Frances McCall Rosenbluth, 1958-2021

Tributes paid to a pioneering political scientist who overcame the obstacles and stereotypes that often block women in the academy

December 23, 2021
Frances McCall Rosenbluth
Source: Yale University

A scholar who transformed the understanding of both the Japanese economy and gender inequality has died.

Frances McCall Rosenbluth was born in Osaka, Japan in 1958, the daughter of missionaries. She grew up there but also spent time in Taiwan during her early years, giving her a deep knowledge of both Japanese and Mandarin, which would prove crucial to her research and academic career.

After majoring in government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia (1980), Professor Rosenbluth moved to Columbia University for an MA at its School of International and Public Affairs (1983) and a PhD in political science (1988). She also secured a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Tokyo (1985-86).

After working briefly as an assistant professor at the University of Virginia (1988-89), Professor Rosenbluth took on a similar role at the University of California, San Diego (1989-92) and then the University of California, Los Angeles (1992-94) before becoming a professor in Yale University’s department of political science. In 2007, she became the Damon Wells professor of international politics.

In her early work, Professor Rosenbluth challenged the rather simplistic and idealised image of Japan, then an exceptionally dynamic economic power, common among political scientists, in books such as Financial Politics in Contemporary Japan (1989) and Japan’s Political Marketplace (with Mark Ramseyer, 1993). Although much criticised at the time, her analysis went on to be largely vindicated by events.

A pioneering woman in both her department and her discipline, Professor Rosenbluth was deeply committed to diversifying the faculty and stopping the “leaky pipeline” of lost female academics. She played a major role in setting up a university-sponsored childcare centre and joined forces with Harvard University economist Torben Iversen to produce a major, prize-winning book on Women, Work, and Politics: The Comparative Political Economy of Gender Inequality (2010). More recently, she collaborated with her long-term partner Ian Shapiro, Sterling professor of political science at Yale, to examine the excessive partisanship of today’s American political life in Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself (2018).

Well aware that women in academia were often stereotyped as nasty “witches” or nurturing “mothers”, Professor Rosenbluth was widely admired for the way she negotiated these traps.

“She was like an iron fist in a velvet glove,” said Hélène Landemore, professor of political science at Yale, someone who “wouldn’t back down or compromise on her principles, but [was] still very gentle and diplomatic”.

Professor Rosenbluth died of glioblastoma on 20 November and is survived by Professor Shapiro and three sons.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles