Fresh Faculty: Kerry Ratigan
Issue   |   Wed, 09/18/2013 - 03:02

Political Science Professor Kerry Ratigan grew up in Natick, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. from Haverford College, where she majored in Political Science and Spanish. She completed a Master’s in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, then went on to receive another Master’s and a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: Originally, I’m from Massachusetts. I grew up in Natick, which is about 45 minutes west of Boston, so I’m familiar mainly with eastern Mass., but I hadn’t spent much time in western Mass. until recently, so it’s nice to see this part of the state.

Q: What are your impressions of western Massachusetts so far?
A: It’s a beautiful area, a beautiful part of the country. I like doing outdoor things — camping, canoeing, and hiking — so it’s a great part of the country for that, although I haven’t had much time to do that yet. Everybody’s very friendly as well, and it’s nice to have the small town lifestyle but to have Boston and New York accessible as well.

Q: How did you begin studying political science, and why did you decide to pursue it?
A: My specialty is actually Chinese politics, and I studied political science as an undergraduate at Haverford College. I was interested particularly in the interactions between the state and society and how that impacts policymaking — social policies in particular, like healthcare, education, and the environment. So that was always an interest of mine, although I spent much of my time taking courses on Latin American politics. Then, ten years ago, I went to China for the first time. I was looking to be challenged by going somewhere where I didn’t speak the language, and where I didn’t have as much of a support system as at other places, and I found this country that was in the midst of this incredible unprecedented economic transition and all these societal changes, but had retained many traditions. I definitely found the challenge I was looking for. I found that I was constantly puzzled and confused by what was going on, and that was a really invigorating atmosphere for me to be in. So, as a result, I was determined to learn Chinese language and incorporate Chinese politics as part of my graduate study.

Q: How does studying Chinese politics compare to studying Latin American politics?
A: There are some obstacles to studying Chinese politics that are generally not as salient in Latin America. For example, most countries in Latin America are democracies and provide relatively open access to researchers. By contrast, research activities in China are limited by law. Therefore, it can be challenging to pursue certain research questions and comply with the guidelines established by the Chinese government. As a result, collaboration with Chinese academics is crucial; the silver lining is that my Chinese colleagues have greatly enriched both my research and my understanding of China more broadly.

Q: What is your current research on, and how did you become interested in it?
A: My current research project focuses on health policy adoption and implementation. I argue that because Chinese provinces had distinct approaches to welfare policy, the provinces of China actually constitute distinct welfare regimes. So we might assume that an authoritarian state has a homogenizing effect, and that you would see similar policies in different areas, but, in fact, you see really, really different policies, and different implementations, and different implementations of the same policy in different regions. So China’s not like what we would expect at all. And I examine this variation in these provincial welfare states, and how health policy is implemented differently in different areas. I also look at local perceptions of healthcare provision and how people view their healthcare and whether there’s a link between social provision and state legitimacy.

Q: Why did you decide to teach at Amherst?
A: Amherst is a fantastic place to teach. Amherst students have a great reputation for being outstanding students, very engaged and wanting to participate, and that was something that was very attractive to me. Now that I’m here, I’ve found that they’ve actually exceeded my expectations. Students have more of a background in the material than I expected, and they are not shy about participating and bringing up thoughtful, provocative comments and questions in class, so it’s been a real joy to discover that.

Q: What classes are you teaching this semester?
A: I’m teaching a course on Chinese politics, which deals mainly with the economic reform era, which is sort of the past thirty years. The course begins with a very brief review of the history of the Communist Party and the Maoist period, but really focuses on the policy challenges that are occurring in China today, which dovetail nicely with my research interests. So, looking at corruption, the environment, legal reform, social policy reform, those types of issues. So the bulk of the semester is spent on that. I’m also teaching an upper-level seminar called Collective Action and the Politics of Resistance, and that course examines the ways in which people resist the state — social movements, activism, those types of issues. How do those movements and how does that activism emerge? How does it develop, and when is it successful? When does it fail?

Q: What do you hope to contribute to the College during your time here?
A: I would say one of my main goals is to contribute to China studies at the College, particularly the study of contemporary China. In addition to the classes that I teach, I’d like to work with student organizations and the Five College community to have more China-related events, whether it’s bringing in outside speakers, or holding colloquia, or getting students to talk about their thesis research that’s China-related. I’d really like to bring more knowledge about contemporary Chinese politics to the community so that people can get beyond the headlines.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: Spare time? That’s a joke, right? I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I do appreciate the outdoors, and this is a beautiful place for that. I’m also a big Red Sox fan, so I like to try to watch games in my free time. Other than that, I like to jog and do yoga, and play with my cat.

Q: Have there been any surprises during your first few weeks teaching at Amherst?
A: This may be an unpopular view, but I have been very impressed by the dining services at Valentine. It is certainly one of the best, if not the best, cafeteria that I have ever encountered.

-Sophie Murguia ’17