This Tuesday, December 4th, I was able to meet with my faculty mentor, Dr. Rose Shinko one last time before the semester ends. Our conversation lasted about 30 minutes, and comprised of updates on the status of my project, clarifying discussion on broader interpretivist research, and suggestions looking ahead to SISU-306.
Because our last meeting was a few weeks ago, Dr. Shinko was really curious and excited to see the shape my project is taking on. While my methodology is not absolutely set in stone, I am leaning towards pursuing an interpretivist research project with my topic’s current standing. Dr. Shinko found this to be an appropriate choice for my research project, and was really exited about my project’s discourse analysis about Balkan women leading conflict resolution as both fulfilling natural roles and subverting the natural roles of men as political change-makers. Dr. Shinko recommended involving Professor Ann Ticker in my project, and is working on inviting her to our next mentor meeting. I am very much looking forward to hearing both of their insights for my topic in the context of an interpretivist project.
I went into my meeting with Dr. Shinko with a list of questions, or broader points of discussion for interpretivist research, because I am beginning to look forward to how my project will evolve and what interpretivist research looks like as a final product. One of the concepts we discussed was interpretivism as a scientific process. As an undergraduate researcher, I was concerned with lacking the proper qualifications to lead an interpretivist project and yielding a final project that resembles more of a high school research paper that gathers and spits out information, rather than yielding genuine, methodical academic conclusions. I brought up how unattainable Aradeu’s piece “The Perverse Politics of Four-Letter Words” seems, for example, with her line of discourse analysis very thorough and cohesive . But Dr. Shinko advised that with the reading of more scholarship, or with the reading of a particularly special source itself, will come a clarifying point in which the line of analysis and research is crystallized. From this pursuit and continuous exploration and synthesis of research emerges a proper line of analysis that builds an interpretivist project of merit. It is also what qualifies the researcher, as a methodical scientist.
For my own pursuit of this moment of clarity, Dr. Shinko recommended a number of texts and types of sources. One of the other discussion points I brought in my meeting was this idea of identity nurturing in interpretivist research versus agency. What I mean is that a lot of times women in IR are explained to be the way they are, or have access to what they do, because they have been conditioned to be a certain way. For example, these scholars would say that women occupy peace-building efforts simply because they were taught to be very peaceful and maternal. How does this conclusion interfere with the independent agency of women, though? Are all of their actions simply products of “nurture” or “nature,” or do they chose their political positions? This is where Dr. Shinko recommended taking a look at more general, feminist scholarship to see where the debate differs, specifically suggesting feminist works from non-Western scholars. Dr. Shinko highlighted that many women actually gain their political agency through undermining their works themselves. She said that women in some cases purposely do not call their work “political,” so that they can sort of infiltrate and navigate the public sphere with benevolent social (political) work without having to go through the social obstacles they would have to if they called themselves by another name. Women in non-Western countries have found this the best way to give themselves a platform. This is something that Western feminists typically overlook, according to Dr. Shinko. A source Dr. Shinko recommended to learn more about this was “Pray the Devil Away,” a film about the Libyan civil war and the peace-building efforts by women there .
Beyond watching the aforementioned documentary over the winter break, I also hope to read more diverse feminist perspectives on female identity formation and personal agency. I am very much looking forward to my meeting with Dr. Shinko and Professor Ticker when we return from the break. I am also hoping to schedule a meeting with Dr. Morosini, my Cross-Cultural Communications professor, as she is an expert on the Balkans, my region of focus for my project. My reading list for break, coupled with the expertise of my mentors (both official and not), have reassured my thoughts about the direction of my project and will help me move forward into SISU-306. One thing I am still teasing out is how specific I am going to get with the geographic focus of my project, and where that focus should be should I zoom out of the general Balkans (this will emerge from more primary source reading, I am sure). I am looking forward to seeing how the research develops and analysis emerges as I move forward with more readings (of both neopositivist and interpretivist scholarship) and primary sources from the women of the Balkans (and other regions).
 Claudia Aradau. “The Perverse Politics of Four-Letter Words: Risk and Pity in the Securitisation of Human Trafficking,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 33, no. 2 (2004), 251-277.
 Pray the Devil Away, directed by Gini Reticker, featuring (Leymah Gbowee, Vaiba Flomo, Janet Johnson-Bryant, Etweda “Sugars” Cooper, Asatu Bah Kenneth, Etty Weah) (Balcony Releasing, 2008), Streaming (Film Platform, 2008).