November 2016 Member Highlight: Ming-Chang Tsai
Research Fellow and Executive Director, Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies, RCHSS, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
- Describe your background, experience, and research as it relates to Quality-of-life studies.
I am a sociologist in background. I taught at National Taipei University for nearly thirty years (starting from a young instructor at age of 26), before I joined Academia Sinica, Taiwan, in 2014. I am now research fellow and executive director of Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies. I served as chair of Department of Sociology and dean of College of Social Sciences at National Taipei University. I was past president of Taiwanese Sociological Association; and now vice president of the ISQOLS and president of Research Committte 55-Social Indicators of International Sociological Association (2014-18). In 1998-99, I visited University of California at Santa Barbara as a Fulbright scholar, and in 2010-11, I was a visiting scholar in Department of Sociology, Ohio State University. I am recipient of the Outstanding Research Award (three times) from Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan. My current research concentrates on comparative familial relations in East Asia. Additionally I investigate global experience and cosmopolitan value across countries.
- What initially attracted you to the field of quality-of-life studies?
I received my doctoral degree from State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1992. Back at that time, many graduate students from what was called “less developed countries” were keen to understand divergent experiences in societal modernization, economic growth and distributional politics. I was no exception. My dissertation was a study of social and political factors of growth among low income countries from a cross-national perspective. As I finished my degree, I returned to my home country, Taiwan, and taught development courses in National Taipei University since. A few years later, I felt much constrained to continue this line of research due to limitation of data collection and collaboration. I then sought to change my research interest, in a slight manner, to concentrate on social aspects of development. I began to collect data on democracy, human development indicators, national policies, and so on. I looked for international meetings to represent my research findings. In 2003, I for the first time submitted a paper to the 5th ISQOLS Conference in Frankfort. I met Prof. Richard Estes who organized the session I attended. I have to say that he is a person of strong motivation and high commitment for the ISQOLS. I was, so to speak, the new blood he was looking for. Of course, the major topics the ISQOLS was promoting, life quality and life conditions, fit well with my new line of interest, although issues like happiness and life satisfaction seemed too psychological and somewhat distant to me at that time. Yet, one thing I particularly appreciated: the friendly and interdisciplinary atmosphere in the meeting allowed me to know new colleagues and evolved into real collaborations and life-long friendship, which I have treasured very much. That was my first experience with the ISQOLS. My linkage with the ISQOLS became stronger since then and my own research of life quality naturally extended to happiness and life satisfaction as I became involved and knew Prof. Alex Michalos and Ruut Veenhoven in person and developed research ideas from reading their works.
- What are some areas of quality-of-life studies you feel are lacking attention? Any advice for future QoL researchers?
Two critical issues need more research attention. The first one is concerned with macrostructural conditions of human life quality. The external, livable environments, including social and political institutions, on which happier and healthier lives are built, definitely deserve our research effort. The second issue is at microlevel: the outcomes of happiness seem to lack systematical research and hard evidence. I like to see more studies answering questions like: Does happiness lead to better social mobility and status attainment, strong altruistic motivations, enthusiastic civic participation, increased concern with societal solidarity, and so on.
- How long have you been a member of ISQOLS? Why did you choose to be a member of ISQOLS? How has your involvement in ISQOLS impacted your career/research/advancement in your knowledge of QoL studies?
I have been a member for 14 years. This involvement impacted on my work and career in an obvious manner, as it changed my identity in academics and I am happy and proud to be known as a life quality researcher. In my own viewpoint, this field does not mean happiness as a sole focus. It is much fruitful to bring happiness as an element into many fields I am working on. My recent work on East Asian families is an example. Conventional researchers investigates social demographic characteristics of families. I bring in a new “happy”angle to look at in it vibrant dynamics in generating happiness and wellbeing for familial members. This long time interest will continue and surely be my life time commitment.