Research Portfolio Post #9

My faculty mentor, Dr. Banks, and I met for our last meeting of the semester on Monday, December 3rd at 3:30pm. We were able to go over the main features of each of my research design sketches and talk through which methodology would be the best for me to pursue as I continue on to SISU-306.

I already knew going into the meeting that my large-n design was the one that I definitely did not want to pursue. Although I found enough cases to constitute a large-n project for the research design, I ultimately felt as though my broadened scope drew my cases away from the puzzle I am actually interested in investigating. I went into my meeting with Dr. Banks looking for guidance on choosing my small-n or interpretivist research design to move forward with.

Before diving into the course material of SISU-206, I had become interested in my puzzle through a neo-positivist case study lens. I was fascinated by torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and wanted to better understand why similar practices at each prison evolved in such different ways. However, I was not entirely confident in the variables I chose for my small-n design. As I got into my interpretivist design, I started to become interested in the significance of the official discourse on each case.

With these considerations in mind, I asked Dr. Banks for advice on how to reconcile my interest in discourse analysis with my interest in keeping a neo-positivist methodology. Dr. Banks brought to my attention the fact that studying discourse is not strictly an interpretivist tactic and that I could remain in my preferred small-n case study world. I can hypothesize discourse as a variable correlated with my predicted outcome. Dr. Banks warned, however, that unless I make discourse the dependent variable, I need to be open to accepting that discourse may not, in fact, play a meaningful role in my puzzle. In order to help me understand this use of discourse in neo-positivist work better, Dr. Banks sent me two articles that take a similar approach. In the first, Carpenter explores how gendered discourse shaped practices pertaining to international involvement of civilians in war zones.¹ In the other article, Goddard examines how rhetorical tendencies of European powers surrounding Prussian wars influenced vulnerable populations.² As I look forward to next semester’s research course I will look closely at these articles to model my own research after, assuming I find enough of an empirical correlation to apply this structure to.

¹R. Charli Carpenter, “Women and Children First: Gender, Norms, and Humanitarian Evacuation in the Balkans 1991-95,” International Organization 57, no. 4 (2003): 661-694.
²Stacie Goddard, “When Right Makes Might: How Prussia Overturned the European Balance of Power,” International Security 33, no. 3 (2008).