Friday, September 26, 2014

Canadian Aboriginal Professionals’ Accounts of Success: Stories of Strength and Resilience

Chez-Roy Birchwood, Fielding's School of Psychology

A growing number Aboriginal Canadians obtain successful professional careers, despite multilevel psychological, economic, social, and political challenges. This study utilizes a qualitative narrative approach to examine how Aboriginal professionals understand their professional development in the context of socioeconomic obstacles and related psychological difficulties. Twelve Aboriginal Professionals between the ages of 32 and 55 were interviewed. The results indicated that the sample of participants had similar socioeconomic challenges to other Aboriginal Canadians and revealed 11 other themes associated with overcoming obstacles to professional accomplishment. These themes are as follows: Responding to Racism; Resolving Aboriginal Identity Struggles; Family Support; Spiritual Life; Specialized Educational Access and Support Programs; Psychological Insight and Therapy; Adjustment to Transiency and Relocations; Recesses, Retreats, and Timeouts; Finding a Voice; Perseverance and Determination; and Professional Pursuits in the Contexts of Personal Development and Community Engagement. Each theme had discrete utility in accounting for professional successes, however there were points of overlap between themes. The themes were then organized around four transformative elements and presented on an Aboriginal Medicine Wheel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Improving Post-Incident Trauma-Informed Care for Drive-By Shooting Victims/Survivors by Building Collaborative Leadership Systems among Agencies and Their Clients

Secret Charles-Ford, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership for Change

Drive-by shooting incidents are a part of the broader discussion and policy deliberations that regard community gun violence. Non-gang-related drive-by shootings are not well researched, but news and media accounts and law enforcement reports suggest that non-gang related drive-by shootings constitute a major proportion of the drive-by shootings to which law enforcement respond. Children and adolescents in the United States and worldwide are among those commonly exposed to traumatic events, yet practitioners treating these young people to reduce subsequent psychological harm may not be aware of or use interventions based on the best available evidence (Wethingten et al., 2008). Given the magnitude and urgency of this issue, communities always are admonished, and admonish themselves, to mobilize and collaborate to address the issue of gun violence.

Although numerous studies exist that articulate the effect of traumatic events on children and adolescents, very few studies concentrate on the families, including the adults, of the victims/survivors of drive-by shootings to help them process through grief and successful recovery.

This qualitative study addresses the research question, “How are multiple-agency collaborations used to improve post-incident trauma-informed care for survivors, individuals, families, and communities victimized by gun violence, especially drive-by shootings, in a metropolitan area?” Semi-structured interviews were conducted with one or more representatives from three separate agencies that work with trauma associated with both fatal and non-fatal gun violence. In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted with three adult family members of drive-by shooting victims/survivors. A fictional story based on real events offers insight into the nature of post-incident trauma-informed care among victims and their family members.

After careful analysis the data revealed that more work needs to be done to serve low-income and minority populations. Law enforcement, currently the primary community resource in addressing drive-by shooting incidents, and other community service groups only marginally help with both prevention and postvention services for victims/survivors of violence. Bringing attention to the personal trauma suffered as the result of drive-by shootings may inspire improved future changes in trauma-informed services. Such social change is a slow process, but creating hope for our children and communities is seen as important by all interviewees. Hopefully this work will have inspired increased collaboration to better serve drive-by shooting victims/survivors and their families with post-incident trauma-informed care.

Key Words: post-incident trauma-informed care, recovery and healing, agency collaborations, drive-by shootings, gun violence, mental health and trauma, fear of law enforcement, fictional therapeutic writing

Delusions and Cognitive Functioning in Alzheimer's Disease

Claire Milgrom, Fielding's School of Psychology

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease of unknown etiology that affects cognitive functioning and functioning of daily living, and is frequently accompanied by behavioural and psychological symptoms (BPSD) including delusions, hallucinations, apathy, agitation, aggression, and depression. The presence of delusions in dementia patients is generally thought to be indicative of more advanced cognitive decline. Delusional thinking in people with dementia has also been found to be associated with aggressive behaviour, increased caregiver burden, high rates of institutionalization, and significant morbidity. Using data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), this study focused on the relationship between delusions in individuals with AD, their impairment in global and specific neuropsychological functioning (e.g., memory, executive functioning), and their functioning in daily living. It compared the neuropsychological functioning and daily functioning of AD patients with and without delusions. It also examined if the presence of delusions was associated with greater decline over time in global functioning, in specific cognitive domains, and in activities of daily living for patients with AD.

The results showed that delusions in AD patients may be more associated with the stage and progression of the illness rather than overall cognitive functioning or any specific neurocognitive indices. The results also indicated greater decline in daily functioning over time for AD patients who experienced delusions when compared to those who did not. This is an important finding in terms of its clinical application to assessment and intervention with AD patients.

Central to this study was the theoretical explanation of delusions using deficit or defect models. These models view delusions as “disorders of belief,” that is, “disruptions or alterations in the normal functioning of belief mechanisms such that individuals come to hold erroneous beliefs with remarkable tenacity” (McKay, Langdon & Coltheart, 2007, p. 933). A deficit model explains delusions as the result of fundamental cognitive or perceptual abnormalities stemming from disturbances in neurobiologically based cognitive-perceptual apparatus, distorted cognitive processes, or both.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Video Modeling for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-Analysis

Teresa Thompson, Fielding's School of Psychology

The objective of this research was to conduct a meta-analysis to examine existing research studies on video modeling as an effective teaching tool for children and adolescents diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Study eligibility criteria included (a) single case research design using multiple baselines, alternating treatment designs, or reversal designs; (b) evaluation of the efficacy of video modeling as an intervention strategy for children or adolescents exclusively diagnosed with ASD; (c) outcome measures that targeted social skills, communication skills, or behavioral functioning; (d) graphically presented data; (e) more than 1 participant; (f) a minimum of 3 data points in each phase for each participant; and (g) publication in English in a peer-reviewed journal between 1994 and 2010. Two competing nonoverlap-based single case effect size approaches were compared: (a) the Nonoverlap of All Pairs (NAP; Parker & Vannest, 2009), and (b) the newer TauU method which controls for trend (Parker, Vannest, Davis, & Sauber, 2010). Positive and statistically significant effect sizes were found: 12 in the upper moderate range and 4 in the large effect size range including these results using data obtained from baseline to intervention, baseline to maintenance, and baseline to follow-up: TauU (k = 35, N = 116), = 0.74, 95% CI [0.71; 0.77], p < .001; NAP (k = 35, N = 116), = 0.87, 95% CI [0.84; 0.91], p < .001. Additional study findings indicated there was a statistically significant difference between various groups of communication levels: c2(2, N = 29 = H =5.88, p = .05), with a mean rank of 19.40 for nonverbal (N = 5), 16.87 for verbal (N = 15), and 9.44 for low verbal (N = 9), indicating that scores of video modeling usage were highest for the group that was nonverbal. Results support video modeling as an effective intervention strategy that meets criteria as an evidence-based practice that can successfully address social and communication skills, as well as behavioral functioning in children and adolescents with ASD. These findings will encourage general use of video modeling and thus promote independent functioning of students with ASD in their least restrictive environments.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, meta-analysis, teaching strategies, video modeling

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Workplace Stigma Toward Employees with Intellectual Disability: A Descriptive Study

Maureen E. Gormley, School of Human and Organizational Development

Individuals with intellectual disability (ID) have always been part of society but the ways in which they have been characterized and perceived has changed over time. A legacy of stigma remains towards these individuals despite decades of advocacy efforts aimed at promoting their social inclusion. This study explores workplace stigma, as assessed through coworker perceptions over time, toward transition-age youth (i.e., 18–22 years of age) with ID who entered a mainstream workforce through a formalized, school-to-work transition program. The conceptual framework that informs the study includes (a) transition-age youth with ID, (b) stigma, and (c) school-to-work transition. The study asked: In what ways do coworkers describe their perceptions over time of transition-age youth with ID hired in a coworkers’ unit within the context of a formalized, school-to-work transition program? This qualitative, descriptive design used thematic analysis to analyze data collected on 15 coworkers of individuals with ID from 14 organizations that had implemented the formalized, school-to-work transition program. The setting for the study was Project SEARCH, a school-to-work transition model that began at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in the mid-1990s. Study findings supported the framework that youth with ID face challenges as they seek employment in fully immersed work settings, including stigma—initial negative perceptions related to their capabilities and behaviors. Findings suggest that participants addressed and overcame negative perceptions where workplace concerns about anticipated performance and behavioral challenges shifted to positive contributions they reported the youth with ID made. In this instance, the school-to-work transition program played a major role in bringing about this shift. Eliciting coworker perceptions is an important part of the dialogue concerning the ways in which youth with ID are stigmatized as they transition from school to the world of employment.

KeyWords: school-to-work transition, stigma, intellectual disability, youth, coworker perceptions

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Experience of Family Caregivers Within the Acute Care Hospital Setting: An Institutional Ethnography

Petrina McGrath, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development

This thesis examines the experience of family caregivers when their family member is admitted to an acute care Canadian hospital. Family caregivers play a critical role in the Canadian health care system. In 2012, 28% of Canadians over the age of 15 were engaged in a caregiving role (Turcotte, 2013). Several studies have explored the interpersonal relationships between professionals and family caregivers, but few have expanded their understanding by exploring the social and organizational activities that intersect with this relationship. This study used Intuitional Ethnography (IE) to examine critically the acute care hospital experience from the standpoint of the family caregiver. Interviews made visible the work that family caregivers engage. This work included: a) support work, b) knowledge development work, c) knowledge exchange work, and d) advocacy work. Organizational and professional processes that intersect with family caregivers work surfaced and were traced to broader organizational discourses of hospital efficacy and professional knowledge as expert. Family caregivers are caught in a complex web where public policy views family caregivers as knowledgeable consumers who take on primary responsibility for the care of their family member at home, yet once they enter the acute care hospital setting, the discourse of professional knowledge as expert and managerial discourse of efficiency can situate the family caregiver in an environment of tension where their knowledge is not consistently elicited or utilized. This study will assist patient and family advocates to understand the broader organizational activities that influence the family caregiver experience and support health care professionals and administrators to understand the impact of broader policy and system activities on the family caregivers experience and patient family centered care strategies.

Key words: family caregiver, institutional ethnography, acute care hospital, discourse, patient family centered care

Gender Similarities and Differences Among a Sample of Jail Detainees

Katanya K. Goswell, Fielding's School of Psychology

Individual factors such as gender, age, prior mental health and substance abuse treatment, and rates of intoxication at the time of offense were examined among a sample of male and female adult detainees at a regional jail in the Southeastern United States. Additional factors investigated include current charges, alcohol or drug use at time of offense, and number of prior arrests. While large bodies of literature exist on crime, gender, and drug use, less is known about jail detainees across these and other variables such as prior treatment histories, current charges, or number of prior arrests. Detainees completed a self-report measure examining demographic, treatment history, and crime variables. Results showed that female detainees received significantly higher rates of prior mental health treatment than did male detainees but no differences were found in terms of prior substance abuse treatment history. There was a significant effect for having prior mental health treatment and a prior substance abuse treatment history on number of prior arrests. A significant relationship was found between being under the influence at the time of offense and having received prior substance abuse treatment. A significant association was also found between age and number of prior arrests suggesting that in this sample, as age increases, the number of prior arrests decreases. Limitations of the study as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: detainees, jail, gender, alcohol, substance abuse, intoxication, age, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Exploration of the Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Position Within a Social and Organizational Network

Elizabeth Scott, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development

The conceptual framework supporting the argument that individuals need to be emotionally intelligent at work is not fully vetted. Little evidence has been found that emotional intelligence predicts behavioral outcomes. As a result this study explores whether there is a relationship between an individual’s emotional intelligence and the structural position he or she holds in his/her informal social or organizational network.

Specifically this study examines the dynamics of both informal social (friendship) network and instrumental organizational (advice) networks within the workplace while looking for evidence that emotional intelligence does impact one’s structural position in a network. While the hypotheses were not supported, the findings prompt interesting implications for social network scholar-practitioners interested in further researching the antecedents for network centrality. This study provides evidence that there is a relationship between demographic characteristics and network centrality, namely organizational tenure and organizational role. In addition to the social network theory implications, this study provides insights for practitioners who might be interested in supporting programs that enhance the emotional intelligence of individuals who are central to the network, who as a result may garner improved social capital.

Workplace Bullying, Cognitive Dissonance and Dissonance Reduction: Exploring the Alleged Perpetrator's Experience and Coping

Lisa DeSanti, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development

Workplace bullying is recognized as a global phenomenon and its impacts can be devastating. Much of what is known about this dynamic is largely the result of victim and bystander accounts. Missing from our understanding of workplace bullying is a vital perspective—that of the bully. Applying a phenomenological approach, this study captured the experience of those accused of workplace bullying, from the time of the accusation to the present day. The focus of this research was to assess to what extent those accused of workplace bullying experience cognitive dissonance and to examine the dissonance­­–reduction strategies employed: 14 alleged bullies provided responses to a qualitative online questionnaire and 1 participant also engaged in an interview. A thematic analysis of the responses indicated that participants tended to represent a self-centric and work-centric form of perspective taking; many also justified their behaviors as warranted for the work they were hired to perform. Most not only denied engaging in bullying behaviors, they interpreted the allegation as a form of punishment resulting in a range of distress, injury, and cognitive dissonance. Although participants indicated pursuing a variety of reduction strategies, it is especially interesting that despite the denial, most also sought out coaching, new skills, and/or self-development—along with the desire to pursue other career options. This suggests that participants did not intentionally bully others, and it also points to the enduring injury and dissonance related to the allegation as well as the limited effectiveness of cognitive dissonance reduction strategies. These findings offer new insights into the alleged perpetrator’s experience, challenge what we think we know about workplace bullying and the notion of intentionality, and present a unique application of the study of cognitive dissonance and dissonance reduction in the “real world” that can be used to further inform mitigations and interventions into workplace bullying.

Key Words: Workplace Bullying, Workplace Abuse, Hostile Work Environment, Mobbing, Cognitive Dissonance, Dissonance Reduction, Abrasive Leaders, Abusive Managers, Perpetrators

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Blame Is Not a Game: Healthcare Leaders' Perceptions of Blame in the Workplace

Cheryl L. Mitchell, PhD, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development

This exploratory research increases knowledge and understanding of blame in the workplace. Attribution theory, moral philosophy, and social cognition provided a theoretical framework to understand individual blame determination as a precursor to understand systemic blame. Systemic blame is informed by complex systems theory and research on “no blame” cultures in a healthcare setting.

Interpretive description, supported by applied thematic analysis, provided the methodological framework for this qualitative study. The 17 senior leaders interviewed for this research study were selected through purposive sampling, and individually had an average 28 years of experience in healthcare. The semi-structured interviews were designed to gather experiences and stories that informed the participants’ perspectives on blame in the workplace.

Constant comparative thematic analysis of the data resulted in four main findings. First, blame is prevalent in the workplace. Second, blame begets blame through a vicious cycle of blame. In this cycle there is often unwarranted blame. Blame feels bad, which results in fear of blame and avoidance of blame. One way to avoid blame is to blame someone else. This positive reinforcing feedback loop of blame creates a culture of blame. Third, a culture of blame includes characteristics of risk aversion and mistrust. Risk aversion decreases innovation, and mistrust decreases transparent communication. Fourth, blame has an inverse relationship to accountability, where less blame may result in more accountability. These findings both confirm and contradict the current literature. The resulting conclusion is blame is not a game.

Using an Ability-Based Model of Emotional Intelligence to Predict Adjustment to Prison

Kimberly A. Coomes, PhD, CSW, Fielding's School of Psychology

This study explored the feasibility of using ability-based emotional intelligence, as measured by the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, Version 2.0 (MSCEIT v 2.0), to predict newly incarcerated inmates’ adjustment to prison, as measured by the Prison Adjustment Questionnaire (PAQ) and reported disciplinary events. The 200 participants were inmates in medium-security prisons who had been incarcerated for 9-24 months. An exploratory factor analysis of the PAQ and amended view of the nature of prison adjustment yielded the PAQ – Global Dimension Scale. While the main hypotheses were not supported, a number of previous findings were replicated. Consistent with previous research, the sample population had MSCEIT scores in the average range and younger inmates and those with more disciplinary reports had poorer adjustment. Education and relationship status, found predictive in other studies, were not related to adjustment in this study. One anomaly in the data was the well-adjusted nature of the sample, as seen in low scores on the PAQ and few disciplinary reports. Sampling methods may provide an explanation for this finding. Results are discussed in terms of implications for clinical work and improved methodology in future research.

Keywords: emotional intelligence, prison adjustment

Hope: One Prisoner's Emancipation

Alison Granger-Brown, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development

I would like to think that I chose this study to add to the literature on human development in the prison system. However, I would have to say that the study chose me. It became a deep discovery of what is required for human beings to grow within the context of a prison setting and afterwards in the community. The study explored the life history of an Aboriginal woman once considered to be a volatile, violent, and unmanageable female prisoner by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Changing her life she became a valued volunteer within that prison system.

Human growth and development must be considered with attention to the exogenous influences of all the systems people have to negotiate. I walked with Lora for 14 years: 7 while in custody and 7 afterwards until her death in 2013. During that time she became a mother, a volunteer, peer researcher, cancer patient, and always a teacher.

Since the 1970s there has been a pervasive decline in recognizing rehabilitation potential in people with lives plagued by addictions and the crimes supporting them. I observed the opposite: hundreds of lives changed for the better. There are interventions that kindle the flame and support a fire in people to build a healthy, productive life. Society has a responsibility to fan that fire, rather than feeding the despondency and hopelessness so prevalent in our prisons.

Information was gathered from interviews with Lora, video and audio recordings, her journals and poetry. Interviews were also conducted with family to gain clarity of her childhood and complex trauma history and with people who walked with her after prison to elucidate her change process.

The study encompassed literature from modern, post-modern, and Aboriginal epistemology, integrating theory from multiple disciplines. What emerged was how powerful the deleterious influences of complex childhood trauma are, in all domains, over the life span. Counteracting this damage most significantly are the mechanisms of hope and the inspiration of believing in the possibility for successful and lasting change: This is the key-stone to the archway through which people re-enter the community from prison.

Key Words: hope, Aboriginal, transformational learning, resilience, desistance, complex trauma, prison, reintegration, rehabilitation, restorative justice, attachment

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Building a Professional Relationship: A Classic Grounded Theory Study of the Experience of Teachers

Catherine Marie A. Villanueva, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership for Change

The purpose of this classic grounded theory study was to discover what teachers valued in their work environment as they engaged in working in a classroom. Using the grand tour question “Can you tell me about your experiences in teaching?” I interviewed 8 participants, using open-ended interviews. Data were analyzed using constant comparative analysis and led to the emergence of the theory of building professional relationships.

The theory of building professional relationships describes how teachers begin working with other stakeholders (clients, colleagues, supervisors, and mentors) in a school setting. Building professional relationships is a shared process between two or more people in which the parties involved form a purposeful relationship to help meet a need, achieve goals, or pursue an opportunity in the work environment. The steps of the process involve making and strengthening connections that mutually aid all parties in meeting their individual needs or goals. The stages of building professional relationships are (1) introduction stage, (2) interacting stage, and (3) results stage. Factors affecting building relationships include compatibility with the other person, having something in common, and specific quality factors, including the personality of the person, similar interests or skills, communication, trust, rapport, work environment, knowledge, and flexibility. Communication, beliefs, trust, expectations/goals, comforting, and respect affect the outcomes of building professional relationships. While people may initiate many professional relationships, not all connections will grow and develop into mutually beneficial relationships. Those that do not will be eliminated either by choice or by changing circumstances.

KEY WORDS: Grounded Theory, Professional Relationships, and Work Environment

Monday, September 8, 2014

Recovering Corporate Consumer Trust: A Study of Crisis Response Strategies and Repairing Damaged Trust

Rick T. Reed, Fielding's School of Psychology

In the past decade, even the most casual observer would agree that there has been a continual stream of corporate crises: product defects and recalls, insider trading, corporate malfeasance, mortgage fraud, and other wrong-doing that has led to global financial crises. There is a corresponding need for corporate crisis managers to develop a set of communication tools that will ensure consumers that a corporation is taking appropriate action in response to crises with the consumers’ best interest in mind. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of post-crisis communication strategies delivered via both “traditional” online news sites and online social media in rebuilding lost brand trust as a result of a corporate product crisis. This research compared the effectiveness of post-crisis communication via traditional online news sources versus online social media sites. This study ultimately aimed to provide practical guidance for crisis managers about which online media channel is most effective at communicating post-crisis messages, and what type of post-crisis strategies most effectively recover lost or damaged consumer brand trust following a corporate product crisis to affect positive social change in the form of increased/recovered trust. To achieve this aim, this study examined the psychological impact of messages developed in the wake of a corporate product crisis delivered through two types of online media. This research measured and described the relationship between, and the positive impact of, post-crisis communication media (both online traditional and online social), and consumer behavior as manifested in levels of trust regained. This study investigated the brand trust levels of 458 consumers in response to a variety of crisis response communications following a hypothetical product crisis presented through two simulated media channels: (a) traditional online media (e.g., website) and (b) online social media (e.g., a post about the crisis viewed on a friend’s Facebook News Feed).

The results of this study are that two of the four hypotheses tested were rejected. The main findings of this study include (a) product crises have a negative impact on consumer brand trust; (b) there is a significant relationship between accommodative and blended crisis response strategies and increased levels of post-crisis recovered brand trust, and (c) there was no significant effect of media channel, age, education, nor gender on the amount of brand trust damaged nor recovered through the current research scenario.

Keywords: social media, traditional media, trust, crisis communication, media psychology, attention, attitude change, persuasion, brand trust, order effects, message sequencing, action, rebuilding trust, corporate crisis management, corporate reputation management, decision making, corporate crisis response strategy, trust response, recovering brand trust

Student Success: A Qualitative Modeling Approach to Student Success at a Rural Community College

Darren Thomas Pitcher, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership for Change

The purpose of this research was to increase student success at a small comprehensive community college in eastern Montana, herein referred to by the pseudonym Rural Community College (RCC). The study was designed to empower college administrators, faculty, and staff to foster student success by adding strategies for success via a local student success model (LSSM) to the range of best practices currently in place at RCC, such as mandatory student orientation, mandatory placement, and no late registration. The LSSM is based on student, faculty, and administrator perspectives of student success and perceived barriers to student success specific to RCC. Data supporting those perspectives were collected through a series of student focus groups and a survey completed by faculty and the college president. This qualitative study applied Padilla’s theoretical framework and associated concept modeling approach to examine perceived elements of student success as described by successful community college students at RCC. Padilla’s theoretical framework and concept modeling approach to analysis of data is known as student success research because it focuses on how students succeed, as opposed to student departure research, which focuses on why students fail. Student departure research (e.g., Tinto, Pascarella, Rendon, and Roueche) has not improved completion rates of students at community colleges to a satisfactory level. Due to the continued poor rate of student completion, combined with the national dependence on community colleges to produce graduates prepared to enter the nation’s workforce, community colleges must identify and institute comprehensive student success models. Successive studies using Padilla’s theoretical framework have created LSSMs for urban and multicampus community colleges, high-minority-serving high schools, and Hispanic-serving universities. However, those studies used criteria that limited participation for many types of students. The goal of this study was to determine whether Padilla’s local student success modeling approach is applicable to a rural community college environment, incorporating various types of community college students who were excluded from previous studies. It was concluded that students at RCC exhibited a high level of persistence, a strong work ethic, and effective time management skills.  

Key Words: Community College, student success, barriers to success, institutional barriers, academic achievement, developmental studies programs, college preparation, 2-year college students, completion agenda, performance-based funding, remedial instruction, remedial programs, academic persistence, rural, student placement, college students, achievement gap, supplementary education, digital divide, retention, student success initiatives


Challenging the Silences: A Phenomenographic Study of How Autoethnography is Experienced

Liz Burke, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership for Change
Autoethnography is an emerging field that continues to be contested as a methodological approach with a vast amount of literature articulating distinct autoethnographic techniques, methods, and theories. Some view autoethnography as necessarily addressing underrepresented voices, whereas some encourage an evocative, emotional and literary approach that aims to blur the lines between the literary arts and social/behavioral research. Others, still, argue for an autoethnographic approach that follows similar methods in social/behavioral research.

Variations in approach also include interpretive, critical, organizational, performance, and post-colonial approaches. The numerous and sometimes contradictory theories illustrate the many assumptions that scholars make about the experiences and conceptions of autoethnographers. Some understand the experience as being therapeutic, transcendent of the self and the social, and emotionally healing for both the writer and reader.

Autoethnography is also theorized as being motivated by a social justice agenda that challenges traditional notions of what constitutes legitimate knowledge, research, and voice.  This dissertation offers a phenomenographic perspective on autoethnography, shedding light on the various ways that students experienced it in their dissertation work.  Four major categories were found in the data: a) personal growth, which reflected participant experiences of personal development that included increased self-awareness, self-acceptance, confidence building, different worldview, and educational process; b) emotional process, which reflected participant experiences of a variety of emotional realities and processes including painful or difficult emotions, joyful or fun emotions, feelings of liberation, therapeutic or healing experiences, and feelings of vulnerability; c) social connectedness, which reflected participant responses related to experiences of the self in relation to others that included social responsibility, increased sense of belonging or connection, and considerations regarding their positioning in the academy; and d) transpersonal experience which reflected participant descriptions of qualities beyond the person’s control and contributed to their sense of wholeness and spiritual growth.

Findings also suggested that participants associated the assertion of voice with notions of authenticity and truth telling; challenging traditional ways of doing research, or “academic imperialism;” and relational ethics.  Autoethnography facilitated personal growth, greater self-awareness, greater awareness of contexts and systems in which one participates, and provided a meaningful educational experience for participants. This study, further, suggests that concerns regarding positioning in the academy are very much present and informed by the academy’s continued privileging of traditional approaches of conducting research.