blofield award

An Advocate for Policy Change

Political Scientist Merike Blofield talks about receiving the May A. Brunson Award and what can help propel UM forward as a Hemispheric University.

By Deserae E. del Campo

Political Scientist Merike Blofield talks about receiving the May A. Brunson Award and what can help propel UM forward as a Hemispheric University.

An Advocate for Policy Change

By Deserae E. del Campo
Political Scientist Merike Blofield receives the May A. Brunson Award and talks about propelling UM forward.

“As a political scientist, I’m very interested in how much influence policies can have within certain constraints, such as economic, technological or geographic,” says Merike Blofield, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. “I am particularly interested in how much change public policy can make in people’s everyday lives. I find that policy can make a huge difference.” 

One policy issue she is currently researching focuses on fathers, families, and children across the western world. Blofield says she is concentrating on different aspects of this study. For example, public policy towards fathers who live with their children, and how to reinforce a caring bond between father and child. She is also focusing on what happens regarding fathers and children in non-intact families, an aspect she says is less studied, especially in Latin America.

“This is an important social issue that is often neglected,” she adds. “For example, in Latin America between 10 and 30 percent of children are born without a legal father on the birth certificate. Relatedly, family types in Latin America have dramatically changed over the past decades. Now most of the children in Latin America are born out of wedlock, and the share of female-headed households has increased to about 30 percent of all households today.

“The changing role between fathers and children does not get enough attention. Our research is looking specifically at social transformations and public policies towards fathers in Latin America, Western Europe, and the United States,” she says.

Before joining the College of Arts and Sciences, Blofield earned her Ph.D. in Political Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. She arrived at UM in 2006 and earned tenure with the Department of Political Science in 2010. In 2015, she became the Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, which officially changed its name in 2019 to the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. 

A native of Finland, Blofield has lived in Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and the U.S. She is the author of two books: Care Work and Class: Domestic Workers’ Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America, which won a National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Award, and The Politics of Moral Sin: Abortion and Divorce in Spain, Chile, and Argentina.

“To me, Latin America is fascinating because, these are mostly middle-income, and high middle-income countries and the region also has the highest social economic inequalities in the world. I was drawn to understanding how those inequalities are maintained and under what conditions they can be reduced. The driving question behind my research is under what conditions do governments implement equitable and efficient public policies.”

Blofield teaches “Sex, babies and the state: Comparative family policies,” a co-listed course in gender and sexuality studies and political science, which she says is one of her favorite courses to teach at UM. “I love teaching this course. However, the vast majority of the students are female. One of the challenges is to get men to enroll, because men think gender courses are for women, and not relevant to them. With the name change, and a fantastic senior lecturer, Dr. Claire Oueslati-Porter, who teaches the GSS 201 (Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies), we hope to send the message that this material is relevant to all genders. The men who take these courses find them incredibly rewarding and eye-opening.”  

“My other favorite course is ‘Latin American Politics and Society’ because we focus on one defined region, and it’s fun to get students excited about Latin America,” Blofield says. “We explore the region together, and because we have students from different walks of life, and different countries, the conversations, and interactions in the classroom are very fruitful.”

Recently, Blofield was recognized by the Women’s Commission as an outstanding contributor to the improvement of women at UM. She was honored with the May A. Brunson Award at a breakfast ceremony last month.

“Receiving the award was an honor especially because there are many people on the UM campus who are doing really important stuff,” says Blofield. “There is also much still to do, such as improving paid parental leave benefits for staff, and addressing salaries among teaching faculty.”

Blofield’s research and field of study in Latin America, her published books and articles, as well as her goal to reinvent the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program are all in sync with UM President Julio Frenk’s vision to propel UM as a Hemispheric University.

She says that one way the University can develop a stronger hemispheric and global presence is to establish a policy center based on the vision and goals set by President Frenk, which are a part of his Roadmap to Our New Century plan created to propel the University forward as it approaches its centennial in 2025.

“A center of research in policy excellence, focusing on issues especially relevant given our location, such as climate change, migration, global cities, etc., could be so fruitful for the University on so many levels,” she adds. “Such a center could promote intellectual, policy-relevant synergies among UM faculty, and between faculty and local and international policymakers, as well as advocates. We can do that, and although it will require some funding, it will create ripple effects that will be impactful.”