Last night (taking a break from my thesis write-up!) I watched Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (Netflix, 2017)’ and it made me thing about the research struggles I have had (as often discussed here) in relation to my inexplicable pull towards autoethnography even though I knew my methodology was firmly founded in participatory action research. I never cease to be inspired by the links we make as a consequence of what we do. I think I am able to make sense of this paradox now. Although it is somewhat tinged with regret in relation to my thesis, it has shed new light on where I go from here.
In the documentary film, Carrey makes some astoundingly fresh and honest assertions on human behaviour regarding the choices we make (or we think we make!) regarding our identities and how to re-present them. Carrey discusses the processes by which he ‘became’ the late Andy Kaufman in the film Man on the Moon (Milos Foreman, 1999). I guess what resonated with me most of all was the idea that my doctorate is not just about the research in terms of the data and to what extent the intended outcomes were realised through participants but equally it has signified a ‘becoming space’ for me personally, in the same way it did for Carrey. It is only with hindsight and on reflection that I now see how the internal transformations I was feeling were tied in with my obsession with autoethnography earlier in the process.
Over the past few years of being involved in this doctorate programme, I have constantly had to negotiate my impulse (or calling) towards autoethnography whilst conducting PAR, which culminated in having to concede that the value of the project undertaken cannot be effectively measured in a way (at least in the way that I carried it out) that fulfils academic protocols. Perhaps I wasn’t brave enough to run with autoethnography from the start, and perhaps the fear of self-research given my professional environment (at the time) was too greater risk for me to take. I didn’t want to compromise but found I did in the end. I wasn’t as brave as Andy Kaufman.
I guess my writing here is still playing out that turmoil. As well as a place to order some of my data, my blog has provided a platform for necessary outbursts and reflective writing. Whatever resulted in terms of content, I have always made a commitment to see it through until my final viva. I am still convinced it may prove of value to others long after this process has finished for me.
Also, in relation to the problematics on identity, the documentary also poses questions on who do we want to be? Put simply, do you want to be a raw uncut or a packaged, edited version of yourself? The former meaning to unpack and expose the self for who we really are (a mash-up of dirty pearls) or the latter meaning to continue to consciously reversion our identity adhering to societal or institutional expectations (and what we think is deemed more acceptable in the eyes of others)?
Maybe there isn’t a specific point where you decide one way or the other, and perhaps some of us try to do the two but sometimes badly, sometimes with success. Some may not even think to ask the question of themselves or consider it an existential irrelevance. However, I think this has shown itself to be increasingly more pertinent to me the older I become and thinking about how this relates to our online identities.
The co-framing project premise was founded on the basic idea of the re-engagement of hope by using a ‘community as curriculum’ (Dave Cormier-styled) strategy in a sector that in my experience is becoming increasingly more repressive and disenfranchised. I needed to do something that I didn’t feel was present in the curriculum and as a teacher I wanted to reclaim that sense of hope for myself. It was for all of us involved and I guess this is where the blurred line emerged between PAR and autoethnography. By reflecting on what we have (personally) to offer the world in terms of transferable skills, only then is it possible to find a space or place in which we can flourish as we work towards becoming the happiest version of ourselves. The co-framing project was never about adhering to the prevalent neo-liberal agenda of employability nor was it designed in terms of supporting the marketisation of education. On the contrary, its aims were much more subtle. We were attempting to make sense of employability as we understood and experienced it in the classroom. It assumed an ‘in itself for itself’ objective but not in a capitalist sense. The projects’ co-devised strategies were applied primarily for purposes of strengthening participant confidence(s) in relation to their own reflexive articulation(s). Not only signalling an articulated celebration of who they are but something that is not benchmarked. The absence of the latter served to free the project up in a way that I felt was needed. Project outcomes demonstrate participant mobilised mindsets as a consequence of their engagement. Thus presenting a window of hope previously absent.