Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WoRD-DoME (Women's Economic Rights and Cultural Difference: Defining Development for the Middle East)
Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-09-30
This interdisciplinary research fills these gaps. It asks: 1. How do assumptions about culture and discourses of cultural difference interact with development agendas? 2. How do gender experts experience and strategize during these encounters? 3. What are the outcomes in terms of official programs and mandates? 4. What do these processes suggest for how gender and culture interact in development work? It has three objectives: 1) Exploring how discourses of cultural difference and women’s rights interact in development agendas. 2) Studying gender experts’ experience with the construction of notions of culture. 3) To develop new theory.
The project is also socially relevant in a world where conservative politics in different parts of the world can use arguments of cultural difference to justify political action against rights-based claims. Those who advocate for expanded rights can find themselves facing accusations of orientalism and western imperialism. This research advances a perspective that acknowledges cultural diversity, but also highlights questions about who defines culture and underlying power relations. The research contributes to broader discussions of how discourses of culture and rights interact in everyday politics.
During WP4, Altan Olcay carried out writing and dissemination activities. At the Graduate Institute, she gave two class presentations to students. She engaged with students and postdoctoral researchers, providing individual feedback on their work. In addition, she participated in seminars across the institute, contributing to the scholarly community at large. Altan-Olcay gave two invited talks, one at the Gender Centre and, the other, under the auspices of the Global Governance Centre. She has presented her work in the EISA, in a panel organized by Elisabeth Prügl on gender experts. She has submitted a panel proposal for the ISA (accepted) and another for the ECPG on gender experts and international governance (under review).
During WP4, Altan-Olcay has produced three articles. Two of these (entitled “Politics of Engagement” and “Making and Unmaking Culture”) are close to completion and will be sent to high-impact ISI journals. A third is on the technology of purposeful ambiguity in gender work. Altan-Olcay and Professor Prügl are also planning to write a co-authored paper. Lastly, the researcher is working on a short piece for a general audience on the theme of ‘engaging men in gender equality.’
Elisabeth Prügl’s guidance was of utmost importance in shaping the research and its outputs. Thanks to the Marie Curie IF Grant and the Gender Centre, Altan-Olcay has developed a presence in European networks and has expanded her research skills.
Scholarship also studies gender experts in international governance. Scholars, especially Altan-Olcay’s supervisor Elisabeth Prügl, approach gender expertise in terms of technologies of governance, highlighting power relations and contestations. Scholarship shows that gender experts negotiate with hegemonic ideologies, which can expand political possibilities and close them off. This important literature documents expert engagements with hegemonic discourses of neoliberalism. However, there is little discussion of the growing strength of discourses of cultural difference. A second article entitled “Making and Unmaking Culture” addresses this gap. It maps out gender experts’ encounters with claims of cultural difference and religious dictates. With each encounter studied, it investigates how gender expertise becomes part of stabilizing or destabilizing widely accepted understandings of what religion and cultural difference entail. The article moves beyond the state of the art by addressing this gap in the literature on gender experts and hegemonic ideologies, and by studying how the pull of both cultural relativism and orientalism can be resisted.
Finally, Altan-Olcay is writing a paper on technologies of gender expertise. Technologies of expertise literature focuses on the ways in which expert knowledge performs power by technicalizing issues of governance, which are actually highly politicized. This work of technicalization includes the production of concepts, tools and their dissemination. This article will move beyond the state of the art by studying political contestations before stakeholders accept a concept. It will move discussions further by highlighting the continuous political work needed to keep concepts stable.
During fieldwork, Altan-Olcay has also discovered new aspects of the study, not anticipated previously. One paper that she is currently formulating is on the implications of multiple temporal horizons of development work. A second paper is on interactions between humanitarian relief work and broader development paradigms. Altan-Olcay is also planning a multi-sited project based on the results of this research. Finally, she is transitioning back to her home university; and intends to use her research and the networks she has established for the benefit of the scholarly community at Koç University and beyond.