Top disability scholar leaving Yale for Berkeley

Anthropologist Karen Nakamura is leaving her post on the Yale faculty to become the endowed chair of the disability studies research cluster at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, the institute announced today.

Nakamura, a professor of anthropology and East Asian studies as well as chair of LGBT studies at Yale, will also be a professor of anthropology at Berkeley. She will assume her new post Jan. 1.

Karen Nakamura

Karen Nakamura

“Through my hiring, the university and the Haas Institute have made a major investment in disability as one of the major rubrics of a fair and inclusive society,” Nakamura said. “My own goals for the next 10 years are to build on Berkeley’s strong tradition of humanistic disabilities studies by incorporating perspectives from the social sciences, while also leveraging the (campus’s) strength in engineering, art and design.”

In a personal announcement that Nakamura posted online, she said that as part of bringing her to campus, Berkeley has made a major commitment to building a makerspace/lab focused on disability, access and design. “I plan for it to be a central hub for an interdisciplinary disability studies that will draw from the social and physical sciences, engineering, arts, humanities, and design worlds,” Nakamura wrote.

At Yale, she has researched disability movements in contemporary Japan. She has written four books, including an ethnography of schizophrenia and mental illness in Japan that resulted in two films. She came to her research on disability through her study of feminist and queer theory.

At the moment, Nakamura is finishing up a book that explores transsexuality in Japan through the lens of disability, which she hopes to finish before the end of the year. Her next project will explore the role of robotics, prosthetics, and augmentation in the lives of disabled and elderly people in Japan and the United States.

Read more on the Haas Institute website.