Society for the Study of Human Development

October 2016 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Susan Holloway

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

 This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Susan D. Holloway, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

The earliest influence on my interest in human development is probably my experience as the oldest of four closely spaced children. My youngest brother was born shortly before my seventh birthday, and I felt some responsibility to help my parents by nipping at the heels of the herd. In 1965, when I was 10 my family moved from the suburbs to San Francisco. As an adolescent I went to school with kids from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds. I also soaked in the political atmosphere of the time. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was interested in non-violent resistance and did attend protests and trainings in the East Bay and San Francisco. When I wasn’t floating around the Bay Area in long skirts and hiking boots, I spent a lot of time reading nonfiction and novels by as well as feminist writers. Simone de Beauvoir was a particular hero. All these experiences informed my interest in understanding how humans develop in the context of race, culture, gender, and class.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

I feel very fortunate to have had a number of supportive and inspiring mentors early in my career but I can single out my advisor at Stanford, Robert D. Hess. A particularly distinctive feature of Bob’s work was his focus on family as a context for preparing children to succeed in school. He was very interested in the ways parents motivate and encourage children to do well in school. As a sociologist, he was also committed to looking at the function of macro-structural contexts like social class on micro family processes. All these dimensions continue to be a central touchstone in my own research – the focus on family processes (particularly motivational ones) and education, the cultural framing, and the attention to institutional and structural context. When I started working with Bob, he was interested in conducting a follow-up of his research on parent socialization in Japan and the United States.  In the spring of 1980 we traveled to Japan to meet Bob’s co-investigators, Professors Hiroshi Azuma and Keiko Kashiwagi. In addition to meeting with these senior colleagues in Tokyo, I took time to venture into the countryside and get a sense for small town and rural Japan. The trip was a life-changing experience for me. I have been doing research in Japan ever since.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development.

 a. Your current project and/or key projects

Over the last 20 years I have studied the conditions that support parents’ confidence in accomplishing their goals using the cultural and personal tools available in their current environment. I typically focus on the construct of parenting self-efficacy, which is a self-evaluation of competence in the parenting role. My choice of this construct is based on the belief that, given adequate support, most parents can identify the resources they need to find a good resolution of the parenting challenges that come their way. To me, this is a more satisfactory route than trying to identify particular parenting behaviors that are related to optimal child development regardless of context. Currently, I am studying the ecocultural factors associated with parenting self-efficacy in a variety of national settings, including the US, Japan, Korea, China, and Turkey. Among other things, my research shows that across diverse settings, women’s sense of parenting competence is deeply affected by the quantity and quality of support that they receive from their spouse or life partner.

b. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development

My work contributes to “a person-centered view of cultural psychology” as articulated by Per Gjerde at UC Santa Cruz. My work conceptualizes parents as agentic individuals who draw upon culturally-constructed tools as well as personal beliefs and competencies to address childrearing challenges with the opportunities and constraints of particular eco-cultural settings.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

I would like our field to focus on ways of supporting parents’ capabilities rather than identifying particular parenting behaviors to “fix” or “improve” parents. I am concerned that identifying “optimal” ways to rear children contributes to the phenomenon of intensive parenting, in which parents are made to feel that everything they do has drastic and irreversible effects on their children’s development. In the US, parents are also expected to buffer the effects of low quality childcare and insufficiently funded schools with their own private efforts. This neoliberal focus on personal actions instead of community responsibilities makes it hard for many parents to lead a balanced life.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

Hillary was right – raising children takes a village!

About a researcher

shDr. Susan D. Holloway is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. A California native, she attended UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz as an undergraduate, and obtained a PhD from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford in 1983. Her research explores the conditions that support parents’ childrearing goals and practices, emotional wellbeing, and parenting self-efficacy.