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Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry

Autoethnography: an overview

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno) (Ellis, 2004; Holman Jones, 2005). This approach challenges canonical ways of doing research and representing others (Spry, 2001) and treats research as a political, socially-just and socially-con-scious act (Adams & Holman Jones, 2008).

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 iden-tity 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).

Furthermore, scholars began recognizing that different kinds of people pos-sess different assumptions about the world – a multitude of ways of speaking, writing, valuing and believing – and that conventional ways of doing and think-ing about research were narrow, limiting, and parochial.

those who advocate and insist on canonical forms of doing and writ-ing research are advocating a White, masculine, heterosexual, middle/upper-classed, Christian, able-bodied perspective.

As a method, autoethnography combines characteristics of autobiography and ethnography.

autobiographers write about “epiphanies” – remembered mo-ments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life (Bochner & Ellis, 1992; Couser, 1997; Denzin, 1989), times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyze lived experience (Zaner, 2004), and events after which life does not seem quite the same.

Hmmm I am doing mine on learning to explore the emerging heurstic of agentive apprenticeship as a definition of learning in networked spaces.

When researchers do ethnography, they study a culture’s relational prac-tices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better

When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.

An autobiography should be aesthetic and evocative, engage readers, and use conventions of storytelling such as character, scene, and plot development (Ellis & Ellingson, 2000), and/or chronological or fragmented story progression (Didion, 2005; Frank, 1995).

When researchers write ethnographies, they produce a “thick description” of a culture (Geertz, 1973, p. 10; Goodall, 2001).

When researchers write autoethnographies, they seek to produce aesthetic and evocative thick descriptions of personal and interpersonal experience.

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

Narrative ethnographies refer to texts presented in the form of stories that incorporate the ethnographer’s experiences into the ethnographic descriptions and analysis of others

Reflexive ethnographies document ways a researcher changes as a result of doing fieldwork. Reflexive/narrative ethnographies exist on a continuum rang-ing from starting research from the ethnographer’s biography, to the ethnogra-pher studying her or his life alongside cultural members’ lives, to ethnographic memoirs

But unlike grounded theory, layered accounts use vignettes, reflexivity, multiple voices, and introspection (Ellis, 1991) to “invoke” readers to enter into the “emergent experience” of doing and writing research (Ronai, 1992, p. 123), conceive of identity as an “emergent process” (Rambo, 2005, p. 583)

Community autoethnographies thus not only facilitate “community-building” research practices but also make opportunities for “cultural and social intervention” possible (p. 59; see Karofff & Schönberger, 2010)

Writing is a way of knowing, a method of inquiry (Richardson, 2000). Conse-quently, 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 – conven-tional, authoritative, and “projective” storylines that “plot” how “ideal social selves” should live (Tololyan, 1987, p. 218; Bochner, 2001, 2002).

These “relational ethics” are heightened for autoethnographers (Ellis, 2007). In using personal experience, autoethnographers not only implicate themselves with their work, but also close, intimate others (Adams, 2006; Etherington, 2007; Trahar, 2009).

Furthermore, autoethnographers often maintain and value interpersonal ties with their participants, thus making relational ethics more complicated. Partici-pants often begin as or become friends through the research process.

For an autoethnographer, questions of reliability refer to the narrator’s credibility. Could the narrator have had the experiences described, given avail-able “factual evidence”?

For autoethnographers, validity means that a work seeks verisimilitude; it evokes in readers a feeling that the experience described is lifelike, believable, and possible, a feeling that what has been represented could be true. The story is coherent. It connects readers to writers and provides continuity in their lives.

In autoethnography, the focus of generalizabil-ity moves from respondents to readers, and is always being tested by readers as they determine if a story speaks to them about their experience or about the lives of others they know;

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry

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