Research Portfolio Post #4 Summary of a Single Article

Nelly P. Stromquist’s article, Women’s Empowerment and Education: linking knowledge to transformative action, explores how social emancipation through education requires subsequent action to succeed as a form of development.[1]  Education is often viewed by organizations as tool for female empowerment through knowledge.  However, Stromquist uses formalization to address the research question of “what other dimensions of empowerment must be in place surrounding international education for there to be social change?” She clearly reviews the literature of “social emancipation” and defines “empowerment as a set of knowledge, skills, and conditions that women must possess in order to understand their world and act upon it.”[2]  Stromquist claims that knowledge empowerment is just one of the many dimensions that should be considered in women’s empowerment along with economic, political, and psychological empowerment.[3]  In developing her model, she describes the importance of each “dimension of empowerment” and asserts that each of these must be examined at both micro and macro levels.  Using statistical data from organizations like the World Bank, OECD, and UNESCO, Stromquist shows the impactful relationship between social emancipation and development.[4]  Following her framework, she provides three brief cases of successful educational programs which consider the factors described in her model.[5]  Stromquist concludes that international education programs with the goal of empowering women should recognize her dimensions in order to spark lasting social change.  She points out that with further “operationalization and support”, like through her model, women’s education can be considered more seriously in bringing about lasting change.[6]

[1]Stromquist, N. P. “Women’s Empowerment and Education: Linking Knowledge to Transformative Action.” European Journal of Education 50, no. 3 (2015), 307.

[2] Ibid, 308.

[3] Ibid, 309.

[4] Ibid, 310, 314-315.

[5] Ibid, 318-319.

[6] Ibid, 320.

Research Portfolio Post #3 Philosophical Wagers

Ontology and methodology exist as concepts along the chain of academic research that prompt us to question our understanding of “knowledge” and “the scientific method”.  I understand ontology as the broadest question that asks “What is out there to know?”  Ontology considers what researchers believe about “the nature of reality” and how people make sense of their world.[1] The debate between realists and constructionists exists on two ends of a spectrum explaining how we make sense of our existence.[2] Whether we lean toward the idea that social life is stable and thus can be measured or that social phenomena are “reproduced in interaction” and cannot be measured, these positions drive our methodology.  Methodology goes beyond “the study of methods” to encompass the series of choices that we make in research approach.[3]  For example, positivists might choose formalization because they focus on measurable and testable hypotheses.  In contrast, interpretivists might lean toward ethnography because they value careful examination of a time and place.  Even with these “sides” in ontological debates there is still a complex spectrum of methodologies which overlap in their own strengths and weaknesses.[4]

As a researcher, I believe that I cannot be an objective observer removed from the social world because I live and participate in social phenomena.  In the debate between behaviorism and culturalism, I lean slightly toward the culturalist position because I believe in the importance of context and individuality in examining the human experiences we create.[5]  Still, I do not think that social life is too individually constructed that we cannot recognize trends to draw larger conclusions.  I think that it is possible to employ methodologies like small-n analysis to test hypotheses like John Owen in How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace.[6]  In other words, while it is important to understand a particular event, looking across contexts to see similarities and differences can bring new understanding to history and future international relations.

With this in mind, I stand in the middle of the debate between situated and transcendent knowledge.  It is difficult to determine the exact kind of knowledge that we can create.  I see the value in discovering “truths” but I am intimidated by the notion of only situated knowledge. I was trained to believe in “universal truths” even if these are fact socially created.  Though we cannot concretely observe all social phenomenon, we can create valid knowledge based on the visible signs of social life like democracy, anarchy, and social norms.  Because we interact with these real structures, we should attempt to best to understand these patterns instead of disregarding this knowledge as too generalized.  Sometimes larger models are necessary in order to create applicable knowledge for the future.  Still I cannot fail to acknowledge that understanding the particulars in the context of a situation might also help create valuable knowledge that we can look for connections to in other specific international situations.

[1] Boesenecker, Dr. Aaron P. “The Philosophy of Science: How Do We Know What We Know?”. 2016. Accessed 09-12-16.

[2] Abbot, Andrew. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. First ed., edited by Jeffrey C. Alexander. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2004, 46-47.

[3] Boesenecker, Dr. Aaron P. “What Is Research?”. 2016. Accessed 09-02-2016.

[4] Boesenecker, Dr. Aaron P. “The Philosophy of Science: How Do We Know What We Know?”. 2016. Accessed 09-12-16.

[5] Abbot, Andrew. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. First ed., edited by Jeffrey C. Alexander. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2004, 44-45.

[6] Owen, John M. “How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace.” The MIT Press 19, no. 2 (1994): 87-125. Accessed 09-15-2016.


Research Portfolio Post #2: Mentor Meeting

I met with my SIS mentor, Professor Amanda Taylor, on Monday, September 12, 2016 for half an hour to discuss my Olson Scholars research topic.  I previously had Professor Taylor for my first year seminar “Culture, Power, and International Education” where we explored critical approaches to international education.  Through our discussion of my thoughts so far and my questions from my RPP #1, we discovered that I still have not nailed down my puzzle.  We discussed the broad question of “what conditions must be present in order for girls’ education programs to be successful, and further who defines success?”  While this is an intriguing puzzle, Professor Taylor and I discussed the idea of taking a step back and asking “what do I want to know about girls’ education?”  I have some knowledge about the topic and its publicized “positive outcomes” though class discussion and my own personal involvement with organizations like She’s the First (a non-profit here at AU).  However, I recognize that I still need to do more preliminary reading about the scale of this work to get a clearer idea of the general “goals” of key organizations.  In order to properly nail down a puzzle I need to differentiate between questions I do not know the answer to and questions that have not been asked or approached.  I think that I will encounter dimensions to this topic that the academic community might consider “basic knowledge” that I have not even encountered yet.  This reality, though both intimidating and exciting, will help me to get more familiar with the intellectual conversation of girls’ education.

Professor Taylor and I talked a bit about methodology and qualitative and quantitative data.  I find it interesting that this week’s lecturelet points out that methodologies cannot be boiled down into these two categories.  Even so, it is important to understand the difference between these how/why and what/how much questions.  I will be interested to understand these concepts better both with my mentor and in our class.  Professor Taylor also emphasized the fact that once I get to a more specific puzzle and later question, those will help drive my research methods, and the methodology will later become more apparent.  At this stage I will continue to read the websites and mission statements of non-profit organizations like The Malala Fund and Let Girls Learn to solidify my knowledge of the big players.  Further, I might look at the first-hand experiences of students who have been impacted by education.  I will revisit the problems posed in the book and documentary, Half the Sky.  I will also explore how these foundations and initiatives are funded, a side of the female education movement that I am not particularly familiar with.  One other question that we started to discuss was “what factors make girls’ education a marketable commodity which activists can sell to the developed world and governments?” With more background reading and exploration, I will hopefully soon encounter more puzzles that look critically at the girls’ education movement.

Research Portfolio Post #1: Research Interests

“One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” -Malala Yousafzai

Inspiring quotes like these shine a light on the untapped potential of women and girls’ education worldwide.  Over the course of this year I hope to focus my research on the “girl movement” in developing countries, particularly girl and young woman empowerment through schooling.  With  icons like Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama promoting programs like the Malala Fund and Let Girls Learn, new opportunities present themselves for feminists like myself, who wish to make contributions toward a more equal and just society.

Reports by the United Nations like “Education Transforms Lives” (2103) estimate over 60 million school-age girls do not attend school.  On the surface, education might be expected to provide the best, quickest approach toward gender equality.  “Half the Sky”, a book by journalists Kristof and WuDunn, investigates the benefits to individual girls including improved health and nutrition, increased environmental awareness, and fewer child marriages.  More broadly, activists argue that the education of females leads not only to social progress, but also sparks economic development through the contributions of a previously overlooked and marginalized population.  However, despite the potential benefits, programs like those mentioned above need to be examined on a more critical level.  What conditions exist that allow these initiatives to succeed or fail? How is success defined, and who defines it?  Further, what does it mean when a program partners with or invests in local organizations to achieve its goals?  

In my SIS seminar, we discussed the importance of curriculum and the debate between a global versus a local approach.  If in fact governments and organizations are making an economic investment when they fund education, are the curriculums controlled by their interest in globalization and competitiveness? More specifically, are resources allocated toward a particular outcome, or simply are students prepared to pursue their own interests?

With such questions in mind I might approach my research by using several strategies.  I could examine the differing methodologies of well-known organizations like the Malala Fund.  I could compare mission statements, program tactics, fund-raising strategies, political involvement, and reported first-hand experiences.  In addition to such a comparative method, I might focus on a case study to take a more ethnographic approach, looking at the interests, challenges, and success/failure of a specific community that has implemented female schooling.  Or I might take a more pragmatic approach, and look at statistical and economic models in order to evaluate “effectiveness” and the implications for the global community.  I will most likely apply methods from different methodologies.  Through my research journey I hope to get below the surface of women and girls’ education and challenge my own thinking about how we choose solutions.  If I choose to work in education during study abroad or my post-graduate career I want to know how I can best contribute- whether it be through classroom teaching or maybe even joining the academic community that helps to decide international curriculums.