International Relations Program to release open-access research

The International Relations (IR) Program on Friday will launch an ongoing seminar discussing research conducted in Indonesia by faculty and students, making the data available for anyone at Tufts to study.

This open-access and interdisciplinary research project allows any interested students and faculty, regardless of their department, to use the data for their own analysis, according to Director of the IR Program and Associate Professor of Economics Drusilla Brown.

“The idea is to give students the chance to be part of a cutting-edge piece of research,” Brown said. 

Over the course of the semester, the seminar series will present the data collected from research conducted last summer, according to Brown. The series is meant to invite multidisciplinary discussion on further development of the research, she added.

“We wanted to have a seminar to talk about issues [and] directions of analysis to take and to understand the data set,” Brown said. “From these seminars, people get ideas.” 

Faculty collaborators in the project thus far span the Community Health Program and Departments of Economics, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology, she said.

The research, funded by the International Labor Organization and the Australian Agency for International Development, examine the reasons behind women’s low workforce participation in Indonesia.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Nimah Mazaheri in June led a field team that included psychology Ph.D Laura Babbitt (LA ’11) and four undergraduate students to East Java, where they conducted interviews of various members of the population, including unemployed and employed women, civil servants and families. 

The team then used those initial field conversations to formulate a survey that was randomly administered to 1,000 men and women in Java, according to Mazaheri.

In preparation for the field investigation, senior Blair Read and three other undergraduates were hired in May and June to compile an extensive literary review of existing published studies related to this research topic, Read explained.

Senior Katherine Monson, who worked on the review from an economic angle, said the study of women’s employment barriers lends itself well to interdisciplinary collaboration.

“You can look at it from a feminist angle, from the view of a labor organization, from a cultural perspective,” Monson said. “It’s about wanting to get that 360 view.”

“I think there’ll be a lot of interesting results that we might not be expecting, especially since there’s the psychological perspective added to it,” Read, one of two undergraduates applying the research to a senior thesis, said. 

While the complete scope of the collected data has yet to be analyzed, Mazaheri said preliminary findings indicate that men’s traditional social dominance may have the strongest influence on women’s low labor market participation in Indonesia.

“Some of the main barriers to women’s employment in Indonesia were relating to patriarchy and cultural norms that would prevent the ability of women to work outside of their domestic responsibilities,” Mazaheri said.

Other important factors to consider include high unemployment levels and a surplus of unskilled labor in Java, he said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Richard Eichenberg expressed excitement not only about potential implications of the research data, but also about the impact of the project on the IR community.

“The primary reason that it’s exciting is that this is intellectual camaraderie – having students and faculty work as a team is great,” Eichenberg said. “What has largely been an interdisciplinary teaching program is now an interdisciplinary research program.” 

Monson said she has enjoyed the unique opportunity to work alongside faculty through this project.

“There’s a different relationship that comes when you work with [faculty] as a research assistant,” she said.

Brown said the IR Program is looking to hire more undergraduate research assistants this year to work on the project. Undergraduates have been involved in the project since its inception and will continue to play integral roles as the research develops over the next few years, she explained.

“This could be a project that as a community we use long-term,” Brown said. “And if we’re lucky there will be other opportunities to go into the field and students can get involved in that.”

Brown said that this open-access, interdisciplinary project is the first of many that the IR Program intends to house.

“Hopefully within a year, IR will have four of these projects,” she said, adding that the other projects in the works aim to attract students and faculty with focuses ranging from the natural sciences to literary and visual studies. 

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