anthropological toolkit that you can apply to both further studies and your own life experiences in these fascinating—albeit challenging—medical times.