Autoethnography

This week we are discussing and taking a dive into autoethnography.  Essentially, this is the idea of using personal experience and anecdotes in a way to enhance our research.  It almost sounds like an oxymoron of sorts; how could one’s own personal experience be a part of research? I think after taking in the information from the article I can now see how it can be used.  FIrst, we get a kind of broad description of this method of research. It is described as describing and analyzing personal experience to understand cultural experience. From there, In the next section, it is brought up that this type of research would widley rely on epiphanies, which are the larger moments that are more likely to stick with a person after any event.  It made me reflect on some of my own experiences and where these epiphanies have happened for me. I thought that was a particularly good point, as epiphanies are what happens when something truly begins to make sense to someone. By using these examples in writing and research, we can see how the overall point of what it is we are talking about has affected us and in some cases acted as the inspiration to make the inquiry that we did, which I feel is very important.  It is kind of like not losing sight of what is important to you, in a sense. That personal experience that brought you here in the first place should be something that is always in the back of your head, as that is conceivably the driving force behind the decision to do the research in the first place.

The next part of this entire method is the ways in which the author can go about showing these things.  “Most often through the use of conversation, showing allows writers to make events engaging and emotionally rich. “Telling” is a writing strategy that works with “showing” in that it provides readers some distance from the events described so that they might think about the events in a more abstract way.”  This is how the authors described it and I found it to be the most helpful in terms of truly understanding what it was to “show” and how the “showing” shoud be done. The idea of removing one from the larger picture is a great way to visualize how something is affecting people on a much deeper kind of level.  It becomes very circumstantial in that there are variables surrounding each individual tale that can all aggregate to a reason behind why and how someone is feeling from a particular event or instance. I am a big proponent of using personal anecdotes in writing, I just never saw these personal stories as a tool that could be used in the type of academic research we are conditioning ourselves to do.  

This reading brought up many good questions for me, as follows: 

  1. Which other research methods do you think would work best with this method?  Is it universal in its application to all of them? 
  2. What kinds of studies could be shut off from the possibility of using this type of method, and why? 
  3. Does personal experience really matter in terms of academic research? 

I again want to take a moment to say I hope all of you are doing okay, and thank Dr. Nelson for doing his part in creating a plan for us to move forward with our semester.  Just like I’m sure is true for all of you as well, I am very much looking forward to resuming our studies and program as it was intended.

Autoethnography: Blurring the Lines

Blog 5: March 23, 2020

Reaction to:

  • “Autoethnography: An Overview” by Carolyn Ellis, Troy, E. Adams, & Arthur P. Bochner
  • Grant & Zeeman. “Whose story is it? An autoethnography concerning narrative identity” by Alec J. Grant and Laetitia Zeeman
  • “An Autoethnography on Learning about Autoethnography” by Sarah Wall

“But there were losers, and the local graveyard in my town tells part of this story (although, of course, no headstone is testament to this.) My mother was buried there in 1974 after she hanged herself.” (Grant & Zeeman)

In his autoethnographic short story, Alec J. Grant provides an account of his early childhood. It is a moving story that weaves narrative elements such as suspense and evocative imagery with social commentary, writing theory, and research method. Throughout the story, Grant hints to the dysfunctionality of his mother, who is mentally ill and an alcoholic and his absentee father. Even his teachers in his small, rural Scottish town were, sadly, not very helpful. He describes them as “monsters and to be avoided” with a “most of them” in parentheses. Grant was a lonely boy who was able to overcome his struggles to be “educated at a Ph.D. level” and had meaningful careers as a mental health nurse, a health and behavioral writer, lecturer, and teacher, practitioner, researcher, and patient.” He is now a lecturer at the University of Brighton, England, where he is interested in “narrative inquiry as it relates to mental health practices.” Grant has devoted his life to helping others struggling with mental illness.   

For Grant, writing is therapeutic. How can one ever get over the suicide of a mother? Grant writes to make sense of himself and his childhood trauma (Ellis et al.). He also writes to question the “cultural narrative of well-turned-out adolescents” where society wants to hear of “promotions, degrees, higher degrees, more sporting successes.” People, especially people in small towns, do not want to hear (or share) stories of battles with alcoholism, drugs, “broken marriages, broken people, broken lives.” Grant was courageous enough to share his story to help others “validate their pain” and “to better cope with their circumstances” (Ellis et al., 5). In turn, he was able to experience a catharsis, a release of bottled emotions.

What is an autoethnography? According to the “Autoethnography: An Overview,” Ellis defines ethnography as “an approach to research and writing that “seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) to understand cultural experience.” It is a relatively new field that “treats research as a “political, socially-just and socially-conscious act” — perhaps like critical discourse analysis where researchers such as James Paul Gee analyzes the social and political implications of language.

Initially, I was unsure of the difference between an autobiography and an autoethnography. I am familiar with autobiographies but not autoethnographies. Based on Ellis’ explanation, it appears that autobiographies and autoethnographies have different functions. When writing an autobiography, the writer is interested in selecting important memories of one’s past (or epiphanies); these memories are significant to the writer but not necessarily to others. While ethnographers are interested in studying a culture’s shared values and beliefs for “the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture” (Ellis et al., 3). For ethnographers, there is a greater emphasis on the cultural, social, and political impact of the stories.

Autobiographies and autoethnographies share tenets such as reflexivity and voice. Also, the process of an autobiography and an autoethnography are similar in that writers both use personal narratives, interviews, and texts such as photographs, metaphors, and literary journeys to share their stories. However, autoethnography is a type of research method with philosophical and theoretical underpinnings. With the rise of postmodernism, researchers such as Alec Grant reject the “positivist perspective” where research is conducting formally and scientifically, and “the research does not insert his biases, prejudices, and experience” in the research (Grant and Zeeman, 147). In traditional science research, we rarely see personal pronouns such as “I” and “we.” Therefore, some members of the scientific community consider ethnography as “too artful and not scientific.” On the other hand, members of the literary community find ethnography as “too scientific and not sufficiently artful” (Ellis et al., 8). Hence, ethnographers fit nicely in the social sciences.

Other critics consider ethnography as a form of “solipsistic self-indulgence” (Grant and Zeeman, 2). Grant counters this claim by stating that the author (“or this expert of experience”) would need to be “autonomous” and “culturally disconnected from other people” to be considered solipsistic. That is, no writer is disconnected from everyone. There is a universal message in every story.

There is a compelling message in Grant’s story, and I find the story of his mother to be one of the most compelling cases that I have read in Research Methods 5002. Grant eloquently combines the elements of a good story with research methodology. He is also able to challenge the status quo of a “singular, master, dominant narrative of a happy family and a happy childhood.” He gives voice and identity to those who are marginalized and silenced. If Alec Grant is able to help others by sharing his story, then I say autoethnography is a powerful research method! 

Interview with Alec Grant

Autoethnography

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Autoethnography is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore anecdotal and personal experience and connect this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. Autoethnography is a self-reflective form of writing used across various disciplines such as communication studies, performance studies, education, English literature, anthropology, social work, sociology, history, psychology, religious studies, marketing, business and educational administration, arts education, and physiotherapy. Autoethnography differs from ethnography, a social research method employed by anthropologists and sociologists, in that autoethnography embraces and foregrounds the researcher’s subjectivity rather than attempting to limit it, as in empirical research. What I like about this type of research method is that it embraces personal thoughts, feelings, stories, and observations as a way of understanding the social context they are studying, autoethnographers are also shedding light on their total interaction with that setting by making their every emotion and thought visible to the reader. It resonates with me because it’s not just about charts, graphs and stats. It deals with research methodology in relation to our emotions and feelings and our personal interactions with others and the culture we live in.

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In the first article: Whose Story Is It? An Autoethnography Concerning Narrative Identity, the article begins with Grant stating how a strong shift and change had been developing in research: “Emerging in the latter part of the 20th century, the “narrative turn” in the human sciences has increasingly challenged a single, monolithic conception of what should constitute scholarly work in favor of a developing pluralism. This has resulted in the promotion of multiple forms of representation and research, and a relative shift of focus from master narratives to local stories.” (Grant,1). The wave of change was going against what had been the norm in the past. The aloof researcher, the spectator who was distanced from his work. It was very much impersonal. Now the tide was changing into the researcher position becoming more engaged, aware, emotional and sharing personal antidotes. This is more relatable because like the article states we as human beings on this earth have shared experiences. We all have a unique story to tell. I believe that’s what makes this world so special our connected experiences and the ability to tell it. This is how we connect and learn to empathize. Autoethnographic story telling has important functions. It can be therapeutic for the story teller to work through difficult times, events and issues in their lives. This also helps them build their authentic identities. Specifically, writing personal stories can be therapeutic for individuals as they make better sense of themselves or their experiences. It helps relieve them of their painful pasts and burdens, and determines what kind of lives they should live and want to live. Grant goes on to talk about Riemer who is a proponent of this method of research: “Riemer took researchers in the social sciences to task for too frequently neglecting the first-hand knowledge that they alone possess in the execution of their research ventures. Riemer argued that such researchers, including autoethnographers, are well placed to write about their reflexive biographical engagement with culture, since they are, by definition, experts by experience. Equally, bearing in mind the relational, dialogic basis of stories, readers might be helped to make better sense of their own lives by locating themselves in relation to what they read.” (Reimer, 1977). I agree with this viewpoint. It’s all about making human connections, research should not just be about numbers, stats and graphs. This type of research makes it more relatable, more personal and to me, more believable. However like with all research methodologies autoethnography does have it’s critics who believe it is highly self indulgent and not a concrete or reliable form of qualitative research. Grant disagrees with the criticism and believes that all of us have similar experiences in life that we can make personal connections with and find meaning from. He says quote: “This leaves the self as a sociocultural rather than an autonomous phenomenon.”

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In the remainder of the article we read the short story of Alec Grant and his turbulent childhood. He details to us how his mother was mentally ill and unstable. His father was absent and his older siblings had left the home. He was the youngest and sadly was stuck in the home with his unstable mother. He recounts how numerous teachers ignored him and the situation he was living in. He never felt like he could trust them or confide in them. The one time he did he was ignored and nothing was done to help him. He recounts how he grew up feeling insecure, unworthy and socially inept. In his adulthood he was plagued with alcoholism, anxiety, and manic depression. We also learn his mother ended up taking her own life. I felt very sad and heartbroken for him. Especially for that time period and living in a small town, it must have been extremely isolating and painful. Although my life story is much different then his, I can still relate to his. I feel empathy and also amazement at how far he has come considering the circumstances he was faced with. It was also interesting to read how he requested some old artifacts from his old school and as he was looking through yearbooks and albums, he made note of the fact that everyone looked happy, content and as if they were living their best lives. But is that true? I compared it to today. On social media we are bombarded with pictures of people at their best and most happiest. We don’t see what goes on behind closed doors. Some studies show that having social media can cause worsening depression and anxiety because people compare themselves to others who they assume are living a perfect life. Grant says of his overall experience in writing and sharing the short story quote: “This pattern was to inform the story of who I was down the decades. However, in the space between then and now, in direct response to and in order to compensate for my early life experiences, I have managed to accumulate a range of narrative identity resources. These tell multiple success stories about me, and in my own terms, and can help me re-inscribe my past in sophisticated and, more importantly, self-compassionate and forgiving ways.” This is so powerful! Like he states he is telling his truths, in his own terms about his turbulent past, struggles and ultimately his successful future. This is where real connections can be made with others. The third and final part of the article concludes with a interview between the two authors. Laetitia Zeeman and Alec Grant. They engage in an open, honest dialogue about his short story, her reaction to it and about the research method of autoethnography. She mentions some of the pros and cons and asks him how he interprets it. He also talks about the importance of changing the status quo in research methodology. That’s what makes autoethnography different and important to the growing changes in the field and to the fast changing world around us. It’s pulling away from the rigid academic norms and the outdated conventional uses of the past. It embraces culture and activism and promotes change. And I for one believe that change is a good thing. Especially when autoethnography is helping to bridge the gap between the old and the new and to personalize our human experiences from which empathy and understanding grows. The video below helped to clear up any questions or confusion I had about this method, so I hope it helps you all too! Xo.

A Postmodern Journey on Learning about Autoethnography

Summary: 

Sarah Wall’s article An Autoethnography on Learning About Autoethnography, focuses on a more possible progressive approach to qualitative research that permits the writer/researcher to connect and personalize their study based on personal experience to cultural , in addition to a nontraditional means of defining the study’s inquiry and the writer/researchers expression. Although this article is about autoethnography, Wall’s unique direction in her study helps her to recognize her own voice and  self within her writing and not to mention other’s works. Through her thorough readings of fellow autoethnographers on their individual journey, Wall acknowledges her questions, concerns and/or curiosities are probably shared with many people. 

Wall comes from a positivist background in which she states, positivists believe “real” science can only be quantitative, experimental and understood by only a selected few. In other words any forms of science should and can be proved because the science community looks down upon “fluffy” connections to any aspect of society (people, individual lives and certain dilemmas). 

With the rise of postmodernism, it allows her to take hold and widen her range of inquiry for research strategies pertaining to objectivity and subjectivity. Autoethnography broadens her perception of what science is, what it represents and how it represents.

Within her article, she convertly explains that her own style of writing isn’t about critiquing others or oneself but getting the story out in a way that resonates with you. She refers to five or six writers and subtract certain themes within their writing that can develop her knowledge. Her purpose isn’t to interject all of her personal information into her research but rather to relate it through a societal and cultural way. Her article ends with an understanding that “knowledge does not have to result from research to be worthwhile, and personal stories should have their own place alongside research.” 

 

Thoughts:

Surprisingly, I actually liked this article because it was easy to relate. Like Wall mentioned, yes the article is about autoethnography but it focuses more on self, voice, experience and challenging the genre of inquiry. Basically she is a part of her research. I appreciate the inclusion of Pelias, Duncan, Holt, Muncey and Sparkes. None of these writers have anything in common except for the theme of autoethnography. The way they chose to relate in such a humanistic manner; as if, life isn’t all about their research. It’s humorous how well the stories are similar yet different.

When Wall stated that feminist writers advocate for research that starts with one’s own expereince, I remembered the struglle with advertisement agencies not connceting with the target audience. Basically, men were the advertisers that were selling products females used in the household or personally. The male point of view lacked the significance of the consumer (subject) and product (objectivity). In fact the disconnect, inexperience and lack of orientation, sellers could have a loss in sales. When you bridge a gap between consumer and seller then relation is developed. Therefore feminist writers wrote for themselves and other women that could relate to similar issues. 

On page 148, she referred to the omission of a researcher’s voice leading to the reduction of his/her writing to a summary and interpretation of searched information. Last summer, when I had to write my own inquiry, I struggled with comprehending my voice and how to recognize my capabilities. By permitting myself to include my experience within the story, it furthered my knowledge and brought the writing piece to a newer level of research. I wanted to continue the process of adding.

In order to write, a researcher has to know the direction of their style of writing, literary or scientific. I wonder when we mentioned co-authoring an article on autoethnography, I wonder if her co-writer was a man. I thought if the gender was different it was harder to break away from the use of ‘we’, rather than a same gender co-writer. I think the description of autoethnography from Ellis was funny, “autoethnography does not proceed linearly” can be likened to being sent “into the woods without a compass.” The purpose is not to get comfortable but to tour the entire area. Get to know all that you can.

For some reason, I’ve been referring to Wall as Walker in my head (side note not a good idea if we met in person). As the weeks progress, I am gradually understanding research methods more specifically, qualitative research methods. After reading Wall’s article I wanted to hear her explain autoethnography in detail.

 

 

Work Cited:

Wall, Sarah. “An Autoethnography on Learning About Autoethnography.” International Institute for Qualitative Methoodology (IIQM): University of Alberta (2006).

Wall, Sarah. “Autoethnography: Possibility and Controversy.” YouTube, ATLAS.ti – Qualitative Data Analysis, 25 July 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEWF0SV9F_s.

Using DA to Analyze Trump’s Tweet on “The Chinese Virus”

Reaction to:

  • An Introduction to Discourse Analysis by James Paul Gee
  • Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple by Tatyana Bondarouk and Huub Ruel

Discourse analysis came in handy this week as President Trump referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus.” From his tweet, we can discern that language matters, diction matters. 

James Paul Gee defines discourse analysis (DA) as “language in use.” He contends that language is “more than saying things”; it is “saying, doing, and being.” In other words, “language allows us to do things and to be things.” The verbs in language enable us to think, discuss, and debate. Language shapes our identity: when we are with our friends, we use colloquial language, when at work, we use a more formal style.

Furthermore, Gee claims that language has a socio-political aspect to it. He provides an example of the term marriage in that gay couples want to call their unions “marriage” because it invokes a sense of “social good.” Overall, people want to be associated with positively connotated terms such as the “good student,” “good wife,” and the “good boss.” Gee goes on to suggest that language is political. He claims that “politics is the distribution of social goods — that is, who gets power, money, power, and acceptance.” From this statement, once can discern that James Paul Gee is a critical discourse analyst since he believes that “language itself is political.” He also asserts that “My view — the view of this book is that all discourse analysis needs to critical–“

To clarify: There are two types of discourse analysis: descriptive and critical. According to Gee, graphic analysts’ goal is to “describe how language works to understand it” and “their work may have applications to the world.” In other words, in descriptive analysis, the goal is to describe language in terms of grammar and syntax. So, let’s analyze Trump’s tweet using descriptive discourse analysis. According to Trump, he calls it 

“Chinese” because the virus originated from Wuhan, China. He selected this adjective because it describes the origin of the virus. Now, let’s use a critical lens. Scientists and the medical community purposely did not label viruses with particular regions or groups. They intentionally changed the coronavirus to COVID-19 to prevent bias, stigmatism, and xenophobia. However, Trump went against the medical community by using “Chinese” to describe the virus. It was a political move to shift the blame on Beijing. As a result of his tweet, there has been an uptick in East Asian bias and bigotry. For example: when my sister was picking up a prescription at the Colonia Walgreens, a white man whispered in her ear, “Go back to China and bring the virus with you!” She reported the bias incident to the pharmacist. Yes, language is political. 

Critics of critical discourse analysis argue that there may be bias in the analysts’ interpretations; whereas, critics of descriptive discourse analysis say that analysts neglect their social and political duties if they are focusing solely on describing language. In the case of Trump’s tweet, I would say that ignoring the social and political ramifications of his adjective would be unconscionable.

I do see flaws in critical discourse analysis. Take, for example, the misunderstanding between Sara, the history professor, and the two teachers, Mary and Karen. The analyst’s questions at the end of the transcript were leading, especially questions 8 and 9.

8.) What in the language tells you that Karen is probably anger or perturbed?

9.) What do you think Sara did that angered or perturbed Karen?

My interpretation of this meeting is that Karen and Mary were annoyed with Sara because she had initially contacted them regarding conducting research. Karen and Mary returned her call and agreed to meet at the summer institute. However, Sara did not show up. 

As a teacher, I would be annoyed at Sara too — regardless of her race. Yet, the analyst mentioned race in the questions. Would it have made a difference if everyone was the same race? No, it would not have made a difference because one party felt slighted by the other party. In this scenario, the racial implication complicated a simple misunderstanding. Nonetheless, context and tone are two essential components of critical discourse analysis.

Since there were multiple interpretations of the meeting with Sara, Karen, and May, I appreciated the idea of the “hermeneutical circle” that Bondarouk and Ruel referred to in Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple. Within critical discourse analysis, there is an allowance for “open interpretations,” and the “interpretations are not final.” Since there is no final authority, it provides the audience with the agency to decide the social and political ramifications of written or spoken text. Therefore, discourse analysis, unlike other research methods, draws from “the broadest range of factors” such as the past and the present, historical events, societal views, and technological considerations.  

At the end of the article, Bondarouk and Ruel address the problem of critical discourse analysis? What if the reader does not agree with the interpretation? Then, what? They refer to Chang, who says, “Change yourself.”

That is easier said than done. Bondarouk and Ruel reasons that “if a critic becomes able to appropriate the given interpretations, this will enable him to suggest improvements.” This line of reasoning appears to be circular and unconvincing. However, they end on a more reassuring note by mentioning inter-subjectivity where we arrive at a ‘final’ interpretation by “using a circle of evidence” and “through an openness for interpretations and critiques.”

 “And that will bring us back to the inter-subjectivity we have mentioned earlier. In essence, the validity of discourse analysis is developed through a dialectical process of using a circle of evidence to create social reality, and through the openness for other interpretations and critiques.” 

It appears that graduate students engage in inter-subjectivity where we come into a discussion with our interpretations of a text. Then we listen to other students’ and the professor’s interpretations and critiques. From listening to the evidence, we revise our initial interpretations through this “circle of evidence” and leave class with a sense of clarity. And that is the beauty of graduate classes: the shift from solipsism to inter-subjectivity.

Autoethnography

Autoethnography is an interesting and promising qualitative method that offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to extend sociological understanding.

“Furthermore, scholars began recognizing that different kinds of people possess different assumptions about the world—a multitude of ways of speaking, writing, valuing and believing—and that conventional ways of doing and thinking about research were narrow, limiting, and parochial.” (Paragraph 5)

I think that’s interesting to think about, you ever had a conversation with someone, and they take what you said, completely differently, then how you meant it? I think about this all the time, my sister and I always get into arguments over miscommunication. I can say “ok” through text, and at times, depending on the conversation, she takes it negatively, and there starts a fight. I am pinning to the point that different kinds of people possess different assumptions while communicating in any form. Especially now a day, with communication done through text messages, I started using voice messages at a point so my sister can hear my tone vs. assuming whatever crazy things her mind can lead her to believe.

At first, I perceived Autoethnography to be a personal account. But upon further reading, I figured auto meant self, ethno meant the sociocultural connection and graphy would then be the research itself. I like this method, I have recently turned vegan, and I feel like a study like this would be great to understand why I and others are at a fast rate becoming vegan. Autoethnography would allow me to explore and analyze and compare and contrast a vegan’s motivation, philosophical thinking. It would also let me see the impact the diet has had on them intrapersonally and interpersonally. Am I getting this right? I think I am, could be wrong…

I also really like this process because we can tell it like a story, and appeal to the readers. I’m more of a narrative writer anyways. I love being able to incorporate my own experiences with others, showing and telling the truth; this sounds like fun. I wonder if there’s a way to do this for my own research paper, Dr. Nelson?

Whose Story Is It? An Autoethnography Concerning Narrative Identity by
Alec J. Grant and Laetitia Zeeman is even more enjoyable than the first reading.

“Autoethnographic storytelling has further related and important functions. It can be therapeutic for the storyteller to work through difficult times, events, and issues in his/her own life in the development of a preferred identity.” (2) When I mentioned becoming a vegan earlier, it is very personal to me, maybe that’s why I related it to this qualitative method. I did it due to underlying health issues; I have IBS, and adhering to a vegan diet has helped me tremendously. It is, in a way, therapeutic to share my journey to help others who are suffering through the same, like other writers have done for me at my lowest low.

A pending question of Autoethnography is how do we connect a narrative to the world. In a sense, I think including my own experience as well as others would revel how a vegan diet impacts individual and global health. I used veganism to help me understand Authoethonograohy; I hope I made sense.

Works Cited:

Autoethnography: An Overview Carolyn EllisTony E. Adams & Arthur P. Bochner

Whose Story Is It? An Autoethnography Concerning Narrative IdentityAlec J. Grant and Laetitia Zeeman University of Brighton, Brighton, Sussex, UK

Discourse Analysis

Language allows us to say things, be things, and do things. The article “An Introduction to Discourse Analysis” by James Paul Gee is unusual yet compelling. Discourse analysis is a field of scholarly practice concerned with how language forms, constitutes and constructs identities, reality, and social relationships.

Gee gives an example of the game Yu-gi-oh and states the directions in which the reader can identify each word, but it still makes no sense if you do not know the game. To learn it, you have to play the game, maybe read some texts that help you understand the cards, but mostly just playing the game—thus arguing that language gets meaning from practice. Language is used to perform social action; and how power is reproduced, construed, perpetuated, and legitimated in society through practice.

I never thought of language gained through practice until now. As a first-year teacher, also being very young, I was scrutinized for the way I spoke. Maybe I was still in college mode, student mode, just being a 25-year-old girl who didn’t realize she was now an “adult.” One day the assigned CIT called my classroom to inform me a cellphone was stolen in my classroom, it was an allegation, not knowing how to respond and simply being in a middle of a lesson, I responded saying “ok.” It wasn’t an assured ok, more like a confused, ok? The CIT was furious, she assumed I was being rude, and there started a conflict, the last thing I wanted as a first-year teacher. This was the first of many instances where I was judged based on my language. I was even told once by my school principal that I need to start speaking more professionally. To think about it, I now study the way teachers talk and practice how I should be talking. Hence the example the author provided of Yu-gi-oh, language being acquired through practice. And the concept of winning and losing, if I do not succeed at speaking professionally, I lose a social good, but if I succeed, I win. 

There are two forms of discourse analysis: descriptive and critical. 

  • Descriptive: to describe how language works in order to understand it.
  • Critical: to deeply explain but also speak to and intervene in social, controversial, and political issues. 

Gee mentions the shortcomings for both methods, stating that descriptive is an “evasion of social and political responsibility” and critical is unscientific because it is “too driven by passion” (9). In the end, Gee claims that Critical Discourse analysis, however, should be more critical because language itself is political.

Tatyana Bondarouk and Huub Ruel’s article “Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple” breaks down Critical Discourse Analysis. Is it me, or was the first article way easier to digest than this one? 

First, I want to get into the concept of hermeneutics, which views interpretations as eternal or open, which is supported by the idea of language. Language users strategically assign meanings to words, sentences, paragraphs, or larger structures to discourse, and understanding language is always an interpretation. The interpreter’s job then is to link how these semantic representations are related to models of individual language users and general world knowledge shared by communities. I guess in a way, that’s what we try to teach our students? Right? Interpret text and find meaning. 

Everything in this article kind of went over my head, I don’t think discourse analysis in any way is difficult to understand. However, the way this article is written is complex; I think that’s the right word. The concluding paragraph of this article helped me understand it a bit more; these are the steps I recognized we have to follow to do discourse analysis:

  1. Created meanings (held by individuals or groups)
  2.  The researcher interprets (understands) by exploring the interplay between texts, discourse, and context. 
  3. The researcher uses context knowledge to link social events that mutually support the research. 
  4. How the research found results must be recognizable by interplay, individuals, and other texts, discourse, and the interpretive and explanatory nature of the analysis. 
  5. Finalizing analysis: good interpretation, and scientific discussions about findings and results.

After reading this particular article, I can’t have for tonight’s discussion to clarify my interpretation of this text. In a way, are we using discourse analysis in this class? We are always interpreting, so hey, maybe we are!

Works Cited:

Bondarouk, Tatyana and Ruel, Huub, “Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple” (2004). ECIS 2004 Proceedings. 1. http://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2004/1

A Start to Discourse Analysis

The opening chapter to James Paul Gee’s offered mostly the context for discourse analysis and some basic terminologies. To not quickly before going into all of that, allow me to myself contextualize this research method as I have done so for the past few blogs. I was pretty new to discourse analysis leading up to the readings this week, and I can’t well say I’ve got much down about it. But it does interest me. The structure of language and the meaning of a phrase or a sentence beyond its utterance are both things which I have studies personally so I felt that this method may prove of value to me.

That said, let’s discuss a bit what was in Gee’s reading. As a final aside I must say I really do enjoy hypothesis. There wasn’t the ability to annotate specific phrases this time but I did create some page notes along with the reading and imagine I’ll be using it moving forward to further assist me in keeping things in mind. But I digress. Gee sets up the crux of his approach by introducing the three “particles” of language so to speak, saying, doing, and being. Saying is informing, doing is the action, and being is one’s identity. He then goes into what I imagine is both a suitably amusing example of this breakdown as well as apt. He describes some ways in which the swapping out of various particles of a sentence can drastically alter its real-world meaning. The one that stuck out for me was the way in which a doctor indicating that you “look tired” might be coming from a friend or a medical professional, in which cases the connotation differs.

Now, I must go back into personal asides here because to not do so would be a betrayal of my own writing this as a blog. In my other classes I have found that such hobbies and personal nexuses that I would not have thought would appear in academic contexts, have indeed been appearing. Here, for instance, Gee evokes Yu-Gi-Oh! and it did in fact bring me back to the early 2000’s for the duration. I found his discussing the finer points of trap cards and special summonings to be amusing since I have some recollection of those things (I played the game heavily in middle school). But I did understand and appreciate his point. I further appreciated the idea which he mentioned of how one could look up a word in a dictionary (“word” here interchangeable with a set of rules or even a recipe in a book) but just the definition alone will not serve to give you the real-life application of that word etc. There is more to the word than just its definition.

Gee likens Yu-Gi-Oh! to a “game” in the context of having rules which people choose to follow or not (understandably, as it is a game), but also segues this example into a broader scope by way of introducing the idea of “practices.” These practices are more generally the “games” we play in society – he cites things from business meetings to casual conversation – but that still have winners and losers and are the things by which language actually derives its meaning.

A few pages later, Gee offers a basic definition of discourse analysis: “Discourse analysis is the study of language-in-use.” Pretty simple! But of course its simplicity belies its depth of being I am sure. He opens up the branches of content vs. structural discourse analysis, being either the analysis mainly of the themes or issues discussed in the language used vs. the grammar and shaping of the use of the language relatively. He then gives another example of the way in which the “same” sentence can be utilized to different effect by portraying a sentiment on the good old hornworm either in a casual or an academic way. The point here is to show how the saying-doing-being of two sentences concerned essentially with the same thing can alter perception on the sentiment as well as who is uttering it and for what purpose.

Lastly I’ll note what I believe one of Gee’s main jumping-off points with discourse analysis is. Earlier in the section he mentioned politics. He was quick to identify that in the space of discourse analysis, politics were not the kind of politics that we would generally associate with the word. He identifies politics to be the idea that with language, everything is political. Language, in Gee’s mind, and in his research methodology, is power; and with that power there is the constant “threat” of denying someone in a real-world way. He later brings up that theory and practices are really one and the same, because there is no practice without theory. It seems that that stands apart, say, from grounded theory, but that’s just a random thought I had whilst reading through this. The point is, that because discourse analysis is based on the notion that language carries all the practices and theories inherently in its saying-doing-being, that as he puts it, “language has meaning only in and through social practices…”

So how did I feel about this? I am unsure, of both this method as well as my actual feelings about it. I do sometimes wonder about the “staying power” of the context of language. That is to say, I wrestle with the idea that we make our own context for language. If we make our own context, then it is not for anyone to really instill in their words a “doing” or a “being,” as those things immediately lose themselves in the context of Gee’s discourse analysis as soon as they are brought into the world. They would instead be the “doing” and “being” of the person reading or experiencing them in whatever way. But like I said, this is something I have been thinking about actively for some years, and am not entirely set on it. I read some postmodern literature, and this is a postmodern thought, but one which I have never been entirely comfortable with. At the very least, I will eagerly approach our discussion about this method as it may well help me understand how I feel about anyone’s personal power in using language, as well as language’s “personal” power as well.

Using Language

First off, I would like to acknowledge what is going on right now.  I hope you all are staying safe and taking all precautions necessary during this unprecedented time.  I miss seeing you guys, and I know we will make this work online for the time being. With that said, lets jump into this weeks reading:

This weeks reading goes over the idea language and how we interact with it in multiple different settings.  Language is our medium for communication, but it can be quite dynamic by nature. It is not only a mode of communication, rather it is a part of the way we are and the way we act.  In the article, it is mentioned how we use it to open meetings and inform others of issues. Look at how the current COVID-19 situation is unfolding and the use of language and rhetoric is being used.   We are living in a type of hysteria at the moment, and I would venture to say that the language that has been used in the reporting on this pandemic has certainly had a tangible effect. Just in this recent situation alone, you can see the tangible power of language.  Depending on the coverage and message it is they want to get across. Hysteria is born out of the creative and calculated use of language, and that is what we are seeing happen around us right now.

The nostalgia factor in this article was really nice as we got to read about the nuance of language in one of my favorite childhood TV shows/card games Yu-Gi-Oh.  The article highlights how the text on the cards that are used for the card game, there is a nuance to it that would be difficult to understand if you do not play the game or are not familiar with the TV show.  While, in a vacuum, the words are the same words we use in countless other situations, it can be difficult to understand what they mean in this instance without the context of knowing what the show is about and how the game works.  The driver of the specific meaning of the language in instances like this is directly correlated with understanding the game behind it. This, I thought, was a great example of how language can be used in a manner in which the words are the same, but understanding the underlying context drives how we process it.  I really liked this example as an illustration of this point. Language is versatile and can be used to relay a number of emotions and feelings. Writing can be a difficult exercise in terms of conveying these emotions and inflection, but that is where we can get creative with how we use language to illustrate our feelings and opinions.  

Questions:

  1. What are some useful tips for using language in our writing to be clear with our points coupled with the desired emotion.  
  2. How can we teach these ideas in a clear fashion for students to learn to be effective in using language in multiple situations? 
  3. Looking at the coronavirus coverage, we see how language can be used to mobilize and create urgency.  What are we seeing? Would you describe the rhetoric as responsible? 

Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis is a qualitative approach to the analysis of the written language and linguistics. There are various objects of discourse analysis: writing, conversation, and communicative events. Besides exploring traditional linguistics, discourse analysis studies beyond the sentence and analyze language naturally.

Throughout the years, discourse analysis has been studied in various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, such as linguistics, education, sociology, anthropology, social work, cognitive psychology, social psychology, human geography, environmental science, communication studies and much more.

In the seventies, Michel Foucault became one of the main theorists behind discourse analysis. He explains how the term ‘discourse’ itself no longer refers to traditional linguistic aspects, but patterns of knowledge that manifest into disciplinary structures that becomes the connection of knowledge and power. Throughout the years or his studies and research, Foucault’s work has increased its impact especially on discourse analysis within the social sciences.

Discourse analysis is a way for you as the researcher to develop your own findings when studying a language. By using the discourse method you’re expanding your research by taking the extra step and ‘thinking outside the box’. Nives Miciaccio mentions in her blog post about the different advantages she sees while using discourse analysis and I found them extremely helpful:

“Here are some of the advantages I see:

  1. It enhances the understanding of certain cultural practices in the community.
  2. Gives the explanation behind some of the social behaviors in the community.
  3. Reveals the unspoken and unacknowledged aspects of human behavior.
  4. Promotes positive individual and social change by demystifying the function of language.
  5. Facilitated the spread of multilingualism across the world.
  6. Enhanced improvements in human resource management by acting as a qualitative method of data collection and analysis.
  7. Improved the communication process between individuals by critically examining the difference between text and talk.
  8. Discourse analysis is content-specific, therefore, important in explaining the dynamism observed in society.”

By utilizing these advantages, you’ll be able to conduct the research you need when using discourse analysis.