Phase 1 – Autoethnography Learning Community

Hang on to your seats, folks – this is going to be a long one…

The learning community supporting the book I am co-editing (examining autoethnography as a research method in LIS) has been working for about two months now, and we’re heading into the second phase of our work.  Phase One was a learning phase, where we read and discussed things, raised issues and questions, and thought about what was, for most of us, pretty new territory.

Phase Two will still include all of those things, but is also heading into more doing – more data gathering, remembering, sketching, noting, describing, sharing, and … many more things.

We had far more applicants for the learning community than would fit into the the book and when we made those tough choices we committed to sharing our process. Now, I don’t mean sharing our discussions — this is an individual and personal method to learn about and it’s important that our learning environment stay safe for all.  But I do want to share the starting points.

The discussions were broken into three sections, with readings and other resources for each.  The first, What is Autoethnography?, was a bit of a free for all.  Everyone read a different selection of these readings.  The second, Ethics and the third, Getting Started, were more focused — at least in our starting points. We spent two weeks on each.  Here are the 3 sections, with the discussion questions/ readings we considered.  I also compiled a list of all of the resources that people recommended to each other as the discussions progressed.

I. What is Autoethnography?

Discussion Topic: Analytic Autoethnography

Discussion Topic: Evocative Autoethnography

Ellis, C. (1999). “Heartful Autoethnography.” Qualitative Health Research, 9(5), 669–683.http://doi.org/10.1177/104973299129122153. (paywalled)

  • Ellis C. & Bochner, A. “Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, Reflexivity: Researcher as Subject.”Handbook of Qualitative Research. 2nd edition. Eds. Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2000: 733-768.
  • Carolyn Ellis & Arthur Bochner. Presented at the Fourth Israeli Interdisciplinary Conference of Qualitative Research (YouTube)

Discussion Topic: Writing the Reflexive Self

This is an example of AE using fiction.  It’s in this “What is AE?” section because the author engaged in a published conversation about that topic with other scholars in his field (nursing).

  • Grant, A. “Writing the Reflexive Self: An Autoethnography of Alcoholism and the Impact of Psychotherapy Culture.” Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 17, no. 7 (September 2010): 577–82. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2010.01566.x.
  • The What is Real Autoethnography exchange:
    1. Philip Burnard published this autoethnography in 2007. (Link to PubMed, no full text):  “Seeing the psychiatrist: an autoethnographic account.” Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 14, no. 8 (December 2007): 808-813. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2007.01186.x
    2. Nigel Short and Alex Grant wrote a response, Written as a conversation. (Link goes to ResearchGate and includes full-text): “Burnard (2007): autoethnography or a realist account?.” Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 16, no. 2 (March 2009): 196-198. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2008.01348.x
    3. Finally, Burnard responds. (Link to PubMed, no full text):  “A reply to Short and Grants’ paper: ‘Burnard (2007): autoethnography or a realist account?’.” Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 16, no. 7 (September 2009): 670-671. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2009.01430.x.

Discussion Topic: Examples of the Form

  • Stanley, Phiona. “Writing the PhD Journey (s) An Autoethnography of Zine-Writing, Angst, Embodiment, and Backpacker Travels.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 2014, 0891241614528708. (paywalled)
  • Sparkes, A. C. “The Fatal Flaw: A Narrative of the Fragile Body-Self.”Qualitative Inquiry 2, no. 4 (1996): 463-94. DOI: 10.1177/107780049600200405 (paywalled)

Additional Resources Posted by Group Members

II. Ethics

Discussion Topic: Foundational Guidelines for Autoethnographers

We identified this as the starting place for this week – so everyone would have the same basic knowledge to draw upon.

Additional Resources from the discussions

Scenario Discussions

In this unit, we also discussed some relevant scenarios to get at some of the ethical issues from different perspectives.  Here they are:

Scenario 1: 

  • Researcher A is doing a traditional ethnographic study. She is examining the experiences of librarians enrolled in the Immersion program as a participant-observer. Her study has gone through the IRB process, and each of her participants has signed an informed consent form.  In the course of her data gathering, one of her participants shares a very specific story about a toxic work environment, where many of the details are about her (the participant’s) supervisor.
  • Researcher B is doing an autoethnographic study of her effort to build an instruction program at her library.  Part of her story relates to her work environment, which she has come to believe negatively affected her experience. Her experience building the program was affected in many ways by her supervisor.
  • DISCUSS:  What is each researcher’s responsibility to the supervisor being described as toxic?  How are they the same?  How are they different?  Are there other factors that would shape or affect your answer

Scenario 2: 

  • Researcher A wants to do an autoethnographic analysis of his experience as an abuse survivor. He cannot see any way to share his story/lived experience while keeping his abuser’s identity confidential, since identifying his relationship with his abuser would immediately identify them.
  • DISCUSS:  What is his ethical obligation in this situation?  Is he obligated to get informed consent?  Are there additional factors that might affect your thoughts on this scenario?

Scenario 3:

  • Researcher A is doing an autoethnographic study of their lived experience on the job market — an experience that was largely negative.  The job search experience coincided with a struggle with depression and anxiety.  This researcher knows that engaging in autoethnography will require them to relive some of those experiences.If Researcher A did a traditional study and observed that the study was having a negative impact on a participant’s mental health, they would take steps to eliminate that harm.  In this case, the researcher and participant are the same.
  • DISCUSS:  What is Researcher A’s ethical obligation to themselves as a research subject?

III. Getting Started

Discussion Topic: On Writing AE’s

Librarian-Related AE’s

Additional Resources

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