Monday, September 8, 2014

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.

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