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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

East Asian Studies
University Associate Professor in Modern Japanese Studies
Email address: 
+44 (0)1223 335140
Fellow of: 
Downing College
Director of Studies at: 
Downing College

Brigitte Steger is Austrian and earned her Mag. phil. and Dr. phil. degrees in Japanese Studies (with minors in Sociology and Political Science) from the University of Vienna. She was visiting researcher at Kyoto University and at Tokyo’s Meiji, Sophia and Keio Universities. She has many years of teaching and research experience at the University of Vienna, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Karoli Gaspar University in Budapest. Her teaching mainly deals with the various aspects of Japanese society, with intercultural communication as well as with methodologies and methods in qualitative social science research. 

Dr Steger is Secretary General of the Japan Anthropology Workshop (JAWS) and a Member of Advisory Board (Beirat) of the Bochumer Jahrbuch zur Ostasienforschung, the Vienna Journal of East Asian Studies and the Editorial Board of Global Perspectives on Japan.

Teaching responsibilities: 

Dr Steger teaches courses relating to Japanese society. In 2023-24 she is in charge of J19 and JM1 and contributing to other courses.

Supervision information: 

Dr Steger welcomes inquiries from talented young scholars to work under her supervision. She is willing and able to supervise a wide range of topics related to Japanese contemporary society. Please contact her by e-mail prior to application and submit a draft research proposal (ask for guidelines).

Research interests: 

Brigitte Steger specializes in Japanese society, with emphasis on the cultural history and anthropology of daily life. In her research, she has always been intrigued by questions of the cultural and social embeddedness of seemingly natural, bodily matters and daily life. Her master’s thesis explored childbirth and midwifery from sociological and political perspectives, especially the incorporation of midwifery into police administration and of the introduction of concepts of hygiene in modern Japan. Her doctoral dissertation dealt with sleep, especially sleeping times. She is best known for her research on inemuri, which has received world-wide attention. For her doctoral dissertation she was awarded the ‘Bank Austria Prize 2002 for the Promotion of Innovative Research at the University of Vienna’. (Keine) Zeit zum Schlafen? Kulturhistorische und sozialanthropologische Erkundungen japanischer Schlafgewohnheiten. (Münster: LIT 2004)earned her the ‘Science Award of the Federal State of Vorarlberg, Austria, 2005, Special Award for an Outstanding Publication’. Consequently she was also nominated as ‘Austrian of the Year’ at the ‘Austria 2005’ awards ceremony in the category of science and research. Her book Inemuri: Wie die Japaner schlafen und was wir von ihnen lernen können (Rowohlt, 2007) was published in Braille in 2008 and has been translated into Japanese, published at Hankyu Communications (now: CCC Media) in early summer 2013. Further details of Steger's research on sleep. In spring 2016 the alumni magazine CAM 77 published an essay on 'The Big Sleep' (on inemuri) which was republished at the BBC worldwide website in May 2016 and translated into many languages.

The tsunami disasters of March 2011 prompted her to travel to northeastern Japan, where she was the only researcher to live alongside survivors in a shelter. She observed that problems with cleanliness became a symbol of shared suffering in the shelters, and that survivors tried to regain a sense of normality by organising household routines according to deeply rooted social structures. Further details of Steger's research project.

Steger also heads an international research project titled ‘Timing day and night: timescapes in premodern Japan’. Using an ethnographic approach based on premodern Japanese sources as well as new digital search tools, we focus on time as a set of practices, analysing what sense people made of zodiacs, temple bells, animal behaviour and plant cycles to co-ordinate social activities. The group aims to challenge European-based social theories of time, and their focus on the mechanical clock, in order to better understand Japan’s transition to modernity. The first workshop took place in April 2015; a selection of articles from this workshop were published in the journal KronoScope (co-edited with Raji Steineck) in March 2017.

Steger is also a Co-Investigator at the Cambridge CreativeCircular Plastics Centre (CirPlas), with a project on 'Cleanliness, convenience and good citizenship: Plastic and waste in everyday life.'  Her team - Dr Teresa Perez and Dr Patrick O'Hare - organised the international workshop 'The Social Life of Plastic' from 7 to 8 November 2019 at the Needham Research Institute, University of Cambridge. In 2021, they are publishing (ongoing) a special collection on the social life of plastic in the Worldwide Waste journal; for this she wrote an article about the introduction of a levy for plastic carrier bags in Japanese retail in July 2020.  From 14 January 2020 to July 2021, she was PI of a Global Challenges Research Fund grant on 'Valuing Plastic: Evaluating the Potential to Derive Economic, Environmental and Social Value from Plastic Waste in South Africa, with Teresa Perez as Postdoctoral Research Associate.

Steger recently published on the life and legacy of Oka Masao (1898-1982) a leading - and at times controversial - figure in the development of ethnology (cultural anthropology) of Japan and founder of the Department of Japanese Studies at the University of Vienna.



Articles, Book Chapters etc

Nah? Ee hanashi yaroh?: Sakata Yoshie ga kataru, kamisuki-uta/sakazukuri-uta no sekai [Good stories, right!? : Yoshie Sakata’s lifestory and the world of paper-making songs and sake brewing songs] (2022)
The stranger and others: The Life and legacy of the ethnologist Oka Masao Vienna Journal of East Asian Studies 11 pp. 60-91 (2019)
Japanese Historic “Timescapes”: An Anthropological Perspective KronoScope 17:1 pp. 37–60 (2018)
Densha no naka no inemuri: Shanai kūkan to jendā o kōsatsu suru 21seiki Ajia kenkyū 15 pp. 53-74 (2017)
Introduction from the Guest Editors to the Special Issue “Time in Historic Japan” KronoScope 17:1 pp. 7–15 (2017)
Introduction: Into the Night and the World of Sleep Eric L. Hsu (ed.) Sleep. Critical Concepts in Sociology. Vol. II: Pioneering Sleep Research pp. 18-42 (2016)
Getting Away with Sleep. Social and Cultural Aspects of Dozing in Parliament Eric L. Hsu (ed.) Sleep. Critical Concepts in Sociology. Vol. IV: Sleep Across the World and Ages pp. 277-298 (2016)
Landschaften der Zeit: Tages- und Nachtstunden im vormodernen Japan Österreichische Forschungsgemeinschaft (ed.) Zeit in den Wissenschaften pp. 46–83 (2016)
Negotiating gendered space on Japanese commuter trains Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies 13:3 (2013)

Further publications