RIJS People Faculty
Susan J. Pharr
Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics
Department of Government
Susan J. Pharr is the Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics in the Department of Government,
Professor Susan Pharr was born in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her B.A. (1966) with high honors from Emory University and her M.A. (1970) and Ph.D. (1975) in political science from Columbia University, where she specialized in comparative politics with a focus on Japan. Her interest in Japan was largely a matter of happenstance. As a first-year graduate student looking for recreation and a few self-defense skills for the streets of New York City she signed up for a judo class that turned out to be made up almost entirely of Japanese black belts who were fellow Columbia students. Talking with her judo classmates and venturing in their company for sushi piqued her interest sufficiently to spur her to take courses on Japanese society and politics with James William Morley, Herbert Passin, and, later on, Gerald Curtis. In an intellectual world that was galvanized by the question of what made countries succeed or fail politically and economically, she found the study of Meiji Japan riveting and soon made Japan the center of her doctoral work in comparative politics.
While completing her dissertation, she launched her career at the Social Science Research Council in New York, where from 1974-76 she served as Staff Associate for its Japan Committee, a post later held, coincidentally, by her Reischauer Institute colleague Theodore Bestor. In 1977 she became an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1980. On leave from Wisconsin she spent 1983 in the Agency for International Development, where she was assigned responsibility for improving U.S.-Japan aid coordination, and two years, from 1985-87, as Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
Professor Pharr joined the Harvard faculty in 1987. She has served as Director of Harvard's Program on U.S.-Japan Relations since 1987 and became Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics in 1991. From 1992-95 she served as chair of the Government Department and from 1996-98 as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Professor Pharr is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been a Fellow or Visiting Research Scholar at the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the East West Center, University of Tokyo, Sophia University and Keio University. Much of her research has explored the social basis for democracy in Japan. Her research interests include comparative political behavior; comparative politics of industrialized nations; democratization and political development in Japan and Asia; civil society and nonprofit organizations; political ethics and corruption; environmental politics; the role of the media in politics; U.S.-Japan relations; Japanese politics; and international relations in East Asia. Her publications include Political Women in Japan (1981), Losing Face: Status Politics in Japan (1990), (with Ellis S. Krauss) Media and Politics in Japan (1996), (with Robert D. Putnam) Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling Democracies? (2000), and (with Frank J. Schwartz) The State of Civil Society in Japan (2003). Her current research focuses on the changing nature of relations between citizens and states in Asia, and on the forces that shape civil society over time. In 2008, the Japanese Government honored Professor Pharr with the Imperial Decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in recognitioin of her distinguished contributions to the study of Japan and promoting exchange between Japan and the United States.