Professor Field and Professor Boesenecker Meetings 3/7/17

On Tuesday, March 7 I met with both Professor Field and Professor Boesenecker during their office hours.  Professor Boesenecker and I discussed my methodology and how I might go about analyzing my data.  He reviewed the strategies that he covered in the discourse analysis methods workshop.  Specifically he helped me to start to think about the key concepts I will look for in my texts.  These might emerge from my literature review or my own knowledge of empowerment.  We also discussed intertextuality and how my data from She’s the First’s videos creates shared meaning with the interview material.  The organization’s videos do not make sense without knowledge of a program and the members’ meaning makes little sense without the context of educational development elsewhere.  I will probably look back to examples from Aradau and Schwartz-Shea & Yanow.

Professor Field and I touched base on my IRB exemption approval.  In the meantime I will work on editing my other sections and analyzing the video texts that I have already collected.  Starting with this analysis will help me to form my questions for interviews.  Since I will be basing some questions off of constructions of empowerment in the videos, my interviews will create a more engaging conversation between the two discourses.

Professor Field and Professor Taylor Meetings 2/28/17

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017 I met with both Professor Field and Professor Taylor separately to discuss the methodology for my project.  Professor Field listened to my concerns about my project and helped me to formulate my research question as “how does She’s the First construct empowerment and to what extent is that understanding shared with participants?”  My project is twofold. 1) I want to understand how “empowerment” is constructed which I suspect is as an incontestable good.  2) I want to understand if members of She’s the First take up this concept and understand it differently.  Coming to this realization helped me to solidify my methods as well.  To expand beyond my research design sketch from last semester I decided to examine videos made by the She’s the First organization but also to conduct interviews with college members.  I will use discourse analysis to analyze both data sets.

I shared the reformulation of my question with Professor Taylor and we discussed the type of discourse analysis that I will conduct.  She recommend critical discourse analysis.

My most pressing challenge is getting IRB approval since the interview section of my project is a newer development.  Further I need to solidify my interview questions and approach, though I already have an outline.

306 Research Portfolio Post #4: Abstract Draft

Development agencies and international organizations construct female education programs as unquestionably good solutions to issues in developing states.  Though there is much written about how the women in these programs make sense of their “empowerment”, the concept of “empowerment” remains ambiguous.  My research extends current understandings of “empowerment” by examining how college women who work with female education programs make sense of “empowerment”.  Specifically, I research the question “How does She’s the First construct “empowerment” and to what extent is that understanding shared with participants?”  Using discourse analysis of social media campaigns and interviews, I research how individuals take up a uniform discourse and make different sense of it.  I examine literature from developmental, feminist, and educational schools of thought regarding “empowerment”.  I argue that women understand “empowerment” differently even when international organizations transmit a uniform narrative of the benefits of educational development.  This research is important because it questions the overuse of “empowerment”.  It has larger implications for developing future international education programs that take on a more dimensional view of power structures.

Professor Taylor Meeting 2/14/17

Professor Taylor and I met on February 14, 2017 at 5:45-6 P.M. and we discussed designing an interview as the next step of my methods.  Though I have a sample group that I will interview people from, consisting of She’s the First campus leaders from across the country (and possibly the globe), I want to make sure that I design an effective interview.  We discussed the importance of keeping questions as broad as possible.  I will collect demographic information, educational background, and how college students make sense of the mission of She’s the First.  I will probe for information regarding empowerment when interviewees provide useful terms like “empowerment” by asking them to expand.  Feeding words back to interviewees will help me focus the discussion without skewing the questions toward specific answers.  In addition to designing a practice interview which I can try on friends from AU’s She’s the First chapter, I will revisit the IRB certification so that I can get proper approval for my interviews.  Next week we hope to continue to clarify my methods.  I also want to continue reading articles for revisions to my literature review and start to revise my intro based on feedback.

306 Research Portfolio Post #3: Grappling with Ethical Naturalism (and Positivism)

I find Gorski’s “ethical naturalism” convincing as it suggests that social science can offer genuine insights into human well-being.  Ethical naturalism maintains that “values are fact laden” and that “the natural and social sciences can correct and expand our ethical knowledge.”[1] Gorski acknowledges that while values and facts influence one another, we should not address moral questions directly.  Rather social sciences help us investigate values that are open to change.  Facts and values are not inseparable but independent.  Scientific inquiry might help us achieve a deeper understanding into what it means to flourish as a human.  For example, Gorski mentions Sen’s “capabilities approach.”[2]  I find that Gorski’s position addresses many of the shortcomings of both extremes (positivism/moral relativism).  By understanding the social sciences more deeply we may be able to even change our values toward those more favorable of human flourishing.  Still, Gorski does not advocate for end-all-be-all answer to human suffering through moral and scientific truths.[3]

Both Harris and Comte take positions at the positivism end of the spectrum of the social sciences.  Harris argues that the separation between science and values is an illusion and that the discussion of values is the discussion of facts.[4]  Further, he argues that on the continuum of facts there are truths about human flourishing.[5]  He argues for the need of a universal conception of human values and the disregard of certain cultural opinions. We must admit that we do have the answers to needless human suffering.  This positivist view contradicts Gorski’s distinction of the extent to which values influence social scientific inquiry by asserting that values are facts in themselves.[6]

Comte takes a radically positivist view by asserting that “there can be no real knowledge but that which is based on observed facts.[7]  In other words, true knowledge about human well-being cannot be derived only from theological tradition.  He argues that over time morality will fall under the umbrella of “positive philosophy” much like the other hard sciences.[8]  Through this process, a unified doctrine will emerge that will transform the human race.  His view agrees much with Harris’ notion of values as facts.  However, it contradicts Gorski’s ethical naturalism by disregarding the possibility of change in values informed by fact.  If philosophical values become positivist truths then they cannot be altered.[9]

I do not believe that my own research lends itself to normative discovery that will uncover the truth to human well-being.  My project relies on the normative assumption that international organizations construct female education as an unquestionable good.  5566I think that my project most closely corresponds to Gorski’s ethical naturalism by aiming to understand empowerment.  I acknowledge the ethical implications of my research.  Understanding empowerment might help to develop more effective programs to help human flourishing.  However, the aim of my project is not to discover the positivist truth to human well-being through empowerment.  In its constructivist methodology, I believe that it naturally shies away from such extreme normative discoveries and rather focuses on meaning making.

[1] Gorski, Phillip S. “Beyond the Fact/Value Distinction: Ethical Naturalism and the Social Sciences.” Springer Science+Business Media 50 (2013): 543,551.

[2] Ibid., 551.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Harris, Sam. “Science can answer moral question.” Ted2010

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gertrud Lenzer, ed., Auguste Comte and Positivism: The Essential Writings (New York: Harper, 1975). 2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Professor Taylor Meeting 2/7/17

Professor Taylor and I met on Tuesday February 7, 2017 from 5:30-6 P.M. to discuss progress on my research project following feedback from the collective advising workshop and my upcoming literature review.  At the workshop last week  I received reassurance on the direction of my research question which asks “how and why do NGO and activists conceptualize female empowerment as an incontestable good embraced by heroines?” Though I might speculate “why” I still have not deconstructed “how” organizations set the agenda for international education programs. I need to set my research in a more defined context of the organization She’s the First which exists here on AU’s campus along with other chapters around the world.  Professor Carruth provided some useful concepts to search like the “construction of the good girl child” similar to the “construction of the good woman” that Professor Taylor and I previously discussed.

For my literature review, we touched on my schools of thought regarding empowerment including development, feminism, and sociology of education.  Despite the fact that my literature might not perfectly align with my findings, I will keep in mind that I improve with each draft.  I will unpack important theoretical frameworks that guide my analysis section.  More importantly, we discussed the methods for executing my project and considered both survey and discourse analysis.  Professor Taylor helped give me a preview about ways that I might code interviews.  For this week I will focus on writing a revised draft of of literature review.  Next week we will begin to design my interview questions in detail as I reach out online to subjects through She’s the First Facebook pages.

306 Research Portfolio Post #2: Culture, Politics, and Science

In the readings by Dr. Johnson, Plato, and Tocqueville, democratic principles based in individualism and equality prejudice citizens against making normative arguments about values and the ends we should pursue.  Johnson’s perspective on values and relativity, and Plato and Tocqueville’s claims about the oppressiveness of democracy prompt me to reflect on my own experiences in a democratic reality and how I might reconcile these with values in research.

Dr. Johnson addresses values through the concept of “lazy relativism” in which people disengage from debate and assert that truths exist for every person.  Johnson argues that extreme relativism is incompatible with normative beliefs.[1]  If one truly believes in a value than a view that opposes that value cannot be equally valid.[2]  In a democratic system, it is often easier for political debate to veer away from moral judgements.  However, it is impossible to remove values from social life.  Johnson emphasizes that it might be more productive for us to stand by and defend our values, even when an absolute truth is impossible to discover.[3]

Plato argues that the values of freedom and equality in the democratic system undermine traditional value claims of better/worse.[4]  Citizens in a democratic system are naturally hostile toward authority.  Although democracy appears “to be the fairest regime” it contains its own oppressive authority through its dogma of equality.[5]  Plato asserts that through democracy and resistance to aristocratic authority, democrats resort to insolence, anarchy, wastefulness, and shamelessness.[6]  More importantly, Plato characterizes democracy much like that of lazy relativism saying that a democrat “shakes his head at all this [pleasures] and says that all are alike and must be honored on an equal basis.”[7] In other words, Plato disapproves in the concept that all men’s values should be valued the equally since men might have varying levels of philosophical understanding.

Tocqueville reflects on the American philosophic method of equality and argues that democracy is a form of intellectual oppression under a different name.[8]  He distinguishes the psychological difference between aristocratic and democratic value systems and points out that we come to accept truths engrained in us by society.[9]  In this way we give up some of our freedom to come to greater philosophical understandings.[10]  In the democratic system we appear to embrace our freedom by giving the majority authority, rather than a selected few in power.   However, we actually sacrifice our freedom to the consensus of the masses.[11]  In other words, trust in equality rather than god becomes like a religion.  Subscribing to the authority of the majority surrenders the intellectual freedom for which we strive in democracy.

In many ways, Johnson’s lazy relativism is correct in that we must defend values that we hold true.  However, such a position prompts us to take on normative assumptions about the world.  In research we must not take on normative questions directly but we can still address them indirectly in the larger implications of our research.  It is important especially in interpretivism to acknowledge the democratic systems that shape how we even define research like Plato and Tocqueville.  The readings provided ample reasons that we should resist value based discussions since values, especially democratic ones of equality, are simply constructed within our social world.  Still, it is important to unpack the values that shape democracy and their complex relationship with academia, rather than to quit because we can never be truly removed from the social world.

[1] Johnson, Leigh M. “Lazy Relativism.” Read More Write More Think More Be More, 02/07/17, 2009. Accessed 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Plato. The Republic. On the Character of Democracy, 1978.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Tocqueville. Democracy in America. Vol. 2: Mansfield & Winthrop, 2000.

[9] Ibid, 407.

[10] Ibid, 408.

[11] Ibid, 409.

Revamped Literature Review and Methods Section

  1. How will my literature review need to change between now and my final submission? (Is it currently too long? Too vague? Does it do a sufficient job in taking up the specifics of my research question? Am I confident that I have an adequate grasp of the puzzles and schools of thought in the field?)

My current literature review of empowerment needs to be condensed and include more precise statements outlining how it informs my project and analysis.  I still believe that my schools of thought including international development, feminism, and education are the most important in addressing empowerment.  However, since my discourse analysis focuses on the meaning-making of organization propaganda I will also consider how empowerment is portrayed in media campaigns.  Further, I might explore how empowerment and messages of heroism inspire audiences to act.  My development through education section needs the most attention because I initially focused on power structures within educational systems.  This approach might have been more appropriate if I had chosen ethnography.  However, now I must focus more on the developmental implications of empowerment through education.


  1. What additional works do I need to read in anticipation of our workshop on February 10 to make this happen? Please do some concrete research here and provide a bibliographical list.


Adhikari, H. “Freedom Vis a Vis Independence: An Overview in Light of Feminism, Women’s      Development and Empowerment.” Journal of international women’s studies 14, no. 3          (2013): 275-85.

Chant, Sylvia. “Women, Girls and World Poverty: Empowerment, Equality or Essentialism?”         International development planning review 38, no. 1 (2016: 1-24.

Duflo, Esther. “Women Empowerment and Economic Development.” Journal of Economic             Literature 50, no. 4 (2012): 1051-79.   

Eyben, Rosalind. “Choosing Words with Care? Shifting Meanings of Women’s Empowerment in   International Development.” Third world quarterly 30, no. 2 (2009: 285-300.

Lennie, J. “Deconstructing Gendered Power Relations in Participatory Planning: Towards an          Empowering Feminist Framework of Participation and Action.” Women’s Studies            International Forum 22, no. 1 (1999): 97-112.     5395(98)00098-3.

Switzer, H. “(Post)Feminist Development Fables: The Girl Effect and the Production of Sexual      Subjects.” Feminist Theory 14, no. 3 (2013): 345-60.



Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. 30th         Anniversary Edition ed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.,   2005.

Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books, 1999.


  1. How will my methodology discussion need to change between now and my final submission? (Is it currently too long? Too vague? Does it do a sufficient job in taking up the specifics of my research question? Am I confident that I have an adequate grasp of the methods that I plan to employ?)

My methodology discussion needs to be more concise but is specific in addressing my method choices, tradeoffs, justifications, cultural competence, context, and reflexivity.  I need to more clearly address trustworthiness.  My methods section needs to be adjusted to correspond with my exact research methods that I execute rather than my anticipated procedure.  I still must work with my faculty mentor to confirm what I will be able to execute with the resources available to me.  Though I have not analyzed my texts yet, I am confident that I understand the methodology of discourse analysis in the interpretivist world and can work with my mentor on the specifics of coding.


  1. What additional material will I need to read in order to feel confident about my methodology discussion, due on February 28?

Andrew Abbott, Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences, New York: W.W          Norton & Company, 2004.

Iver B. Neumann, “Discourse Analysis,” in Qualitative Methods in International Relations: A        Pluralist Guide, ed. Audie Klotz & Deepa             Prakash, Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan,    2008, 63-65.

S Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and Dvora Yanow, Interpretivist Research Design: Concepts and        Processes, New York: Routledge, 2012: Ch. 6: “Designing for Trustworthiness” (pp. 91-      114).

Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (3rd ed.),    Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

  1. What questions and concerns do I have that I might ask about at the Collective Advising Workshops?

What is the most effective way for me to incorporate new dimensions/schools of thought into my literature review?

I want to explore some schools of thought about in empowerment in media. How can I incorporate those ideas into an international relations centered research project?

I question whether my project has shifted so much that I need an entirely new literature review.  How do I start going about this without losing everything that I have collected already?

How much background do I need to include on terms like cultural competence, context, reflexivity, and trustworthiness? Is it assumed that the academic research community knows these concepts?

How much context do I need to include regarding context of my research topic?

Is it too confusing to analyze both propaganda itself (text and videos) and interview activists influenced by that propaganda?

306 Research Portfolio Post #1 Exploring (Dissecting?) our Motivations and Assumptions

In SISU 306, my research on empowerment, articulated as an incontestable good, in propaganda of female education programs is motivated by factors involving my personal curiosities and larger philosophical questions.  In class reflection helped me to identify that I selected my research subject through my own interest in the ‘girl movement’.  Icons like Malala Yousafzai and my participation in fundraising for organizations like She’s the First have prompted me to get involved with the movement in high school and college.  Classes at AU have motivated me to question my blind faith in such organizations and criticize them and their ethical implications.  Apart from pure curiosity, I also hope to create some knowledge that might be used practically to better understand development and gender.  Hopefully, I or others might use my project’s new knowledge to study empowerment or create more effective programs for marginalized populations.  I think that this goal of generation of usable knowledge, corresponds with Aristotle’s concept of aiming “at some good”.[1]  The new knowledge might constitute “good” and it might also bring about “good” solutions to past challenges to development.

Toward the end of 206 I chose and interpretivist methodology to understand the meaning making created by international organizations working to help marginalized women through education.  For the purposes of my project I thought it best and most interesting to research the context of these organizations and their presence online within the past decade.  My motivation to help create “good” through more effective programs and my own curiosities prompted me to understand a specific time and place rather than empowerment in terms of broader trends.  Further, in choosing a context of the Westernized world of international aid, I might better understand the meaning making and assumptions since this context is familiar to me.

One of the normative assumptions that informs my project is that international aid aimed at women’s empowerment has been accepted as an unquestionable good.  It is this assumption that I suspect my analysis will critique since there are complex power struggles involved in empowerment.  Further, empowerment in international development has often been measured by political and economic dimensions.  However, much of my research indicates the importance of the psychological dimension of empowerment related to agency and values.

[1] Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011, 1-2.