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Research Portfolio Post #9: End of Term Mentor Meeting

I met with my mentor for a final meeting on Wednesday for roughly an hour. We wrapped up a few things regarding my research design and things to consider for SISU 306. Mainly we went over my research design and research question. Moreover we also discussed what my next steps would be regarding my literature review and acquiring primary source documents.

I will be doing an interpretivist discourse analysis and revising essentially what I wrote for my third research design sketch. My biggest concerns going into my meeting was refining my question and getting feedback on how to organize my literature review. I think I got some valuable feedback on my literature review process. My mentor mentioned that I can use the literature review to provide some methodological background to my paper. Questions like mine have been most famously answered using ethnography or case study, not discourse analysis. So, I think that I will be using my literature review to provide context for my choice in discourse analysis. I also will be using my literature review to feature work that has provided theoretical frameworks for understanding why governments and international development organizations respond to global issues the way they do.

Lastly we went over some next steps. I mentioned that I was struggling to find two primary source documents that were in direct response to some of the legislation I cited in my research design. My mentor reminded me not to forget about reaching out to the library for help. So one major next step would be to book consistent appointments with the library. That is because accumulating primary source documents is essentially the first step to discourse analysis. So, I do not want there to be gaps in my analysis, simply because I could not find documents using the library databases. I may or may not need access to archives so, that is a conversation I would need to have with Clement Ho and Professor Esser. Another step I identified is scheduling time during the semester to have check ins about discourse analysis specifically. My mentor mentioned that he is not as much of an expert in discourse analysis as other professors may be and that it might make sense to stay in touch with Professor Boesenecker.

Another step that I decided might be best for me to do is review my notes on interpretivism and do the supplementary course readings on discourse analysis listed in the syllabus. I know that the knowledge I am after can only be acquired through an interpretivist methodology. However, I know that the terms of the methodology are very new. Also, I think my research will be more sound with a deeper and richer understanding of the topic.

Research Portfolio Post #8: Data Sources & Interpretivist Research

I am proposing to research international development, human rights, and prostitution. I would like to explain how it became possible that leading development/human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and UN Women began to support decriminalization of sex work as a policy solution in the late 2000s and 2010s.[1] I am studying development and human rights discourses on decriminalization of prostitution. Within those discourses we see sex work represented in the following ways: sex work as “work” and sex work as criminal.

Moreover, there is a discourse that represents sex workers as empowered workers, another discourse where sex workers are represented as victims of trafficking/exploitation and being incapable of consent. Within the discourse of sex work as work there is another discourse that represents decriminalization of sex work as a harm reduction model rather than a means to solely recognize economic freedom. I propose to study this in order to help my reader better understand how the counter discourse of sex work as work became mainstream in development/human rights circles and what are the intersubjective meanings of work, consent, exploitation, and victims. I also hope to help my reader understand what strategies and policy solutions became impossible or possible as this counter discourse became mainstream.

The first source I found has representations of sex work as not criminal. This source doesn’t call for decriminalization explicitly, but it illustrates how those within this discourse were weary of strategies that were punitive in nature. The source I found is a record of an open floor session at a development conference.[2] In the text, sex worker activist Cheryl Overs and NGO workers Meena Seshu and Nandinee Bandhopadhyay discuss what they interpret to be the reasons for why the development industry must move away from representations of sex workers as victims that need to be rescued and rehabilitated. One thing I noticed about this primary source is that those within conversation use the term sex-worker multiple times and distinguish between sex work and trafficking.[3] It could be possible that this text is an example of how sex work is represented in the discourse around decriminalization of sex work as harm reduction. I posit this because there is mention of how the health and economic security of sex workers is jeopardized by punitive measures.[4] There is some mention of consent and sex work as work but the greater concern between the three discussing the topic, is the health and human rights of sex workers.[5]

The second source I found is a blog post from the non-profit Nordic Model Now. The blog post discusses how decriminalization is not a solution.[6] It represents what those in the previously mentioned source would describe as sex work as criminal and exploitative. I identified a few tensions between this source and the other source I mentioned. The blog post discusses that most people who participate want to leave and that those who are usually trafficked are impoverished.[7] The source from the conference also said this however both sources did not share interpretations of why this is the case. The way poverty was discussed in the blog post allowed for the representation of those who partake in sex work to be represented as victims while the way poverty was discussed in the conference recording poverty led to be an explanation for why less criminalization would reduce harm. I assume as I continue to find more sources this tension and others will become more apparent and recognizable. I also think I will be able to better identify where these tensions come from.

[1] “The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) – The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW).” Accessed November 8, 2019.

[2] Seshu, M. & Bandhopadhyay, N. Development (2009) 52: 13.

[3] Ibid pg 13-14

[4] Ibid pg 14-15

[5] Ibid pg 14

[6] Admin. “Lies, Damn Lies and Ignoring Statistics: How the Decriminalisation of Prostitution Is No Answer.” Nordic Model Now!, October 1, 2017.

[7] Ibid pg 2-5

Research Portfolio Post #7: Qualitative Data Sources

My research question is what explains success or failure in sex worker based activist groups campaigns to decriminalize sex work. The values I will include for my dependent variable is full decriminalization, partial decriminalization (the Nordic Model), and criminalization.  Full decriminalization would be operationalized for success, partial decriminalization would be mixed success, and continued criminalization would be considered failure.

Since I am using legal definitions such as decriminalization to measure my dependent variable, the qualitative data sources I am using to operationalize my dependent variable are focused on legislation. One of the data sources I am using to operationalize my dependent variable is the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act of 2003[1]. This act authorized the full decriminalization of sex work with the intention of improving the working conditions and health of sex workers.[2] I have also found a news source that confirms that this was a sex worker activist informed piece of legislation.[3]  Catherine Haley, the activist that co-founded the organization New Zealand Prostitutes Collective is featured in the article. I include this information because it helps confirm that decriminalization would be considered a way to operationalize success when measuring the outcomes of sex-worker based activism.

Moving forward I intend to operationalize my dependent variable two ways. First, I will be finding qualitative evidence that illustrates whether there is the presence of criminalization, partial decriminalization, and decriminalization in each of my cases. I will use ratified legislation specifically for cases where there is either full decriminalization or partial decriminalization. In cases where there is failure (continued criminalization), I will include draft decriminalization bills or policy briefs from sex worker based activist groups or NGOs. Secondly, I will seek out qualitative sources such as news articles or blog posts, to find out if sex-worker based activist groups think favorably of laws ratified. I will be doing this because I understand that legislation when implemented may not always align with the intentions of activist groups.



  1. New Zealand Ministry of Justice, Prostitution Reform Act 2003 No 28 (as at 26 November 2018), Public Act Accessed October 26, 2019.
  2. Romo, Vanessa. “Queen Honors Activist Who Fought To Decriminalize Prostitution : The Two-Way : NPR.” June 4, 2018 (Accessed October 26, 2019)



[1] “Prostitution Reform Act 2003 No 28 (as at 26 November 2018), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation.” Accessed October 27, 2019.

[2] Ibid. Section 3, Articles a-e

[3] “Queen Honors Activist Who Fought To Decriminalize Prostitution : The Two-Way : NPR.” Accessed October 28, 2019.

Research Portfolio Post #6: Quantitative Data Sources

I am proposing to research human rights law and feminist theory because I want to find out what explains the variation in response to human trafficking between countries. in order to help my reader, understand what the barriers are to progress for women in the international human rights system.

For my preliminary research I found the United Nations Surveys of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems Series, Waves 1-10, 1970-2006. The entire data set focuses on crime counts and different facets of a country’s criminal investigation and court process.[1] There are also recordings of how many crimes are prosecuted and budgets allocated for policing.[2]  Most variables, including the ones mentioned, are measured on an interval scale in this data set.

One major limitation of this data set is that it doesn’t solely focus on human trafficking so there is no difference made between the different types of human trafficking (i.e bonded labor, prostitution, etc). If those differences were made clear it would be much easier to discuss context, cultural factors, and local histories. Not all forms of human trafficking are the same, thus not all forms will appear in every country at the same rates. I also think another limitation of the data set is that it isn’t very recent. I think the time period is large enough, but it would have been nice if there was survey data collected in the recent past. I think this because I would be able to provide some more insight into what the current trends are and how it relates to past years data.


United Nations Office at Vienna. Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch. United Nations Surveys of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems Series, Waves 1-10, 1970-2006. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2010-07-22.



[1] United Nations Office at Vienna. Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch. United Nations Surveys of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems Series, Waves 1-10, 1970-2006. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2010-07-22.


[2] Ibid

Research Portfolio Post #5: Research Puzzle Proposal

I am proposing to research Western feminist jurisprudence because I want to know why some human rights practices and laws are unsuccessful/successful in improving the conditions of women to help my reader understand what barriers exist in the international system that impede progress for women.

It is becoming relatively mainstream to recognize gender equality as a part of democratization and human rights law rather than a separate issue within these topics.[1] This is evident by the increased awareness of gender-based violence and the economic status of women in the Global South. This trend can be traced back to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979.[2]  The proposed International Violence Against Women Act is an example of how the heightened awareness of women’s issues has influenced U.S foreign policy.[3]

However, the increased awareness has not led to necessarily better outcomes for women. There is an ongoing debate over the validity and effectiveness of gender mainstreaming.[4] There is also some concern that increased awareness is really a result of feminist discourses being co-opted.[5] Another debate within this research puzzle is if an increased reliance on policing and legislation to promote gender equality creates more problems for women.[6]

The significance of my research topic gets at the core debate within feminist discourses: should we work towards reforming patriarchal systems or should we dismantle them? In the context of my research question, the significance would be related to if the inadequacies of human rights responses are a result of an inherently flawed system or if we can parse out what works and what doesn’t. The policy implications can go both ways. Whether the research can be used to highlight something fundamentally wrong with institutions or to pinpoint areas for improvement will be both dependent of the reader and my findings. I am also open to seeing how my research can question whether it makes sense to research gender equality from this perspective.

My research is important within feminist circles because it also addresses the issue of solidarity. One major debate in feminist discourses is if transnational solidarity is possible. Can women from the Global North ever be in true solidarity with women from the Global South? Does the international system reproduce a hierarchy or does western feminist discourses inadvertently play into it? Is it both? Is there an inherent conflict of interest between both or is it more nuanced?  This is an important debate to consider because the of policy implications. We may have to rethink how we understand gender in relation to human rights abuses, conflict, migration/asylum, trafficking, and most certainly development.

I have a few specific research questions that I would like to explore. One aspect of this puzzle I would like to understand is what factors make it more likely for women’s equality to be used as a justification for some interventions but not others. Moreover, I would like to understand why women’s rights was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In answering this question, I would hope to find out what makes gender equality a mobilizer for domestic and international support rather than other types of equality (racial, ethnic, class, religious, etc).

Another question I would be interested in exploring is why punitive measures are understood to be a necessary means of preventing gender-based violence. A case specific question I could ask is why the practice of detaining prostitutes is used in South Asia to stop sex trafficking, if prostitutes are essentially the victims of sex trafficking. In answering this question, I would hope to understand the reigning “logic” that allows for policies like this to occur.


Hilary Charlesworth, “Not Waving but Drowning: Gender Mainstreaming and Human Rights

in the United Nations,” Harvard Human Rights Journal 18 (2005): 1

UN General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 18 December 1979, A/RES/34/180, available at: [accessed 29 September 2019]


Hunt, Krista (2006). “Embedded Feminism’ and the War on Terror”. In Hunt, Krista; Rygiel, Kim (eds.). (En)Gendering the War on Terror. War Stories and Camouflaged Politics. Hampshire: Ashgate. pp. 51–71.


U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, International Violence Against Women Act of 2018, 115thCong., 2ndstsess., H.R. 5034. Accessed on 29 September 2019, Art. I-XVII, Sec. 2.


Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2012. “Carceral politics as gender justice? The “traffic in women” and neoliberal circuits of crime, sex, and rights.” Theory and Society 41, no. 3: 233-259,

[1] Hilary Charlesworth, “Not Waving but Drowning: Gender Mainstreaming and Human Rights

in the United Nations,” Harvard Human Rights Journal 18 (2005): 1

[2] UN General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 18 December 1979, A/RES/34/180, available at: [accessed 29 September 2019]

[3] U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, International Violence Against Women Act of 2018, 115thCong., 2ndstsess., H.R. 5034. Accessed on 29 September 2019, Art. I-XVII, Sec. 2.

[4] Charlesworth, 2

[5] Hunt, Krista (2006). “Embedded Feminism’ and the War on Terror”. In Hunt, Krista; Rygiel, Kim (eds.). (En)Gendering the War on Terror. War Stories and Camouflaged Politics. Hampshire: Ashgate. pp. 51–71.

[6] Bernstein, Elizabeth. “Carceral Politics as Gender Justice? the “Traffic in Women” and Neoliberal Circuits of Crime, Sex, and Rights.” Theory and Society 41, no. 3 (05, 2012): 233-59,

Research Portfolio Post #4: Article Comparison

The first article I found discussed the idea of gender mainstreaming and its flaws when applied to international human rights law.[1] The article was by Hilary Charlesworth and titled “Not Waving but Drowning: Gender Mainstreaming and Human Rights in the United Nations”. The second article I found was titled “International Human Rights Law, Feminist Jurisprudence, and Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return”: Turning the Wheel”. This article focuses on how feminists can use human rights law to their advantage both domestically and internationally.[2]

Both sources are interesting and speak to each other. I would say that both pieces are legal research and follow interpretivist methodologies. I believe both articles utilize discourse analysis to explain differing outcomes of applying international law. They use the literature review to ground their analysis in relation to preexisting theories. Then, both articles go into detail on which theories are most relevant and can explain the knowledge they have generated through the research they have done.

I chose these two articles because they do not necessarily disagree with each other, rather they offer insights into the same conversations. Both articles contribute to an understanding of how law can be influenced by feminist jurisprudence. The articles also identify areas of improvement in feminist jurisprudence.

Both articles are incredibly important. For one they offer an overview of some important terminology and legal constructs. Since I have not had any classes on legal theory and international law, this was important background information that I needed to understand early on in my research process. One major problem with both articles is that they are articles that have been peer reviewed for acceptance into legal journals rather than social science journals. So, they did not look as familiar as the articles I had read for class. However, I found the literature reviews for both to be more straightforward and more helpful.


[1] Hilary Charlesworth, “Not Waving but Drowning: Gender Mainstreaming and Human Rights in the United Nations,” Harvard Human Rights Journal 18 (2005): 1-3

[2] Barbara Stark, “International Human Rights Law, Feminist Jurisprudence, and Nietzsche’s Eternal Return: Turning the Wheel,” Harvard Women’s Law Journal 19 (1996): 169-200

Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

When I first began the readings the terms methodology and ontology were new concepts. Now I think I am starting to understand what these concepts mean. To me ontology is what things we question, and methodology is how we decide we will answer our questions about social reality.

I think research can study both things we cannot see like social norms and decision making and things we can see. I think that is why both ontology and methodology are so important. While we can ask questions about most things, we must ask questions and develop research designs in a certain way to make some sound conclusions. Social science research is not about finding an objective truth. So if we understand that the goal of research is to create new knowledge, we can study most things.

To me, I don’t think a researcher can be truly objective. A researcher can make sound conclusions and create internally valid research designs. However, that does not make them immune to bias at all. A researcher cannot separate themselves from the world that they study. Social science research can’t be excluded from the social world. In our quest to find answers, we ultimately create the reality we intended to study. When we decide on definitions of concepts, questions we will ask, and the conclusions we make, we create new understandings. We can always observe social facts, but ultimately, we must decide what those facts mean to gain a better understanding of reality.  I am not sure if it matters if research is objective. Before, I believed objectivity was the only way to measure the worthiness of a research project. Now I understand that social science is not about finding absolute truths, but about cultivating knowledge.

For example, we discussed the Wedeen’s piece titled “Acting “As If”: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria” in class and how she used notes to explain how she was a moving part in the social reality she was studying. In her first note she explained how she immersed herself in the culture of the people she studied, the backgrounds of the people she studied, and the places she stayed when completing the research.[1] This example is what came to mind when I thought about if we can be separate from our research.  Prior to Olson’s I would have saw this as an example of a lack of objectivity and a flaw. Now that I understand what social science research is, I realize that Weeden acknowledging her background is a part of the knowledge that was produced.



[1] Wedeen, Lisa. “Acting “As If”: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 40, no. 3 (1998): pg. 503


Research Portfolio Post #2: Mentor Meeting

This past Wednesday, I met with my mentor for about an hour to discuss my research interests. My mentor, Dr. Hardig, is also a research methodology professor. So, we spent the meeting discussing the different ways he guides his students on finding their research puzzles. While I am still struggling to decide on a particular topic, I have a more clear idea.

After my mentor read my first research progress post, he said that I might be more interested in interpretivist methodologies. My mentor said to still keep an open mind but from what he could discern from my first blog post, my research interests lean towards interpretivism. We discussed how there may be some merit in first deciding what types of knowledge (neo-positivist vs interpretivist) interests me more before settling on a topic. Trying to think of my research interests in this way helped a lot and I was able to cross off some ideas.

Another tip he offered to help me decide on a research project is to consider what is feasible and what is not. When I think of my original research question, I know one major obstacle could be the language of the primary source documents. I also realized how some of the interpretivist questions I want to ask could be better answered with ethnography. As a result of time and limited resources, an ethnography could be difficult.

The way Dr. Hardig explained discourses to me made me realize I am more interested in finding out how people come to understand ideas. From his explanation, I understand discourse analysis to be about finding how people come to understand social reality and how that understanding is influenced or changed overtime. I know a discourse analysis may be more accessible to me but the language barrier could still be an obstacle.

I think our meeting was very productive and I did leave with a few next steps. Dr. Hardig suggested I pay close attention to the articles concerning interpretivist methodology included in the class syllabus. He also proposed that I write down the questions I have for each topic to help decide which puzzle to research. I also decided a good next step would be to do some more preliminary research on feminisms in the middle east to identify which branches of feminist thought I will focus on. Hardig mentioned that there are two main groups of feminists: secular and Islamist.

I am still not sure if I should stick to the topic I originally proposed. I know regardless of topic I am interested in looking at discourses. My major concern is identifying what exactly will I study. I understand that is a major part of the process of research but it can be hard to embrace this level of uncertainty.

Research Portfolio Post #1: Research Interests

When I applied to be an Olson Scholar, I hoped to explore feminisms before the Arab Spring to see if they influenced at all understandings of democracy within the Middle East and North Africa. I wanted to pay specific attention to internet feminist activism. Several facets of this research puzzle struck me as interesting. I hoped to explore these questions below:

  • What do marginalized people under autocratic regimes understand democracy to mean? How does living in oppressive states that mimic democracy influence perceptions of freedom and civil rights?
  • Do grassroots movements abroad or locally impact understandings of democracy?
  • What did feminism in MENA look like during what is considered the third wave of feminism (1990s to early 2010s) in the West?
  • How does feminism inform understandings of postcolonial struggles and democratization?
  • How does the internet influence the translation of understandings of freedom from one movement to another movement? Is solidarity easier to establish?

This research topic intrigued me because I wanted to understand how oppressed people understand human rights and democracy. I know in the West, particularly the United States, it is marginalized people that have largely been responsible for movements that have led to the democratization of society.

Prior coursework in feminist theory drove me to embark on this research topic. The feminist theory that inspired me derived from Lila Abu-Lughod’s ethnographic research. Specifically, two of Abu-Lughod’s conclusions sparked the questions above. The idea that women’s issues in the Middle East are not ahistorical but deeply connected to a history of imperialism and that transnational solidarity among feminists is necessary for democratization were striking to me (Abu Lughod 783-790). So naturally I wanted to answer the questions what were the feminist movements in the Middle East, how do they define human rights, and what can be learned from them. Also, the intersection of feminist theory and post-colonization intrigued because of my background as a first-generation Haitian-American.

Before I began my studies at SIS, I was interested in studying diasporas and transnational activism. Also, I was interested in legal issues concerning boundaries (carceral spaces, contested borders, occupied territory, etc) and what those boundaries mean for diasporas confined to them. After some reflection, I have have been wanting to change my research question. I think it would be interesting to study forced deportation and incarceration and how that impacts democratization and gender equity.  I would hope to explore these issues using examples from diasporas in the Middle East and Caribbean.

While I am passionate about the research question I originally proposed, I have some reservations. I know I already have some ideas of what I want my answers for my research questions to be. I fear this research project could become more about filling in the blanks. There have been fewer opportunities for me to explore the research interests I had before SIS. So, I know it could be potentially more rewarding and challenging studying something different. I realize I have the opportunity to delve deeper into a complex topic through the Olson Scholar Program. The regional requirement for this major makes it difficult to explicitly explore issues concerning diasporas, boundaries, and legal theory. I also think having a better understanding of what people within diasporas understand transnational solidarity to mean could make me think about my original research question differently.


Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women really Need Saving? Anthropoligical Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others.” American Anthropologist, vol. 104, no. 3, 2002, pp. 783-790. ProQuest,