Marvin D.  Sterling

Marvin D. Sterling

Associate Professor, Anthropology


  • Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles, 2002
  • M.A., Cultural Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles, 1996
  • B.S., Communications Studies, New York University , 1991

Geographical areas of specialization
Japan; Caribbean

Research Interests
Contemporary Japan and Jamaica; cultural transnationalism, performance theory, race (global blackness, mixed-race identities), Afro-Asia, human rights, and ethnographic writing.

About Marvin D. Sterling

My research history has centered on three main projects. The first concerns a range of Jamaican cultural forms in Japan, including roots reggae music, dancehall reggae music, and the religious movement Rastafari. In this project I explore how notions of blackness as they have circulated around the globe inform Japanese performances of racial, ethnonational, gendered, and other identities within the local, national, and transnational spaces of these subcultures. The results of this research were published in Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan (Duke University Press, 2010). In a second line of research, conducted with the support of funding from the National Science Foundation (2015, BCS-1528969), I trace the development of human rights discourse and practice in Jamaica, with focus on how the dimensions of this discourse and practice have been critically informed by the nation’s colonial legacy. I am currently writing a book manuscript based on this research. A third, ongoing research project, conducted with support from the Japan Foundation’s Japanese Studies Research (Long-Term) Fellowship (2019-2020), concerns the experiences of mixed-race Japanese individuals who are partly of African descent. This project focuses on how ethnographic study of the lives of Black Japanese individuals affords insight into these experiences valued not only on their own terms, but also for how they disclose mixed-race and majority Japanese ideas about what it means to be Japanese today. The results of this research will be published as a third, single-authored book manuscript. Many of the issues of race and representation in Asian studies that transect the first and third projects will be reflected in a collection of essays I have co-edited with Keisha Brown, Will Bridges, Nitasha Sharma. The collection, part of the Association for Asian Studies’ Asia Shorts Series, is entitled, “Who is the Asianist? The Politics of Representation in Asian Studies” (Columbia University Press, Expected Fall 2022).

Selected Publications

2011 Sterling, Marvin D. "Searching for Self in the Global South: Japanese Literary Representations of Afro-Jamaican Blackness." Journal of Japanese Studies 31(1):53-71.

2011 Sterling, Marvin D. "Toward an Analysis of Global Blackness: Race, Representation, and Jamaican Popular Culture in Japan." In Racial Representation in Asia. Yasuko Takezawa, Editor. Kyoto, Japan and Melbourne, Australia: Kyoto University Press and Trans Pacific Press.

2010 Sterling, Marvin D. Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae and Rastafari in Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.