Research Design: Communities of Practice for Autoethnographers

I have gotten some feedback from some colleague who I shared these ideas with, and there was some general encouragement for me to explore the option related to the community of practice idea (for my next Lancaster PhD module research project). Surprisingly, there was also some encouragement to try a different strategy of inquiry for the benefit of experiencing something new as well as to experience the meaning-making process from another perspective.

Taking this to heart, this is the idea I am now developing for my research project. I know it needs to be further developed and elaborated upon, though I think it is clear enough for at least some initial feedback:

1. Research Problem
Autoethnographic research is growing in usage, though is still not widely accepted in traditional academic research circles. With the dispersion of advocates of this research, there would seem to be a need for a the engagement and support of (dispersed) communities of practice around those who engage in this work. Without knowing anything about these communities,including whether they exist and what technologies they may employ, it may be more of a challenge to understand the process of engaging and creating this research strategy. We need to know more about the role of communities of practice in the lives of autoethnographic researchers.
2. Studies Addressing the Problem
(TBD) – very little, thus far
3. Deficiencies in the Literature
(TBD) – a lot, thus far
4. Significance
(TBD) – already included above, will be further developed after brief literature review above

What is the role of communities of practice play in the lives of those who engage in autoethnographic research?

Review of the Literature
This will revolve around autoethnography, communities of practice, and dispersed (technology usage in) communities of practice

Research Design
1. Philosophical Worldview
I am approaching this from a constructivist / critical theorist paradigm
2. Strategy of Inquiry
I am seeking to use Narrative Inquiry
3. Research Method
Review of published autoethnographic research documents or audio-visuals of informants, and interviews

Research Questions
(TBD) – I am still working on these

Data Collection
See Research Method above. Will tape interviews and transcribe recording. Will read documents / view audio-visual.

Analysis and Interpretation
(TBD) – Iam still working on these

Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability
(TBD) – I am stillworking on these


Next Steps

I appreciate any thoughts . . . .

16 thoughts on “Research Design: Communities of Practice for Autoethnographers

  1. If you plan to do a qualitative study (and it certainly sounds like it) you may want to dig a bit further in the literature about the nature of qualitative inquiry itself. Terms like Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability are an attempt to mimic positivist approaches and quantitative methods and do not fit well within a qualitative paradigm. Some may give you ‘parallel’ or alternative words to replace these, but (IMHO) this just avoids the problem that a qualitative study is about something else and should not be ‘evaluated’ using quantitative principles.

    Your review of the philosophy behind qualitative work should certainly produce a more consistent concept and language for your project.

  2. This is a great topic for research. Being an autoethnographer, I admit that I have never before felt as alone/lonesome in my work as when I performed my autoethnographic research. It was so difficult to perform the study that I hesitate to recommend this methodology to others, at least to newcomers in research (like myself). The knowledge about the method and the ontological foundations of it is scarce among those who are set to tutor or advise the research. It is wise to be prepared that one has to go outside the path of common research, and that this will cost a lot – not to say demand courage to take the resistance from other (traditional) researchers who think they know all the answers.

    When this is said: My comission told me that my project was a risky business, but that risk-taking shall be rewarded in research, at lest when it turns out successfully 🙂

    But the loneliness along the way is not only my experience. A community of practice among autoethnographers would be great. To be included in other research communities of practice would be even better.

    Luckily, I was kind of prepared for this loneliness, since I had read this paper:

    Good luck with this work!
    Vigdis S Jensen

  3. There is a ‘community’ around autoeth, but like with most creative endeavors, it is made up of creative people who tend to ‘go it alone’ ultimately.
    The autoeth email group on Yahoo offers support. There is a community in the UK and Europe (now we are talking small community here) as well as those working in the USA. There are also people in Australia and NZ that I know of. I mention these geographic locations because sometimes support is needed face to face.
    The example above in FQS written by Sally: she did her work in Australia, but came to see me just before she had her viva. I believe that my support for what she was about to submit proved helpful at the time. She also returned later after her success and shared her work with people here in a seminar.
    Conferences are a great way to build community as well and there are many other than just the Illinois one.
    Hope that this helps solidify the concept of community a bit.

  4. One comment to your (preliminary) purpose:

    A question to ponder: Will your work focus on communities of autoethnographers, whether they exist or should be built (out), or will you focus on the place for autoethnographers within existing (and more traditional) research communities of practice? Cf Wenger and his concepts of peripherality and marginality – different, but both types of non-participation. Peripherality as an enabling aspect of participation; marginality as problematic for full participation.

  5. @Kip Jones

    Thank you for taking a read and your feedbacks.

    I know exactly what you mean about Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability. I really am not fond of including them at all in qualitative work, though recently had to rewrite to include a discussion about how I, as a qualitative researcher, can be trusted. When I chose these terms here, I was using them from Creswell (2008), with a nod to the naturalistic inquiry of Lincoln and Guba (1985), which I had been encouraged to get and use for my work. By putting them in my design, I was trying to show that I am aware of and somehow need to discuss these topics. However, I really really appreciate your pointing out that I may have been alluding to using the concepts in a big mess (which I have done on occassion before).

    I really like what you said about “an attempt to mimic positivist approaches and quantitative methods and do not fit well within a qualitative paradigm. Some may give you ‘parallel’ or alternative words to replace these, but (IMHO) this just avoids the problem that a qualitative study is about something else and should not be ‘evaluated’ using quantitative principles.” With this stated, how else can you demonstrate that you as a qualitative researcher can be trusted to present what you found? I know that because I know you and your work to an extent–but for somebody who does not, what are some of the possible answers about those issues?


  6. @Vigdis Stokker Jensen

    Really glad for your feedback here. Vigdis. Were you primarily along when you did your work? If so, how did you manage it without colleagues for support and guidance? Have you found such a community since you started / finished your work?


  7. @Kip Jones

    I suspect you may be right about the ‘community’ around autoethnography, though the creative element is rather interesting.

    I am interested in seeing if that is the case, and otherwise what else can we learn about the topic (not to mention I have another 5 weeks and need to have a research paper to submit at the end, so it may as well be another aspect of the area I am so interested in!).

    I know about the Yahoo Group, but not about many others (and certainly not about F2F communities). Some references or links / assessments to them will be helpful, if I may inquire more from you.

    Just discovered the FQS reference . . . not having read it yet, can you talk a bit about how she found you and your work? Another small-world story?

    I just so happen to be looking for conferences, as I may have an article I recently worked on and which received some positive feedback with some great suggestions for next steps that I may be looking to submit for review . . . Any suggestions for any conferences? I am submitting for my 2010 conference dance card now, so the sooner the better for possibilities.

    Kip, your words always help me get the concept better! Thank you!


  8. @Vigdis Stokker Jensen

    Vigdis, really helpful question about communities and autoethnographers. I was not even thinking in that area yet, though see how this issue can arise. I was thinking more along the lines of to what extent do autoethnographers have a community at all, though can certainly see how your question really helps with the follow-up, regardless of how that question is responded to.

    I need to process this a little more . . .


  9. I was primarily alone, yes. No community. My tutors knew nothing about autoeth besides what they read in Denzin & Lincoln. I was the one tutoring them, actually. There was also a lot of resistance, mainly because they did not understand the depths or consequences of this concept. One of the consequences being, like Kip Jones writes, that you cannot talk about reliability, validity etc when you use this method. You cannot actually do that in any qualitative method, but a lot of people, also researchers doing qualitative work, are still very positivistic in their heads, and then their work become some hybrid between qualitative and quantitative work.

    (I used Rorty on these matters, who suggests first intersubjectivity, and next solidarity. I also used the concept of transparency – in this situation meaning that what I did and how I did it was transparent in the text, I was very open about it. Also I used reflectiveness, being self-reflective throughout the whole text.)

    I managed to find one person who had performed autobiographic work, which is not quite the same, but with some similarities, and had a couple of conversations with that person via mail.

    When this is said, I was also encouraged to continue this work by my tutors, because there had not been research like this at my university; actually autoeth studies are rare, if existing at all, in Nordic countries (I live in Norway).

    If possible, I would like very much to read your paper when it is finished.

  10. More about this type of research being trustworthy:

    Autoeth is said to be evocative, performative and thus communicative (Holman Jones). Using the concept of dialogicality from Mikhail Bakhtin, the communicative part was very important in my work. One could say that every piece of text is in a way communicative, but I took this one step further: in the introduction I invited the reader to go with me on the journey through the landscape of my text, because I as a writer am dependent of the reader for the meaning-making of the text. Once the text leaves my hand, it becomes an “orphan” and the only way it can gain new or richer meaning, is when a reader relates the text to her own life and thus makes it meaningful – from a different horizon than mine. A mutual effort.

  11. @Vigdis Stokker Jensen

    So tell me, given your experiences–as you were working along, even with tutors who knew less about this than you did–where did you turn for support, if there were not some community around? Maybe the question should instead be, “Did you need any support outside of your own resources at all?”


  12. @Vigdis Stokker Jensen

    I have come across references to Mikhail Bakhtin regarding autoethnographic research, though have not read his work so feel at a loss when it comes up.

    Along these lines, remind me again–how are you continuing to pursue this, having already struggled so much to get finished with it?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.