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.