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).

Research Portfolio Post #2

My faculty mentor, Professor Banks, and I had the opportunity to start discussing my research interests for this semester in his office hours on August 30th from around 2:30 to 3:00pm. I first had the chance to talk about my topical interest in enemy combatants and prisoners of war which helped me gather my thoughts at this stage of the research process in which my idea of what I want to pursue is fluid and somewhat vague. My broad interest boils down my fascination in how the United States maganges to imprison and torture foreign nationals without any apparent repercussions. After listening to me talk about my ideas, Dr. Banks identified the two potential directions I could steer my research in (as mentioned in my first research post). He suggested I either focus on the language used to describe the prisoners that may be allowing for legal loopholes, or pursue my interest in the specific cases of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and compare how the two have/had radically different responses in the American Public. I currently am inclined to pursue the latter.

As I move forward with my research, Professor Banks said it would be best for me to focus on first hand journalistic accounts and primary sources on the topic in order to be sure that the puzzle I want to pursue exists and that there is substantial relevant information to synthesize. He suggested doing this before delving into the scholarly conversation so that I can have a sense of my own opinions before being influenced by the discourse. A concern I have regarding the primary source material is that too much of it may be classified by the government and not accessible for my research. I have seen documents that have been declassified, but most of them are at least a few years old and may not be representative of current practices. However, considering that the case of Abu Ghraib is essentially in the past entirely, I wonder how I will be able to build a comparable profile for Guantanamo Bay, which remains operational.