Research Interests

“To every girl who figured she could run faster, or climb higher, in pants”[1]

Last week, I was struck while reading the beginning of the Craft of Research. I was fascinated when reading how, “no place is more filled with imagined voices than a library…when you read…you silently converse with its writers—and through them with everyone else they have read.” The authors of the Craft of Research go on to explain how, “every time you go to a written source for information, you join a conversation between writers and readers that began more than five thousand years ago.” However, the authors remind us that “the research you see walking these sites is only part of the story.”[2]

When I first heard about the Olson Scholars program, I applied due to my yearning desire to participate in the conversations around me and furthermore, go on to add my own voice to the story. However, I have also been constantly questioning voices participating in the conversation and the story being told.

Through the Olson Scholars program and beyond, I want to understand “Whose voices I am hearing and accepting as truth? Why some voices louder than others?” and “How do these voices impact the way I view the world and those around me?” Specifically, I want to understand the role Identity, Gender, Race, Culture, and Class play in the crucial puzzle of who gets to a voice in the conversation of International Relations and whose story is told.[3]

However, I feel as though there might be an interesting way to look for a piece to this puzzle.

During “World Politics”, I became incredibly curious when reading about the characteristics International Relations Scholars J. Ann Tickner and Laura Sjoberg described as “masculine” versus “feminine”.[4] Specifically, I was interested how in class, we discussed how those who possess masculine traits are allowed a voice and a place in the public sphere, while those who possess feminine traits are silenced and hidden in private. While feminine traits are stereotypically associated with women and masculine traits are stereotypically associated with men, I became curious about whether the possession of those traits, regardless of gender, play a role in who is given a voice or silenced.

This thought-provoking conversation about masculinity and femininity reminded me of a book I came across during High School by an investigative journalist named Jenny Nordberg called, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. Nordberg’s book sheds light on Afghanistan’s decades long practice of the Bacha Posh. Bacha Posh, which literally translates to “Girls Dressed as Boys,” is a practice wherein families are “secretly” permitted to turn their daughters in to sons, while authorities turn a blind eye. The practice has allowed young girls to participate in the public sphere and enjoy rights and freedoms otherwise reserved for boys and men. Additionally the practice has been utilized as a means of security. However, when a Bacha Posh reaches puberty, she is forced to live her life again as a girl and return to the private sphere.[5]

Throughout the year, I hope to explore the practice of the Bacha Posh and understand if and how masculinity is utilized by women as a means of power and/or security.

This practice has risen many questions I have about the Gender IR lens. How does the Gender lens can explain the practice of the Bacha Posh? How is a girl who dresses up as a boy allowed a space in the public sphere even though her family knows she is a girl, but when she turns back into a girl, she is not allowed in that space anymore?  In a world where women are gaining prominence in the in the public sphere, how do masculine and feminine traits play a role in regard to who is given a voice versus who remains silenced?  Most importantly, how does the practice help us understand and possibly change the way we look through the Gender IR lens?

[1] Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. (New York: Broadway Books, 2014).

[2] Wayne C Booth et. al., The Craft of Research, 4th edition. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017), 16.

[3] Rhea Tuli, “Rhea Tuli Olson Scholars Application”, (American University, 2019).

[4] J. Ann Tickner, Laura Sjoberg. “Feminism” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 4th edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

[5] Nordberg

3 Comments on Research Interests

  1. Avatar
    Paroma Mehta
    September 2, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Rhea, what an interesting topic! I’ve personally never heard about the Bacha Posh but I look forward to learning more through your research. While you seem to know quite a lot about your topic already, I wonder if it would be interesting to learn a bit more about the idea of how Bacha Posh affects these women in later stages of their life (i.e. post marriage) & also maybe a more sociological response to the practice as well? I think it could carry some merit in helping you come to terms with the different responses to the practice. I’m excited to read your work!

  2. Avatar
    Savannah Kleeman
    September 3, 2019 at 2:54 am

    Rhea, I really love your research interest and think that it is incredibly relevant in international relations today. I find it interesting how gender roles in IR have shifted over time. I think it could potentially be interesting to research how gender roles have changed and approach your interests from both the modern and historical perspective. It may be beneficial to understand how these roles were developed to better understand how and why they exist today.

    I also liked that you talk about gender roles outside of the traditional binary context to expand the conversation to include personality traits or aspects of an individual that are stereotypically labeled for men or women. This could add a very interesting and new perspective to the current conversation.

    You have a lot of very interesting directions that you can take your future research: gender roles, power dynamics in IR, the role of identity in IR, who in society receives a voice and who does not and why, a historical study about gender roles, and so many other branches. I am very excited to see where your interests take you throughout this year! I wish you the best of luck!

  3. Avatar
    Dr. Boesenecker
    September 11, 2019 at 3:19 am

    Rhea — you are off to a good start in thinking about your research topic area and in starting to read more deeply into that topic area (good connections to scholarship here!). You’ve also received some good comments and suggestions from your peers, so make sure to keep those suggestions in mind as you continue your research. As we have discussed, you’ll want to work towards identifying the broader explanatory puzzle (the “why…?” or “what explains…?” question at the core of the puzzle) as you continue your reading and research. As you do that, you can start to collect information and answer some of the “how…?” questions that you mention here to build a foundation for your research project. Keep reading and researching–I look forward to seeing how the project develops!


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