Auto-ethnography…I think I am starting to get a hang of this… Maybe

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The “Auto-ethnography: An Overview,” by Ellis, Adams, and Bochner was informative while still being engaging. The author’s presented the history, process, product, issues, and responses to this method. The introduction of this article reminded me of all the reasons why I fell in love with literature during my undergraduate studies. I was reminded of the importance of literature in connection to the human condition. The process of auto-ethnography differs from the other theories mentioned thus far in class, and seems much more personal. Additionally, the product will be much more personal seeing as the subject is the author and the work is a collection of their experiences. The text covers the different types of narratives and allowed my brain to remember the beautiful narratives I have read that have helped to shape and influence my experiences as a writer and reader. The most impactful section of the text was “Writing as Therapeutic.” This idea of using writing as medicine was liberating to hear and think about, but as it was coupled with keeping in mind ethics, reliability, generalizability, and validity it made the version of storytelling become more of a valid theory as the sections of this article were read and reviewed. This article was paired with “Whose Story Is It? An Auto-ethnography Concerning Narrative Identity” by Grant and Zeeman. This text article was structured in three sections, the first two begin with an overview and a sample story. The last section served as an example of the reaction one may receive from releasing their work into the world. 

Key Quotes from “Autoethnography: An Overview,” by Ellis, Adams, and Bochner:

In particular, scholars began illustrating how the “facts” and “truths” scientists “found” were inextricably tied to the vocabularies and paradigms the scientists used to represent them (KUHN, 1996; RORTY, 1982); they recognized the impossibility of and lack of desire for master, universal narratives (DE CERTEAU, 1984; LYOTARD, 1984); they understood new relationships between authors, audiences, and texts (BARTHES, 1977; DERRIDA, 1978; RADWAY, 1984); and they realized that stories were complex, constitutive, meaningful phenomena that taught morals and ethics, introduced unique ways of thinking and feeling, and helped people make sense of themselves and others (ADAMS, 2008; BOCHNER, 2001, 2002; Fisher, 1984).

In particular, they wanted to concentrate on ways of producing meaningful, accessible, and evocative research grounded in personal experience, research that would sensitize readers to issues of identity politics, to experiences shrouded in silence, and to forms of representation that deepen our capacity to empathize with people who are different from us (ELLIS & BOCHNER, 2000).

Autoethnography, on the other hand, expands and opens up a wider lens on the world, eschewing rigid definitions of what constitutes meaningful and useful research; this approach also helps us understand how the kinds of people we claim, or are perceived, to be influence interpretations of what we study, how we study it, and what we say about our topic (ADAMS, 2005; WOOD, 2009). [4]

Thus, the autoethnographer not only tries to make personal experience meaningful and cultural experience engaging, but also, by producing accessible texts, she or he may be able to reach wider and more diverse mass audiences that traditional research usually disregards, a move that can make personal and social change possible for more people (BOCHNER, 1997; ELLIS, 1995; GOODALL, 2006; HOOKS, 1994). [14]

Writing is a way of knowing, a method of inquiry (Richardson, 2000). Consequently, writing personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences (KIESINGER, 2002; POULOS, 2008), purge our burdens (ATKINSON, 2007), and question canonical stories—conventional, authoritative, and “projective” storylines that “plot” how “ideal social selves” should live (TOLOLYAN, 1987, p.218; BOCHNER, 2001, 2002). In so doing, we seek to improve and better understand our relationships (ADAMS, 2006; Wyatt, 2008), reduce prejudice (ELLIS, 2002a, 2009), encourage personal responsibility and agency (PELIAS, 2000, 2007), raise consciousness and promote cultural change (ELLIS, 2002b; GOODALL, 2006), and give people a voice that, before writing, they may not have felt they had (BOYLORN, 2006; JAGO, 2002). [25]

These quotes allowed me to understand the research behind the method. I was able to see that there is more to an autoethnography than just sharing a story about yourself. You need to work, and work hard, at creating a piece that is both meaningful to you as the author, but also the audience and cultural group you are representing. 

Key Quotes from “Whose Story Is It? An Autoethnography Concerning Narrative Identity”:

In this context, such local stories can be told from the vantage point of embodied, lived experience, and in the project of promoting social justice. This  enables  the  detailed  interrogation  and  critique  of  potentially  or  actually oppressive and repressive cultural institutions, norms, values, practices, and logics. (2) 

In part one of the selection, this quote stood out to me the most. This part of the text about POV, lived experiences and promoting social justice allowed me to see the value and validity in this type of research. Literature and storytelling is an essential part of our human existence. Without shared stories from ALL people, we are being deprived of learning about the lives of others. This part of the text is where I started to see how autoethnographies are a part of the research and methods course.

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. In a happy relationship for many years, I find myself in the position of feeling the most sanguine I’ve ever felt. Regarding alcoholism, I have been dry and in recovery for some years now, and my mood swings are well-controlled with appropriate medication.(Grant 5-6)

This entire paragraph is what makes this story so successful and meaningful to the audience. This story of the underdog who we assume will fail because of his absent father and alcoholic mother, we see him medicate with writing. We see the power of this research method and how it can have an impact on the audience. While reading, I was trying to apply the reasoning that was shared in the first section of the text and at several points in the story I found myself making connections to my own life or to the lives of people around me. I would like to read more of his work, I feel they are stories that are not told often enough with this level of sophistication (that wasn’t meant to be snobby, but it came out that way).

We all live storied lives and our stories are relational, embodied and performative. They proceed from dialogue and help us shape and endow our past and present experiences, emotions, and behavior with significance and with hope for our futures (Denzin, 2003; Frank, 2002, 2010; Spry, 2011). Storied lives are thus tales of cultural engagement, to the extent that culture is understood as the meaning construction woven in human and material contexts as people go about and through their lives (Bochner & Ellis, 1996).  (1)

Autoethnographic story telling 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. Specifically, writing personal stories can be therapeutic for individuals as they make better sense of themselves or their experiences, purge themselves of their burdens, and/or determine what kinds of lives they should live (Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2010; Frank, 2010). (2)

Writing from one’s own experience base involves writing from memory. The past is recreated as a series of emotional moments and from the vantage point of the present, resulting in “improvised moral texts that continually revisit the old” (Denzin, 2003, p. 141).  (3)

The ideas presented in these works allowed me to think not only about the current research questions I am formulated, but also to think about future research questions. Each of these articles sparks a new strain of thought within the reader’s brain that will of course impact the project of the present and near future. These articles have given me both reason and desire to explore the genre of autoethnography as a possible thesis project, to me an autoethnography would be a soul project and the research of self would be therapeutic. When reflecting on the articles I was flooded with images and memories of works I have read in the past by some of my favorite authors. I agree with the author’s of these articles and believe that this method is valid and worthy of having a seat at the scholarly table regardless of the harsh criticism that this genre may receive. 

Connected Works:

ALL of Rachel Hollis’ books 

Becoming by Michelle Obama 

Various works by Mitch Album 

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard 

Projects by fellow grad students: Nives, Teethee, Medea

Key Questions:

Will I write a narrative? What type of narrative? 

Will I consider autoethnography as an option for my thesis project?