• I am an urban ethnographer who researches how experiences of homelessness and poverty in the United States and Japan are driven and shaped by social contexts at multiple levels, from the global to the individual. I examine strategic research sites including housing programs for people experiencing homelessness, service hub (skid row/yoseba) neighborhoods, and day labor markets. I combine qualitative research methods with comparative, macro-sociological and spatial analysis to contribute to debates on homelessness and urban poverty about the effects of globalization, welfare states, urban regimes, culture, racism, organizations, neighborhoods, families, and individual agency. In addition to my solo projects, I work with international scholars in Japan and other countries on comparative research. I frequently collaborate with FIU graduate and undergraduate students in both international and local projects. I strive to make my research relevant to policy and the public, and responsible to people experiencing poverty, especially those who participate and collaborate in my research.

    My book, Better Must Come: Exiting Homelessness in Two Global Cities, was published by Cornell University Press in 2015 under its Industrial and Labor Relations Press imprint. I have published articles in journals including the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Housing Policy Debate, Ethnography, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Urban Geography, Cities, and the Journal of Urban Affairs. I have also published research articles and book chapters in Japanese. I have written op-eds about policy related to homelessness and urban poverty published in the Miami Herald, Japan Times, and Asahi Shinbun. I was selected for the first cohort of the Mansfield Foundation US-Japan Network for the Future Fellows, and to be a member of the US-Japan Human Security Network.

    In 2012-2014, I was an Abe Fellow, supported by the Social Science Research Council and Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. For a project entitled “Recovery Zone? Human Security at the Margins of American and Japanese Global Cities,” I conducted comparative ethnographic research in service hub neighborhoods where street homelessness, housing programs, aid efforts, and social movements concentrate. These included Miami (Overtown), Los Angeles (Skid Row), Tokyo (San’ya), and Osaka (Kamagasaki). In this project, I have explored how different service hubs in distinct urban contexts affect residents’ subjective experiences and feelings of (in)security.

    Since 2018, I have been leading the “US-Japan Service Hub Network,” an intellectual exchange project with scholars and practitioners working in service hub neighborhoods in the US and Japan. The project aims to highlight how, while created out of discriminatory policies of containment, these districts can be seen as “refuge neighborhoods.” Refuge neighborhoods are places where homelessness and efforts to fight it are concentrated that provide multiple safety nets helping marginalized people meet survival, social, spiritual, and civic needs. The project strives to promote ways to address threats to these neighborhoods such as gentrification, excessive policing, workfare bureaucracy, and demographic change. In spring 2021, we held a webinar with community leaders in service hubs to discuss how they were addressing the challenges facing local residents due to the COVID-19/systemic racism syndemic. This project is funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

    In Overtown, Miami, a colleague at Miami-Dade College, undergraduate and graduate students, and I have collaborated on PhotoVoice research projects with participants in an art therapy program (the HeArt Room) at Camillus House for people who are or have experienced homelessness. One project has examined how residents view their neighborhoods and ways that their neighborhoods shape experiences of homelessness. We have curated public galleries on this project and a short documentary film was made about it. Another project has looked at subjective experiences of Covid-19 protocols while living in a congregate shelter or permanent supportive housing.

    My training as a social scientist focused on urban inequality in the United States and Japan began with my pursuit of B.A. degrees in government and Japanese at the University of Notre Dame, which I received in 1993. I participated in Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns’ Summer Service Project, earning a scholarship while living and working at the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood. I also spent a year studying abroad at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, and after graduation, another year at Nagoya University as a recipient of a fellowship provided by Japan’s Ministry of Education. I earned a M.A. degree in sociology at Howard University in 1997, where I focused on urban sociology. There, I received a grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct ethnographic research on homelessness in the wake of the Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe and published an article based on my M.A. thesis. After working in the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles and Tokyo, I entered UCLA’s graduate program in sociology, focusing on ethnography and social stratification. In addition to internal funding, my doctoral research was supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Japan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. I earned my Ph.D. from UCLA in 2007 and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from Harvard University’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies for 2007-2008.

    I began my position as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at FIU in 2008 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014. I actively participated in the formation of the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies (GSS) and the expansion of the Asian Studies Program. I have developed undergraduate and graduate courses on Japan (SYD 4451 Japanese Society in Global Perspective, SYD 6901/ASN 5923 Global Japan) and urban sociology (SYD 6418 Graduate Seminar in Urban Sociology, SYD 4412 Cities in Asia). I also teach Introduction to Sociology (SYG 2000), graduate Research Methods and Design (ISS 6305) and undergraduate Research Methods (SYA 3300). I have mentored numerous stellar graduate students, and consistently receive positive reviews from FIU’s fabulous undergraduate students.

research interests

  • Urban Sociology, Inequality, Homelessness, Globalization, US/Japan Comparative Research, Qualitative Research Methodology, Public Sociology

selected scholarly works & creative activities

full name

  • Matthew Marr


publication subject areas

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