Unconscious Use of Autoethnography via Blogging

I received a direct email reply to my research design work, and there was an interesting question regarding a shift that was identified in my work from a focus on autoethnography (a/e) toward qualitative interviewing.

I do want to focus on autoethnography. However, I think more people are using this method (or some form of this method) in their doctoral / research blog postings than realize it. Some of the people whose work I read are basically doing this without naming it, and I think that for some of them to name it would become more of a legitimacy issue for them than not (my speculation), though in fact that seems to be what they are doing. I am thinking about trying to look at their experiences without trying to explicitly determine if that is what is happening. By focusing on their experiences and seeing what I can learn, I may in the process exploring if there is instead some unconscious use of a/e.

I wonder if autoethnography is used unconsciously quite often?

15 thoughts on “Unconscious Use of Autoethnography via Blogging

  1. It needs to be ethnography first. Many time such writing is simply reflective writing, not autoethnography. or the self in relation to a specific culture.

    1. Kip, I think you hit on the reason why autoethnography may be so contentious a method!

      From this vantage, how would you define this (especially for those who find it easy to confuse the two)?

      Jeffrey

  2. ‘My personal story is simply one of the raw materials used to produce my product. What I construct stands alone for what it is (a story, a painting, an A/V production), but comes to life when it engages with the response that it instils in the reader/viewer/audience, “… those wonderful people out there in the dark!”’ http://www.geog.le.ac.uk/orm/futures/futuresperformance.htm

    In the best autoethnography, I am always a minor character and/or a conduit to a time, place and other people. I become fictional through writing. I am the sorcerer who reminds the audience of themselves.

    Reflexive writing is more like a diary; private thoughts that perhaps I share, perhaps I do not. They remind me of myself. I get to be Proust in private.

    To do good research, it is myself that often that I need to get out of the way, so writing about my self may help me accomplish this.

    A ‘personal journey’ PhD is often boring and usually takes about twice as much time anyway. If you already know the subject of your research, what is the point of doing it?

    Hubris is one of the best Greek words.

    Your supervisors should be discussing all of this with you. You can say I said so!

    1. Kip (or shall I call you Susan?!)-

      This is delicious!! I especially like the “I am the sorcerer who reminds the audience of themselves;” what a beautiful way of describing autoethnography (a/e)! If this is original (which I believe it may very well be), I can envision quoting it as a current and culturally-timely element of a definition of something that many still struggle with, namely the differences between autoethnography and a more simplistic self-reflective piece.

      I should always ask you to distill things to their simplest level for me (hey, I may already be doing that), as getting this from respected experts carries more weight than my defining it on my own (and gives you some interesting blogging material, as well).

      I do like personal journey PhD research!

      However, that is not quite what I have in mind–I have become more interested in exploring how others have struggled and made meaning of their journeys (ideally, from the framework of others who engage in a/e), which is what I have been blogging about for the past two weeks. I am now struggling with organizing all this into my current module’s research project, especially around the area of troublesome knowledge or transformative learning. I do hope to build upon this project, as I am doing on the previous two, toward my doctoral thesis idea . . .

      Beside, even for people who uses a/e in their PhD or other forms of research (and I have interviewed a number of them), their own learning in the process is often in a direction they did not intend in the beginning of the project.

      The irony is, those researchers often thought they knew the subject ahead of time, though what they found was often very different than what they expected.

      Now, can you sing for me?!

      Jeffrey

  3. Very interesting post and debate. I agree, the line is a fine one between some forms of research that harnesses auto-ethnographic research along with other methods and reflexivity (not to be confused with reflective writing). However, if auto-biographical and auto-ethnographic methods are combined this constitutes a clearer case. What remains rather unacknowledged or under-debated (in literature) is the politics that are involved, issues such as status and prestige of conducting and publishing auto-ethnographic research. So it turns much more into an epistemological question that needs to be taken into account – and addressed.
    I disagree with the notion that reflexive writing happens in diary-style – the main purpose of reflexivity is to identify the connection, relation and position of the researcher. This may cover aspects such as distance/involvement, social markers such as social class, ethnicity etc. in relation to the research conducted and also the question why the research was undertaken. It is meant to allow readers to assess the findings and add transparency as to possible bias.

    1. Britta-

      This is full of items to consider in more depth (thank you!!), though the one that comes to mind first is to what extent do you (as a researcher and blogger) find yourself using this form of writing in your own work / studies / life? In other words, as you discuss some of the epistemological issues that arise, to what extent have you grappled with them, and what have you learned in the process?

      Jeffrey

      1. Thanks, Jeffrey. From my point of view meaning is constructed in collaboration – and this starts with language (think Symbolic Interactionism for instance), even in inner dialogues our reference framework is constructed by the outside and never entirely autonomous. That’s why for me and my research auto-ethnography and the related auto-biographical writing and researching can only be part of a wider triangulatory approach.
        I am aware that in educational sciences there is a strong focus on learning and reflective practice (I think it would add value to reflect on this as discuss the underlying agenda) – but from a sociological perspective this is of limited value for the audiences and readers, they will learn according to their needs which in turn are not static but contingent on time-space configurations. Reflexivity is the approach that deals with decision-making and justification of methods which reflect epistemological and ontological considerations.

        1. Britta, are you saying that the method of inquiry is not only related to epistemological and ontological considerations, but also to the context and aim (based on the differences you noted between sociology and educational research) of the research and researcher?

          Jeffrey

    2. The ‘connection, relation and position of the researcher’ is exactly where autoeth begins, Britta’s definition of reflexivity could be read as one of autoethnography. In reflexive writing, for example, I might write about my personal response to an interviewee, etc. In autoeth I take that response ‘back into the field’ and relate it to the research at hand and the wider culture.

      I wouldnt make too much of the differences, however, but look for the applicability of both for the work at hand. As I have said elsewhere, however, I caution being too married to one’s own ‘experiences’ as the only way to honestly investigate any topic.

      I often come across (struggling) personal journey PhDers who would be better off engaging in a year or two of good therapy.

      1. The point Kip makes is related to what I mentioned earlier in the wider area of political considerations. There is debate over the objectivity (arguably the lowest possible degree within qualitative social constructivist approaches) of purely auto-ethnographic approaches and their publication. Surely, auto-ethnographic research could be triangulated by other methods and the resulting tensions may offer additional scope for methodological debate.

  4. In recent projects I have used flip cameras with participants from ethnic minority communities who were recording their experience of adult learning as enrichment. In another project we used more expensive cameras in a health setting in order to examine what the priorities were for service users. The footage has had multiple benefits and we continue to develop the use of visual technologies and methodologies:

    http://cmactivist.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/18-advantages-of-visual-auto.html