AAS Member Spotlight: Patricia Boling

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Dr. Patricia Boling, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science,
Purdue University

Political Science; Japan

How long have you been a member of AAS?

21 years

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined because AAS conferences have great panels that cover a variety of disciplines.  I can hear papers on a variety of perspectives on issues and parts of Asia I find interesting when I attend AAS conferences, and I can count on interesting people in audiences when I present as well. 

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I became interested when I lived in Tokyo for the first time from 1986-1988, learned Japanese, and began to take an interest in Japanese social welfare policies, culture, and politics.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I’ve enjoyed living in Japan (for about 4 years all told), making and maintaining friends there, getting to know Japan to the point that I think of it as my “second country,” and appreciating much about Japanese culture (food/cuisine, travel, flower arranging, movies, aesthetics, bathing rituals). 

Tell us about your current or past research.

My most recent book, The Politics of Work-Family Policies: Comparing Japan, France, Germany and the United States (Cambridge University Press, 2015), argues that the dominant approach to comparing work-family policies is based on wishful thinking as it falsely assumes that countries can emulate the work-family policies pursued by France and Nordic social democratic welfare states like Sweden. I show why the range of motion a country can develop with respect to political or policy approaches is limited by historical and institutional forces that are not easy to overcome. The title of the last chapter, “Why the US can’t be Sweden” encapsulates this argument: I show how the organization of labor markets and the political constraints and opportunities constrain what different countries are able to accomplish with respect to policies that support working parents.  The center of the comparison here is Japan:  I offer original and insightful explanations for policy failure based on examination of insider sources over some fifteen years of policy evolution. More broadly, the book contributes to the comparative public policy and welfare state literatures by demonstrating how the structure of labor markets and long standing policy repertoires account for more or less successful outcomes for policies that support working parents. My synthetic approach to the varieties of capitalism and historical institutionalist literatures offers a new and compelling way to understand policy change in an area especially important to countries facing falling fertility rates and declining populations. 

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Learn a language early, and figure out an area of research that you really find interesting, because you will spend a lot of time working in that area.  Make friends, be gregarious, pay attention, and immerse yourself in the country or countries you want to study.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I was trained as a political theorist at UC Berkeley, and came to Asian Studies after I did my Ph.D. work.  My overall research agenda has grown out of my interest in how to make political sense of issues that are grounded in personal or intimate-life behaviors, like reproductive choice, sexual orientation, caring for children and doing housework, and decisions about eating. My most recent research tackles an area in which little has been done in political science, which is a comparative approach to food and agriculture policy. This builds on the strength of my recent work on work-family support policies represented by my Politics of Work-Family Policies book.  In my spare time, I love to go on and lead bike rides, swim, cook, and enjoy good food.

"Make friends, be gregarious, pay attention, and immerse yourself in the country or countries you want to study."

— Patricia Boling