Professor Taylor Meeting 4/11/17

Today I met with Professor Taylor to discuss my data analysis section and moving toward editing all of my sections.  Professor Taylor suggested focusing on my finding of “empowerment through community building” in my second round of discourse analysis of interviews.  I might look back more closely at my data to understand how the women create their collective identity at the sentence level.  To do this I will focus on positionally and how they use pronouns like “I” and “we.”  In my discussion sections I might also reflect on racial dimensions that reinforce “whiteness.”  If I do not include these thoughts in this project I might use them as a point of departure for a future one.  My next major challenge is revising my introduction, conclusion, and literature review sections so that they pertain to my current project.

306 Research Portfolio Post 6: Marginalization and Activism in Academia

Our seminars throughout the semester have presented different ontological perspectives that explore what there is to know.  The readings from Go and Morris challenge past notions of “truth” with the example of sociologist, Du Bois, whose work was overlooked by an academic system favoring white scholars.[1]  The Malik article brings up the concept of “decolonizing” philosophy and questions the syllabi of subjects dominated by Western ideas.[2]  These perspectives resonate well with interpretivism and show how knowledge is socially constructed in different contexts.  Knowledge and constructions of truth can be contested and changed over time.  Historically, academic elites (Western white males) have controlled the orthodoxy within the sciences.  Because elites want to remain in control they naturally suppress heterodoxy found in alternative perspectives.  The most notable example from the reading was the heterodoxy of Du Bois that there were not in fact biological differences between blacks and whites.

Further historical reevaluations of academia reveal previously silenced voices.  While there is no “alternative” history of any academic tradition (one that includes all identities) it is possible for scholars to look to include the perspectives of minority scholars.  Some argue that historically minority scholars were not present or did not create important work.  While that argument might hold in the ancient times of Aristotle, it is unwise to turn a blind eye to the more recent achievements of minorities and women.  Scholars must recognize and acknowledge that criteria of “valuable” contributions have been shaped and maintained by those in power.  While we cannot change the path of history, professors and researchers can work proactively to integrate alternative voices into our curriculum.  That is not to say that we should take another extreme and cut out the white-man completely.  It is true that white men created the foundation of most scholarship.

Before our class discussion I did not consider the implications of simply creating new classes with alternative academic perspectives without integrating these into the core curriculum.  This “separate but equal” approach continues to marginalize communities because they are classified as “other” from the mainstream.  Looking forward, it should not remain solely the responsibility of minority scholars to bring in other perspectives.  Scholars can challenge themselves to look at existing power structures in their research.  Professor Ranganathan described her work as looking sympathetically but not uncritically at the struggles of the oppressed. In my own academic endeavors, I too hope to similarly understand meaning making but not go so far as to promoting an agenda.  I think it is interesting to unpack heterodoxies even if they do not always call for specific policy changes or revisions of history.  Though we should not directly address the question of whether it was right or wrong to include certain academic perspectives, it is valuable to evaluate marginalized perspectives because they have the potential to spark new ways of thinking or even new criteria for evaluating scholarship.

[1] Go, Julian. “The Case for Scholarly Reparations.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology  (2016).

Morris, Aldon. “From Du Bois to Black Lives Matter.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology  (2016).

[2] Malik, Kenan. “Are Soas Students Right to ‘Decolonise’ Their Minds from Western Philosophers?” The Guardian  (2017).


Professor Taylor Meeting 3/28/17

On March 28, I met with Professor Taylor to discuss my analysis section.  First I will analyze my chosen videos created by the official She’s the First organization.   I identify common themes/understandings related to female empowerment.  In addition, I will identify some concepts through my own knowledge and literature review.  Using these themes I will code my interview data with members of She’s the First to analyze how members conceptualize empowerment (thematically) in their work.  I will also look for silences and missing conceptualizations.  While I have some concerns about revising my literature review, I will focus on that next week.  Since She’s the First identifies education as the primary means of obtaining empowerment I will need to focus heavily on education through empowerment.

306 Research Portfolio Post 5: Grappling with the Division of the Sciences

Bacon and Weber insist on a separation between science and values in response to previous philosophies that emphasized positivist scientific knowledge that points to universal moral understanding.  With the development of the sciences over the centuries it is not surprising that Bacon calls for an invigorating inquiry into the natural sciences.  In his view there should be a hard distinction between the natural and moral sciences in which the moral should remain untouched.  Bacon associates theology with the moral sciences.  Bacon suggests that ethics might come into play only at a much later time to inform policy and perhaps morals.  For now, science can be used to understand the practical functions of our world since we are far from realizing an end to scientific innovation with a universal set of morals.[1]

Weber models science and religion as contending spheres.  These spheres including science, religion, politics, Christianity, and other religions are incompatible.  Eventually we must choose.  While Weber chooses science he notes that any single sphere is not inherently “better”.  Science cannot give definitive answers to which sphere holds the universal truths.[2]

The continuing progress of science creates truths anchored in interpretivism’s “situated knowledge”.  In other words, in modern thought it is difficult to find universal certainty in any kind of science whether it be natural or social.  Bacon and Weber create these distinctions in order to give more room for practical scientific inquiry.  Distinctions between sciences arguably allow for greater innovation and “flourishing” apart from direct moralistic questions.  For example, scientists working on new technologies might be able to focus on the nuts and bolts of their work without allowing moralistic goals to shape or interfere with their work.  Further, separating science and morals allows for the change in values over time as society develops.  It seems to offer some middle ground in a world hesitant to give up its religious and dogmatic origins.  In a way this separation makes a lot of since because the natural sciences share characteristics with religions in how they create rituals with dedicated followers.

Without the distinction between science and ethics, my project would be difficult to develop.  Though my research about “how She’s the First constructs female empowerment and to what extent that understanding is shared with its members” might touch on value dimensions, it considers issues of power structures in international female development in a genealogical context.  I aim to understand constructions of empowerment by looking to how the current meanings came to be.  I might criticize the grounds on which these understandings are based.  However, I do not take on directly whether these meanings are in themselves right or wrong.  While such debate might be interesting in conversation, a research project that rests on universal values would be difficult to defend and might fall victim evidence based in moral relativism.

[1] Bacon, Francis, Lisa Jardine, and Michael Silverthorne. The New Organon. Cambridge [U.K.]: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

[2] Lassman, Peter, Irving Velody, Herminio Martins, and Max Weber. Max Weber’s “Science As a Vocation”. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

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.