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Bio | Research and Projects | Disclosure Statement


M.A. Anthropology, Ph.D. Education, Ph.D. Anthropology, Stanford University

Research Director of the Digital Media and Learning Hub
University of California Humanities Research Institute

Professor in Residence and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning
Department of Anthropology and Department of Informatics, School of Education, University of California, Irvine

Co-Founder and CEO
Connected Camps

Advisory Board Chair
Connected Learning Alliance

I am a cultural anthropologist who studies new media use, particularly among young people in Japan and the US. During my graduate work at Stanford, I worked at the Institute for Research on Learning, Xerox PARC, and Apple, studying up the emerging field of social and cultural studies of digital technology use. My doctoral work was part of the Fifth Dimension project led by Michael Cole. For many years I had a research group at Keio studying mobile technology use. In the first teen social media boom, I conducted a study with Peter Lyman and Michael Carter on a multi-year project on digital kids and informal learning, with support from the MacArthur Foundation. As part of this, I did case studies of anime fandoms in Japan and the English-speaking online world, focusing on anime music videos and fansubs. I edited a book for MIT Press with Daisuke Okabe and Misa Matsuda entitled, Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life., and my book on children’s software is Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software. My co-authored book reporting on the digital youth project, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. My research on anime fandom appears in a book I helped edit, Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World. My most recent book is a conversation with Henry Jenkins and danah boyd — Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics.

Professional credentials: a doctorate in Anthropology and a doctorate in Education, both from Stanford. Past workplaces: University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center and School of Cinematic Arts, The Institute for Research on Learning, Xerox PARC, Tokyo University, the National Institute for Educational Research in Japan, and Apple Computer.

Research and Projects

Connected Camps

At SXSW2015, I launched a benefit corporation, Connected Camps with co-founders Tara Tiger Brown and Katie Salen. Connected Camps offers social, creative, hands-on online learning experiences, accessible to kids in all walks of life. Our current focus is on building learning communities and experiences in Minecraft.

Connected Learning Alliance

In 2014, with the support of the MacArthur Foundation, I helped launch the Connected Learning Alliance, dedicated to realizing a world where all young people have equitable access to learning opportunities that are social, participatory, driven by personal needs and interests, and oriented toward educational, civic and economic opportunity

Connected Learning Research Network

I chair a MacArthur Foundation research network on Connected Learning with an interdisciplinary group of researchers seeking to study and design for connected learning environments. My Leveling Up team has been focused on case studies of digitally networked youth interest groups that support connected learning.

The Digital Media and Learning Hub

After moving to UC Irvine in 2008, the focus of my work has been on developing a research hub for the field of digital media and learning, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. In addition to developing some new research initiatives in this area, I have been supporting the development of a communication and networking hub, which includes the website,, an annual conference, and other field-building activities.

Digital Youth

In 2008, I completed a project on Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media together with my co-PIs Peter Lyman and Michael Carter. The project was funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and involved three years of basic ethnographic research on how kids engage with and play with new media in their everyday lives. Some recent press coverage on this work is here. The results of the project are encapsulated in the report, Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project, and the book Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.

DIY Video

I have been part of the planning of a series of events, 24/7: A DIY Video Summit, that showcases current developments in digital video production, focusing on amateur production, remix, and Internet distibution. Our first event was in 2008.

Keitai and Portable Computing

I worked for many years with Daisuke Okabe and a research group at Docomo House at Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus, studying the everyday pratices of portable technology use in Japan. Our research appears in a book we co-edited with Misa Matsuda, Personal Portable Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life. Our current work focuses on visual communication and on mobile kits. We’re collaborating with Intel’s People and Practices Group for the mobile kit work.

Otaku and Amateur Cultural Production

My other area of research is on how kids engage with, remix, and remake anime related popular cultures. I have a book forthcoming from Yale University Press, Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World. One article on anime music videos is in a First Monday special issue.

Networked Publics

In 2006-2007, while at the (now defunct) Annenberg Center at USC, I was part of a research group on Networked Publics, exploring what came to be known popularly as Web 2.0 or the social web. The results of this collaborative research group was published in a book edited by Kazys Varnelis, Networked Publics.

Children’s Software

My doctoral work in Education and Anthropology looked at the production and consumption of children’s software. I did field work at the Fifth Dimension After-School Clubs on how kids played with educational games, and I interviewed children’s software producers. My Education dissertation focused on the content of the games and play. My Anthropology dissertation analyzed “multimedia genres” of edutainment, entertainment, and authoring, that cross- cut production, distribution, marketing, and play. This work has been published as the book Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software.

Japanese Interculturalism

As my childhood was spent split between both Japan and the US, Japanese interculturalism and Japan/US relations is a personal as well as professional topic of interest. My junior high and high school yearswere spent at Nishimachi International School and the American School in Japan. As a personal project, I have been working since 1999 on establishing an online community (now a multi-author blog) for Japanese interculturals,

Broadening Access: An Ethnography of SeniorNet

In 1998 and 1999, I conducted an ethnographic study with SeniorNet, a national network of computer using seniors. Fellow researchers: Annette Adler, Charlotte Linde, Elizabeth Mynatt, and Vicki O’Day. Research conducted atThe Institute for Research on Learning(IRL), The Broadening Access Research Project Page reports on the result of this study.


Disclosure Statement

Disclosure Statement v1

September 2010

I offer this disclosure statement in order to be clear about my significant professional affiliations and financial engagements, and the principles behind how I choose to fund and pursue my work. This is not intended as a comprehensive disclosure of all past and present affiliations and personal relationships tied to my work, but is rather a map of the influences that I feel have a material influence on my current professional obligations.

My primary professional identity is as an academic researcher, writer, and speaker. Unlike most university professors, my work has been funded primarily by grants, and secondarily by commercial consulting, investments, and speaking engagements. I do not make my living off of teaching and university administration, but rather as a full time researcher funded by “soft money” grants. I have never held a traditional faculty appointment or a tenure-track or tenured “permanent” faculty position. This has meant that my work is limited to the kinds of agendas that can be funded by external sources or that has relevance to diverse stakeholders who want to hear me speak or hire me for consulting. On the other hand, this has also meant that I have had the freedom to pursue and publish work that is not tied to the accountabilities of getting tenure and promotions within established fields and academic assessments.

My current institutional affiliations are:

Grants and research funding

My current research is funded primarily by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of their Digital Media and Learning (DML) Initiative. In addition, I hold the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at UC Irvine which provides additional financial support for my work independent of specific funded projects. I am highly committed to the success of the DML initiative and its aims of transforming public education to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by today’s networked and digital technology. I have no qualms about being highly aligned, invested and well-supported by this private foundation because the goals of the initiative are overwhelmingly in the public interest independent of my own professional and personal gain. The foundation has never dictated the content of my talks or publications, and I have had significant input into the research and directions that the initiative has taken.

In addition to the funding from the MacArthur Foundation, I currently have a research grant from the National Science Foundation Cyberlearning program.

Past sources of research funding include (in alphabetical order):

  • Abe Fellowship Program at the Social Science Research Council
  • Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California (now defunct)
  • Association for Asian Studies Northeast Asia Council- Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
  • Google University Relations
  • Intel Research
  • Mellon Foundation- National Science Foundation
  • NTT DoCoMo
  • Phi Beta Kappa Northern California Society
  • Spencer Foundation
  • Reischauer Institute
  • Vodaphone Group Foundation

Whether from governmental, corporate, or philanthropic sources, all of these grants and fellowships have supported research where I have had control of the research agenda and intellectual property. The funding entities have had influence to the degree that they are able to select and in some cases shape the proposed research agenda, but they have not had any rights to review or influence the outcomes or publications resulting from the research.

Commercial engagements

In addition to research funding, I also do commercial consulting and speaking engagements. My commercial speaking engagements are handled by the Leigh Bureau. give my time freely to many academic and public sector groups, but I believe that commercial entities should provide appropriate compensation for scholarly consulting and speaking. I also do not engage in commercial speaking and consulting activity that involves making any of my primary and grant-funded research proprietary to a commercial entity (with the exception of publishers). In other words, I do not believe in transferring philanthropically or government funded intellectual property to private commercial entities, and almost all my commercial engagements are one-time or very short term in nature. I do not feel that any of my commercial engagements influence whether I will speak out for or against a particular company or product. If I do feel like there is an influence, I will note this in at the time of speaking or publication.

This web site and publications

This is a personal web site that is not affiliated with the academic institutions or funding agencies that I am currently or formerly affiliated with. I blog infrequently, and primarily about my own professional activities. Occasionally I will blog or tweet to promote the activities or publications of others who I want to support personally or professionally. When I am promoting an entity that I have a direct financial interest in or that I support financially I will note this fact. In my publications, I note the funding sources for the work in the acknowledgments section.

Other affiliations

I also sit on a number of editorial and advisory boards:



Family and friends

I am blessed to have close family and friends who share my professional interests and vision of social change. In particular, my brother, Joi Ito, and husband, Scott Fisher, work in closely allied areas, and we on occasion engage in shared projects and events when there is a principled reason to do so. I fully acknowledge that these and other personal relationships have been hugely enabling of my work and provide indispensable support and motivation to keep me going. At the same time, I am highly committed to professional standards of research integrity that insist that my analysis and findings are independent of these personal relationships.