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IUAES 2013: Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds. 5-10 August 2013.

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Evolving humanity, emerging worlds

Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013

(G05)

Doing autoethnography: a practice of realist ethnography or rewriting memory?

Location Alan Turing Building G205
Date and Start Time 08 Aug, 2013 at 09:00

Convenor

Quinbala Marak (North-Eastern Hill University) email
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Short Abstract

Autoethnography developed in recent years as a result of post-modernist leanings. This panel proposes to look into the pros and cons of such a method as a part of anthropological studies. It will also look at the various ways how this method could be applied most objectively and scientifically.

Long Abstract

Ethnography in anthropology has for a very long time been focused on the study of the "Other". Field methods and techniques have been developed accordingly. While ethnography is a method of qualitative research that describes human social phenomena based on fieldwork of a community which is not the researcher's own, in autoethnography the researcher studies the "Self". The benefits of autoethnography are many - research of such a personal nature might give us insight into problems often overlooked in culture. These could be issues such as the nature of identity, ethnicity, sexuality, political life and undercurrents etc. However, there are many who criticize this form of ethnography as sentimental, unscientific and personal. This could, if done subjectively, lead to rewriting of one's collective memory.

Autoethnography developed in the non-western world as a result of post-modernist leanings and as a validation of scholarship of "native" scholars. This has many times helped "correct" notions of a community that was under anthropological focus and provided answers to many queries. This panel proposes to look into the positive and negative aspects of doing autoethnography, and how far it is possible to bring into fore the undercurrents of a studied society's social, economic, religious and political life through this type of ethnography. This panel invites presenters who have been doing autoethnography, been exposed to it or who is theoretically interested in it. It is hoped that through the wide-ranging presentations, certain conclusions would be derived.

Discussant: Dr. Mitoo Das and Dr. Salma Siddique

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Auto-ethnography: Stories we tell ourselves

Author: Salma Siddique (University of Aberdeen)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will explore the experience of witnessing the stories in the therapy room through auto-ethnographical writings.

Long Abstract

As an anthropologist who is a practicing transactional analyst psychotherapist, I am aware of the sociopolitical and ethical responsibility of bearing witness by observing, documenting and reflecting on the experiences of others; not only the content but the context in which individuals make sense of autonomy, intimacy and spontaneity. Often these individuals find themselves in-between (Siddique, 2011) between the blurred margins of social reality and the image they like to portray.

For me it is important to capture the first person subjective experience alongside the third person objective reality. The first person conscious experience is a fragmented or a multi-layered conscious act of telling the relational self-story as auto-ethnography. "The act of writing can become a call to witness for both the author anWorld Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciencesd the reader. The witness offers testimony to a truth that is generally unrecognised or suppressed" (Sparkes, 2002:221) Auto-ethnography can help capture moments of openness and integrity about the roles we perform and which include the relational story of both the client and the therapist. I see these as the 'stories that are the truths that won't stand still' (Pelias, 2004).

The woven city: exploring the experience of timespace in residential habitat from a visual ethnographic approach

Author: Luis Iturra (Universidad de Chile)  email
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Short Abstract

Using a multi-sited visual auto-ethnography, this research is located in the concern and challenge of unveiling the inhabitant’s experience, by understanding time and space as an inseparable unit called timespace. From here, it intends to investigate and discuss the residential habitat by unveiling the lived experience hidden in the daily life.

Long Abstract

The study of residential habitat in the cities mainly uses a spatial approach. However, in its conception, the idea of the passage of time has been left behind, focusing basically on physical-spatial issues. This has defined and encapsulated human existence into spatial containers. However, looking at residential habitat from an inhabitant's experience, it is possible to unveil how its production emerges as a continuous process of place making, in time and space, understanding both as an inseparable unit called timespace.

The concern is made present by unveiling that which makes up the experience, an issue that is hidden within the ordinary and familiar. Therefore the challenge is composed by the difficulty of working with the experience and the construction of a method of capturing it in its uniqueness.

This paper works with the trajectory and information gathering of the author's personal experience of timespace. The methodology constructed autoetnography, using photographs as a means of memory extension that would allow capturing the becoming of the experience, and thus constructing a visual story that would be able to reveal it.

The experience of timespace, was constructed by using images obtained during two years in the author's life and three explorations were developed that would capture the experience as it was being produced through time. The photographs were used as text, exposing reality from a frontline position. Thus, this research is a visual auto-ethnography, seeking the experience of another, not from a distance but, in the vicinity of the everyday.

Practicing dance and anthropology

Author: Rukshana Zaman (Indira Gandhi National Open Univeristy)  email
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Short Abstract

This work based on both empirical fieldwork and personal experience as a dancer, being born in a Muslim family, expresses the contestation of two separate world views and their reconciliation in the academic and intellectual enterprise of writing a PhD thesis.

Long Abstract

This auto-ethnographical account is about my learning Odissi dance and becoming a performer in spite of being born in a Muslim family, where dancing by girls is not encouraged. The dance form initially dedicated to the worship of Lord Jagannath was a temple dance practiced solely by the Maharis (female temple dancers commonly known as Devadasis in southern parts of India) was a part of Hindu temple tradition. Islam as a religion does not propagate idol worship, wherein dance and music is also considered taboo. At times during the course of my fieldwork, misconstruction of values and norms lead to misinterpretation of cultural ethos and I needed to negotiate my identity at various times. However in India many Muslim women have been learning dance and some have also been well known, so one needs to reflect on the syncretic tradition of the sub-continent and the more liberal traditions of Islam that forms my background.

This work based on both empirical fieldwork and personal experience as a dancer, being born in a Muslim family, expresses the contestation of two separate world views and their reconciliation in the academic and intellectual enterprise of writing a PhD thesis.

Studying the enactment of schizophrenia: reflexion, 'diffraction' and 'analytic' autoethnography

Author: Anthony Page  email
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Short Abstract

This paper reports on the methodology used in a study of the enactment of schizophrenia, and argues that the use of a 'diffraction diary' along with qualitative interview data and documentary information allow the study to be considered as a variant of 'analytic' autoethnography.

Long Abstract

This paper reports on the methodology used in a study of the enactment of schizophrenia. The study used techniques and theoretical tools derived from science and technology studies (STS) to show how schizophrenia was enacted as a multiple object.

The study used qualitative interview data, information from documentary sources and and extracts from what the author termed his 'diffraction diary'. The diffraction diary was conceived as encompassing but going beyond the reflexive diary often kept by qualitative researchers, taking account of the criticisms of 'reflexivity' made by Haraway (1997) and Barad (2007). The metaphor of diffraction is concerned with making differences in the world. In physics, diffraction results in interference patterns. As a psychiatrist the author was being paid to 'interfere' and as a researcher he could not help but interfere in many ways, most obviously 'skewing' responses from people he interviewed simply because of the nature of the relationships he already had with them.

Anderson (2006) distinguished 'analytic' from 'evocative' autoethnography, and this paper demonstrates how the study met four of Anderson's 'five key features' for analytic autoethnography: complete member researcher status, narrative visibility of the researcher's self, dialogue with informants beyond the self, and a commitment to theoretical analysis. The paper claims that extracts from the diffraction diary, deployed as data, in part constituted the fifth key feature, 'analytic reflexivity' such that that the conjunction of interview data, documentary information and diffraction diary extracts allow the study to legitimately be considered as a variant of analytic autoethnography.

Performing the "Other" in the "Self".

Author: Mitoo Das (Indira Gandhi National Open University)  email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

During my adolescence and my days of anthropological training, I was curious about the social connotations that underlie the restrictive rituals associated with menstruation in Assam (my birth place). This was triggered by the processes I myself had to submit to. My first academic discussion on menstruation was a Masters project where I engaged my own self as a case study to scrutinise various forms of treatments and therapies, both social and physical. Subsequently, for my MPhil, I studied women of my own urban neighbourhood (Uzan Bazar) to decipher the nuanced social experiences of menstruation. During my PhD, I extended my investigation and researched women of rural Assam in a village named Simlitola.

In this paper, I will explore how the self can be used to critically discuss concerns that are vital to anthropology. Studying one's own culture need not be deemed "sentimental". Through examples from my research, I plan to assert that inquiry into the ethnographic self can lead to knowledge of larger social and political meanings. It is incorrect to presume that examining the self leads to creation of a knowledge which is inferior to "scientific knowledge". Analysing one's own culture can be as revealing to the native, participant researcher as studying the "other". I will also focus on the assumptions of gender in my study of menstruation. Combined with ideas of cultural reflexivity, I plan to methodically utilise my own subjectivity to garner knowledge about my Self in the space that birthed my physical notions of identity.

Auto-ethnography: Writing at the Policy Edge

Author: Ruth Pinder (Open University)  email
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Short Abstract

William James called for more analytic weight to be given to the ephemeral, the indefinite and the irregular. Drawing on studies from education, disability and my own work, this paper explores why this matters at the policy edge in healthcare.

Long Abstract

Auto-ethnography has always lacked academic and policy credibility. The criticisms are familiar enough: practitioners are seen as self-regarding, lacking in methodological rigour, guilt-ridden, theoretically primitive.

The difficulties of practising it may have intensified recently, particularly in policy science and applied anthropology: namely the rise of high-speed, drive-by ethnographies, the deference to multidisciplinary team work, and demands for 'socially relevant knowledge'. Increasingly journals subscribe to a trendy style of power-writing, requiring authors write in the active voice only, and use Heminway-esque sentences - criteria that might disqualify some of the best works in the English language.

While conventional social science methods are often good at what they do, this paper argues that they're poorly adapted to studying the ephemeral, the indefinite, the irregular. William James, for example, gave the hopes, fears and fantasies that often disappear in policy science the same analytic weight as the fixed. Some of the most illuminating studies relating private lives to public issues have come from ethnographers' intensive analysis over time of their complex engagement with others.

Drawing on studies such as Harry Wolcott's tale of a 'Sneaky Kid', Gelya Frank's cultural biography of Diane de Vries, 'Venus-on-Wheels', and my own work, I want to show why these intangibles matter at the policty edge, and what policy-makers might gain from our search for perspective by incongruity. Only then can understanding move beyond common sense in a way that is relational and humanitarian.

Studying the Self: The Dilemma and Ethics of Doing Auto-ethnography in the "Native" Context

Author: Quinbala Marak (North-Eastern Hill University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will discuss the problems of the use of auto-ethnography in different situations, and specifically in the study of one's own community. It will further analyse whether this approach is ethical, and to what extent.

Long Abstract

Auto-ethnography has emerged as a significant method in anthropology and the social sciences for answers that are many times difficult to procure through ethnography alone. In the Indian context, "native" anthropologists have been studying their own societies and cultures, both caste and tribe, for a very long time. This has helped bring out certain facets of their societies which hitherto lay hidden.

However, such an approach is far from being ideal. When the study of one's self is concerned a few debatable issues emerge: How scientific can one's own experiences be? Why study one's own self, when others could be studied? If one's own self is studied, then how anthropological is such a study? In my decade-long auto-ethnographic experiences, I frequently came across situations where I could not identify myself either with the self or the other. There were situations where questions of ethics plagued me. I realized being a "native" researcher of a society, which did not have many researchers to call its own, that the society was looking up at me for answers for which I myself was grappling. Again, the dilemma was whether to listen to what the society wanted me to do, or whether I should cut myself off from the emotional entanglements of the society and be scientific in my approach.

In this paper I propose to discuss some of these issues and critically look at the different methods of auto-ethnogaphy and how ethical an approach it is.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

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