A ‘disrupted’ Summer 2016 #disruptedjournal

A ‘disrupted’ Self-Narrative: Taking The Auto Out Of Autoethnography (Version 3)

Project Background – My Thesis and Me

The impetus behind writing this blog article to accompany the disrupted Journal of Media Practice (dJMP) experiment is not founded on blogging per se (as my blog never claims to account for either a technical or critical appraisal of the media as a platform) but rather its discursive interest(s) lie within the idea of the researcher as subject and how my (researcher) story elucidated through its associated blog, ‘An (Auto?) Ethnographer’s Tale’ might be framed, communicated and disseminated beyond the confines of the thesis.

For reader clarity, it is important for me to open up by explaining something about myself to aid contextualization on how I arrived at this point and discuss stages encountered regarding my somewhat transient and at times confused sense of positionality throughout the research process.

Hence I begin this my storied account with my thesis, currently entitled, ‘Framing employability: co-writing ‘subject media’ with students’ which derived out my own professional acute pedagogic conflict underlining the employability remit in the Further Education (or FE) sector in which I undertook my research. The pressure of securing a work experience placement to tick the Ofsted agenda seemed (and still seems) a tokenistic strategy to me as a teacher. It is not that I denounce work experience but I wanted to think about my subject in relation to the employability agenda through a different lens. If I was going to spend four years developing a research project then I needed to know that it would hold some value (personal and perhaps economic) for the participants. I would otherwise have considered it a fruitless endeavour.

Alongside the employability agenda, it appeared equally contradictory to place emphasis on Maths, English and Information Technology as fundamental skills without giving due consideration to what other ‘softer’ transferable skills (that employers deem as desirable) are embedded in the subject I teach, a Level 3 vocational BTEC Extended Diploma in Media Production (TV & Film). Personally, in many ways, the basis for my project was formulated in defense of my subject (and my role as a teacher of ‘subject media’) by offering an alterative to the standard response to employability. In part, it represented me reacting to criticisms and skepticism purported by Wolf (2011, p.22) on ‘the labour market value’ of such courses because I was increasingly beginning to lose sight of my previously held beliefs for my subject, extending to my role as a teacher and thoughts on the teaching profession more broadly.

Therefore, I tried to think about ways of mapping out a project idea that might facilitate individual student ability to apply and articulate skills accrued throughout the course with the goal of further enhancing their long-term employability potential. I needed to know and believe that somehow I had helped my students (who were my participants) on the rocky road to employability.

The idea itself was a risk because I did not know which direction it would take me/ us; it was purely based initially on a personal hunch together with secondary sourced literature accessed that alluded to transferable skills as an area worth investigating further.

The National Children’s Bureau concludes their ‘Measuring Employability Skills’ policy document by identifying actions for future development, actions this project will contribute to. Blades et al. (2012, p. 35) state:

It seems a sensible next step is to agree more widely on a framework of employability skills… begin to collate existing assessment tools to be piloted in forthcoming evaluations, which should include some more nuanced analyses examining, for example, which programme components are associated with young people’s employability skills…

In my view, it seemed simultaneously peculiar and somehow wrong that transferable skills were not part of my remit so I decided to set out on a journey to make them my business. But I would need the co-operation of my students. With hindsight, I can see now that my framework should have become apparent to me at this point but I will now try to explain why this was not the case.

The researchers’ biographical footprint acknowledged as present in the research process itself is not a new phenomenon. Almost sixty years ago, C. Wright Mills (1959, p. 6) advocated the idea that ‘no social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey.’ I was attempting to synthesize heartfelt contradictions and inadequacies of policy by developing a new practice to enhance our understanding of transferable skills through collective action.

My professional knowledge and personal understanding of my cohort (2014-2016) proved critical. Initially, I needed to ascertain what my students understood by the term ‘transferable skills?’ Also I wanted participants to somehow track their skills but it could not be invasive or time-consuming (timetable) because I knew they would not engage due to other priorities in their lives. Any implemented research strategy or strategies would need to take into account the diverse level and ability of learners and differentiation factors (variant learning needs). This knowledge and understanding was very much a consequence of my insider status and based on my experience, thoughts and daily pedagogic practices with them (spending three full days on a weekly basis as their teacher and personal tutor). As Sartre (1963, p. 139) purported ‘the heuristic method must consider the “differential” (if the study of a person is concerned) within the perspective of biography.’

The mixed methods used were akin to our day-to-day practices and my understanding of the cohort, forming what Freire (1993, p. 161) would identify as a ‘cultural synthesis’ of action through praxis. I wanted my students to assume shared ownership largely because the research focus was to centre on their autonomy throughout the process. Having said this, regarding their skills, the research project itself signified a practical vehicle for me as their teacher to mobilize their career pathway towards liberation, more as a potential resolution towards the employability agenda rather than revolution against it. As this point, I was still framing my methodology as collaborative autoethnography.

 

An Experimental Mixed Method Approach

From the onset, participating students and myself collaborated on methods (self-selected initially). Students then identified transferable skills based on their understanding (using mind-maps); these were further reduced (ten key words to five key words) based on focus group feedback on usage (tracking ten proved too much for the majority). Participants then reflected on their own application via a tracking document over a period of six months.

At the end of the six month period, participants created storied scenarios based on their experiences during production (covering curriculum modules such as Working to a Professional Client Brief, Documentary and Final Major Project) resulting in devising a game format to extrapolate data entitled, ‘“Guess Who?” Transferable Skills Event.’ In turn, scenarios would be read at random (out of a hat) and the other participants would have to guess whom the scenario belonged to, identify transferable skills accrued as well as other sectors where the skills may be appropriated. After guessing, the person who wrote the original scenario would reveal themselves and either confirm or correct the interpretation(s) presented by the other participants present. I also added scenarios to the hat, based on my experiences with past students to see how they might react to unfamiliar scenarios.

The tracking documentation and games were strategies primarily designed to develop participant confidence(s) when discussing transferable skills. The spontaneity and strategies implemented were only possible because I know my students and as their personal tutor, I have insight into their personal and emotional well being, mindsets and academic capabilities. Hayler (2011, pp.18-19) recognises this in his own work with teacher educators in HE stating, ‘our narratives become both method and data that is empirically derived from our articulated experience and observation.’

Post-event, one week later, participants engaged in semi-structured 1-1 interviews, providing them with an additional opportunity to consolidate their articulation on their own individual understanding, interpretation and experiences of skills used. Students were also able to explain how the skills identified could be applied across sector (other non-media sectors) due to the “Guess Who?” game previously played.

Example Scenario

Fig. 1 An Example of Participant Self-Devised Scenario (personal collection)

It was highlighted to me by one of my supervisors that my research data would ultimately represent a projected set of data, the actual reality of whether those participating students applied my research in life or career beyond their college experience, would remain unverified. Taking this advice into account I proceeded to make contact with ex-media students (five in total, two of whom had left the course over ten years ago) and asked if I could interview them about the transferable skills they believe have impacted on their professional pathways since leaving the course. This meant that I could have past voices or narratives speaking with those of the present and this data together with my own analyses and interpretation would serve to enrich my data sources and make more reliable evidence generated.

In this respect my research sources bear traits of what Bakhtin (1984, p.6) identifies as a ‘polyphonic’ data:

…a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousness… with        equal rights and each with its own world, combine but are not merged in the unity of the event.

It was therapeutic to catch up with old students; it felt good to hear their reflections on how studying my course had resulted in a positive impact on their career progression. It reminded me that what we do in the classroom and the relationships we form with our students can literally change and enhance people’s lives. It reintroduced a sense of hope and optimism that for me has become eroded over time proving beneficial for my self-esteem. It was like catching up with old friends, difficult to see as data.

Reflecting on the range of data sources, the participants with myself very much negotiated and mapped out the research terrain. It was an experimental methodology in that it allowed the course of action to change direction at multiple stages. Whilst Lincoln and Denzin would identify this approach as signifying the (2005, p. 1116) ‘the methodologically contested present’ I argue here that using a combination of interlinked methods (although at first it may, under scrutiny appear complex, haphazard even) suited the processes encountered as they mirrored our classroom life world. To aid reader visualization of the broad terrain of data accrued photographic evidence can be accessed here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/131988099@N03/

 

Researcher Biographical Knowledge

As I have rationalized the mixed methods incorporated above, perhaps most compelling, in this specific context (specifically exploring media education and cultural contexts) the author identifies the researcher’s ‘biographical knowledge’ as signifying a more appropriate and effective term to use (over researcher subjectivity) as it explicitly implicates the researchers’ biographical history, experiences, emotions, beliefs, fears (both personal and professional as carrying equal leverage) as a form of knowledge itself and as central to my encounters.

As a media teacher, I bring myself (including my opinions, my beliefs and interpretation of texts and culture) into the life world of the classroom each day. Denzin (2014, p. 26) succinctly acknowledges that, ‘the ethnographer’s writing self cannot not be present, there is no objective space outside the text.’ I am cautious of using the term researcher subjectivity because I believe it insinuates (through language alone) bias and represents something to be cautious of, a weakness to be mistrusted, as lacking rigor and/ or quality.

In his essay, ‘Society Must Be Defended,’ (Foucault 2000, pp. 59-65) Foucault identifies two oppositional yet critical standpoints that can be closely aligned with the spirit of my project and my positionally. Firstly, in conversation with Chomsky in 1974, he places emphasis on the relations between subjects and our associated subjectivities; similarly my thesis can be viewed as an attempt to locate a balance between perceived employability data indicators with actual individual participant ‘epistemological indicators’ (Foucault 2011, p.7) of understanding. My thesis is more concerned with humanising the data in epistemological terms; unpicking participant experience(s) of engagement through articulated and applied self-devised scenarios. Thus serving to illuminate a pluralistic attempt to autonomize participants through self-study (using transferable skills tracker) and reflexivity (scenarios and 1-1 interviews) whilst confronting dominant ideological employability discourses. Hence in relation to the idea of subjectivity my stance can be described as (Foucault 2000, p. 59):

 

…one would need to inquire how relations of subjectivation can manufacture subjects… one must first let them stand forth in their multiplicity, their differences, their specificity, their reversibility: study them therefore as relations of force that intersect, interrelate, converge, or, on the contrary, oppose one another.

 

Secondly, as transferable skills come to represent something of a moving target and in continual state of transition interpretative strategies for analyses (as opposed to adopting a positivist quantitatively grounded scientific framework), can never claim as Foucault warns, (2000, p.62) ‘universal truth’ for ‘general right are illusions and traps.’

As Church (1995 cited in Short et al. 2013, p.5) states, ‘the self is therefore understood as a social and relational rather than an autonomous phenomenon’ rightfully, negating any privileging of the role of researcher over participants. This non-hierarchal space for critically interpreting what Fiske (1994 cited in Hayler 2011, p.26) describes as ‘culture in practice’ facilitates more accurately the framing of the identified problematic within a post structural ‘dialogical epistemology and aesthetic’ (Denzin 2014, p.73). A dialogic-centred conceptual framework mirrors the situatedness of our specific cohort context because integral to the foundations of the thesis is the explicit questioning of very nature of our knowledge and knowledge construction specific to the employability agenda. Short et al., (2013, p.9) refer to this as a ‘discursive rather than ontological reality.’ Although I ignited the project flame the fires of multiple self-studies became alight. On reflection, it could be argued the participants lived out my battle with the employability remit, leaving my role (as researcher and no longer their teacher) to make sense of the emergent (constructed) discourses created by them.

 

Therefore, the researcher’s biographical knowledge as a way of seeing or framing my project forms the nexus on which the blog hangs. The term is inspired by Sarah Pink (2013) and her notion of ‘biographies of methods,’ meaning that each method selected by a researcher carries with it and is informed by the ideological, technical and ethical choices taken by researcher.

The act of writing and developing An (Auto?) Ethnographers’ Tale (2016) as an additional method in itself has enabled (and will continue to enable) my own biographical knowledge to filter out and thus help shape and provide explanation on how the dominant narrative of my research project is constructed/ reconstructed and ultimately how the diverse research components (Moll 2002 cited in Law, 2004) ‘hangs together.’

auto

Fig. 2 Original Purpose of An (Auto?) Ethnographer’s Tale 2016 (personal collection)

As both writer and insider-researcher, I make no apologies for the fact that this blog should come with a caveat (or warning even) to traditional academic writers and thinkers. I have always viewed my blog as a space to bring together both my research and my life because in my mind a learning environment and living the life of a teacher encompass both. Thus my journey has paradoxically become one about validating the emotional connections and at times, disconnections that exist when engaging with the qualitative research process from the inside. As Jess Moriarty (2013, p. 63) aptly describes it, meaningful research is more about ‘leaving the blood in’ and not sanitizing it (if possible). This premise represented my original intention only it became something else over the course of time.

 

Losing The Auto From Autoethnography

I believe the prefix of auto and the very nature of autoethnographic practice(s); multimodal approaches seemingly rooted in a broad range of depictions or vignettes of individual researcher stories, histories, biographies and cultural contexts make it impossible to create one definition that might be universally accepted. Writings encountered on autoethnography (Muncey 2010, Hayler 2011, Short et al. 2013), have, in turn, inevitably equated to a multitude of unique definitions, each one dependent on site-specific researcher personal accounts and experiences. As opposed to perceiving this as unsettling, on the contrary, I view it as enlightening because autoethnographic writing comes to resemble something more democratic, flattened in structure and fluid as it escapes the shackles of categorization and oversimplification. Furthermore, clarifying my personal interpretation of autoethnography will serve as an additional layer to what is still recognized as an emergent (although somewhat contentious) field of inquiry. Consequently, this autonomous status lends me the opportunity to write myself into the field by formulating my own situated definition of autoethnography. Therefore I attempt to conceptualize my project framework to the reader here by defining it as:

Purposeful research with a pulse. Destabilizing the self with the goal of rethinking biographical knowledge and practice(s) for the benefit of everyone involved.

Looking through an autoethnographic lens, this project signifies my own professional (Denzin, 2014, p. 28) ‘epiphany’ moment, an opportunity to action a response to a fundamental contradiction of my own practice(s). Hayler (2011, p. 3) mirrors this sentiment as he candidly describes, ‘my pedagogy did not match my actual practice which contradicted some of my deeply held beliefs… I felt like a fraud.’ Similarly, I too was grappling with how transferable skills can work in practice therefore I intended to use my blog as a tool to reflect on my own learning in the context of the actual research problematic. As this project is about negotiating the tensions of policy, comprehension and practice, my blog becomes part of triangulating (in narrative form) this puzzle because, rightly or wrongly, teachers are viewed as carriers and delivers of the employability remit.

Throughout the research, I had to meander and navigate the possible pathways of facilitating participant understanding of their transferable skills and in doing so become what Denzin and Lincoln (2005, p. 1084) term a ‘methodological (and epistemological) bricoleur[1],’ encountering whilst creating my own moment of transferable skills history; a history shared with my students.

Initially (for me anyway) the blurring of the lines between attempting to simultaneously apply both autoethnographic writing together with Participatory Action Research (or PAR) alongside one’s own students has resulted in a repositioning of my stance as one of re-negotiation; meandering down the inevitable road of compromise relocating myself as an ethnographer who writes a reflexive blog.

Although I was behind the project idea it slowly began to resonate that as the participants progressed and informed the various cycles of co-devised methods, I began to lose sight of me, I lost track of studying myself through my writing. The experimental nature of methods used and at times a cluttered mind (I was struggling to keep a balance across the various elements of my life and the luxury of writing came last on my list of priorities) meant that the originally intended collaborative autoethnographic framework was becoming participatory action research with an autoethnographic blog? Was this hybrid methodology possible or had I become reduced to clutching at straws? Nevertheless, I continued to struggle with letting go of autoethnography. I had found it or it had found me but only fleetingly. I felt that letting go of the ‘auto’ meant letting go of me. As a result, I set off in defense of trying to rationalize and situate my blog.

 

Reasons to Blog

Within my research context the scholarly blog-as-method can be aligned within a post-structural (influences include Bakhtin 1984, C. Wright Mills 1959, Sartre 1963, Law 2004 and more recently Denzin 2014) framework and in my view represents a more honest approach to the interpretation and management of social science data in an educational setting.  It allows me to deposit artefacts and thoughts, reflect on and disseminate my findings.

My blog simultaneously seek to capture, manage, document, archive and reflect processes encountered. It is intended as a systematic critical reflexive account of assuming multiple roles of; teacher, personal tutor, researcher, doctorate student, mother, partner, daughter, sister whilst meandering through human inquiry of this kind. It also enables reflexivity and self-scrutiny on my own handling of the research process, serving as pointers to mark the different stages. In addition to it signifying a free writing space to work through a professional identity in transition, it allows me to juxtapose images of pizza (as a ‘thank you’ to participants) next to a sketch on data strands collected and know it is acceptable to do this (see Figure 3).

My blog now resides with a self-identified need to create a hybrid shared ‘third space,’ a term Taylor et al. (2014, p.4) describe as ‘not an either/or space but an and/also place to share and construct knowledge.’

 

pizza

Fig. 3 Pizza and Data (personal collection)

I came to view my blog as a space to reconcile some of my own divorced perceptions, contradictions of practice and personal struggles whilst attempting to reach out to others who may connect with the content. In part, it also sought to demystify the doctoral process with the aim of encouraging others to do the same. Perhaps one day my children will discover my blog and finally understand why mummy went to Bournemouth and wrote an essay for four years?

In the way that Hansel and Gretel left bread trails to find their way home, my blog came to represent captured moments on my journey, a reflexive tool to help reshape and refine my understanding of events that took place (and no longer exist). I viewed it as a self-help method, someone to walk with me. The doctoral process is a lonely one.

To summarize this section, I have validated my blog as serving several scholarly purposes. Firstly, by extending reach and engagement beyond institution. I can only hope that if my writing carries meaning for my project and me has demonstrated impact for participants involved then it might carry meaning for others. It might help others to reflect on either their own handling of transferable skills in their own institutional and subject context (because transferable skills to variant degrees are embedded across all subjects). It may connect to people who may also be struggling to comprehend autoethnography in relation to themselves, as I did.

Secondly, as a platform for researcher reflexivity, my blog helps me to capture lost moments and/ or events by triggering memory pointers on which to continually work through and refine. It can also travel with me wherever I go, further mobilizing opportunities for reflexivity.

Thirdly, it attempts to reach out to other researchers as a mode of bridging both personal and professional tensions as ‘a third space.’ The dissemination of more personalized artefacts (e.g. photographs, poems, embedded moving image links etc.) enhance communication with others by storying my journey and humanizing academic endeavours in the hope of building shared connections/ interests that might incite future collaborations.

Fourthly, a digital blog is free from word count; such an unstructured form of researcher voice would prove neither as visually effective nor as permissible in a text-based published journal article. The freedom available would prove impossible in more traditional print forms.

And finally, by hosting, analyzing, exhibiting and narrativizing data processes encountered (as edited by the researcher) it stands to equalize both process and outcome(s) as a flattened structure, escaping the shackles of hierarchy, editorial acceptance, criteria and overt corporate focus on impact.

 

Boarding a Train to Birmingham

As Sartre (1963, p. 150) states, ‘man defines himself by his project’ however at this point despite my sustained enthusiasm for autoethnography, my own insecurities and doubts continued to cause me grief.

Around the time I became involved with the dJMP experiment, I also received notification that a conference paper to present my research had been accepted at Newman University Birmingham. I was still uncertain regarding what role (if any) my blog had within my framework, consequently, I decided to use the opportunity to accrue external viewpoints (outside of Bournemouth University) to help clarify and consolidate my thoughts on its purpose. It was an out of the blue, somewhat surreptitious moment that had arrived unannounced but I went with it anyway as it might just help me let go of the ‘auto’ from autoethnography. Although I knew in my heart my direction was about to alter course, my commitment to autoethnography remained absolute.

Therefore I set about devising appropriate workshop activities for the Newman University Birmingham conference entitled, ‘Troubling Research: Liminal Spaces, Methodological Challenges, Innovative Approaches.’ I was in an academic rut and I was definitely feeling troubled so I boarded a train (armed with criteria) and took my problems to Birmingham.

 

troubling-programme

Fig. 4 Planning for Newman University Birmingham Conference Screen Grab (personal collection)

 

We Need To Talk About The C Word.

Developing Richardson’s (2000) creative analytical practices (or CAP) criteria, Holman Jones (2005 cited in Denzin and Lincoln, 2005, p. 773) identifies six criteria in the left hand column (below in Figure 5), for the evaluation of autoethnographic practice(s). Based on project outcome(s) I used her criteria to tabulate a reflexive summary (in the right hand column) on how I believed my project and its associated blog can be aligned to each criterion, criteria, which I also contest, are closely connected to the characteristics of PAR as defined in Winter (1996). See Figure 6.

As Denzin (2014, pp. 70-71) succinctly states, ‘the criteria for evaluating research are now relative.’ The ethnographic framework for this project celebrates subjectivity whilst simultaneously refutes ideas of methodological certainty; attributes of which my project are closely aligned.

 

Workshop Breakdown:

The focus for the planned workshop activities were based on my own reflexive summaries on autoethnographic and PAR criteria accessed and then tabulated.

Figure 5 Reflexive Summary of Holman Jones’ (2005) Six Criterion (personal collection):

Holman Jones (2005 cited in Denzin and Lincoln, 2005, p. 773) Bournemouth University Doc Ed Project (2016)
Participation as reciprocity. Pilot devised to invite participant collaboration on methods used.

Participants identified specific Transferable Skills to track.

Focus group data impact on direction of cycles.

Partiality, reflexivity, and citationality as strategies for dialogue (and not “mastery”). Emma Walters (or EW) blog devised as a platform to connect to others who may relate to its content (references the data produced by participants throughout).

It is perceived that a blog is ultimately a subjective platform or begins that way anyway. Regardless of how or why it is or was written re: content, structure and so on, it nevertheless signals the potential for the beginning of more collaborative efforts (the dJMP experiment is a perfect example of how its meaning has already transformed from my voice towards a more open dialogue – me responding to my reviewer via Hypothes.is). The intention was never one of ‘mastery’ and I think this is very often a misconception of blogs and indeed autoethnography. It is the personal reaching out, it is a call.

Dialogue as a space for debate and negotiation. Space for participant autonomy has been a consideration throughout the project – Dialogue on specific transferable skills ‘words’ identified by participants were refined on application (based on feedback received).

Participation in ‘disrupted Journal of Media Practice’ (DJMP) digital experiment/ attending conferences such as ‘Troubling Research…’ at Newman University Birmingham.

Personal narrative and storytelling as an obligation to critique.

 

 

EW blog – representing my story, how data and journey ‘hangs together.’

Revealing the self and one’s own biographical knowledge to enhance contextual understanding.

Audio data (interim 1-1) on usage.

Creation of ‘scenarios’ based on participant experiences (trackers used as supportive/ reflective strategy to facilitate articulation).

Evocation and emotion as incitements to action. ‘Rationale’ and ‘Stings of Memory’ sections on EW blog provide assembled fragments of personal and, at times, biographical narrative strands connected to the project impetus.

Personal response to employability agenda.

Engaged embodiment as a condition for change.

 

 

Political – The pilot and broader project represents a practical application of transferable skills for the benefit of all participants’ involved and ultimately wider society, seeking liberation through action research.

Blog as ‘representative’ of wider project narrative.

 

Figure 6 Reflexive Summary of Winters’ (1996) Six Criterion (personal collection):

Winter (1996 cited in Cohen et al. 2011, pp. 346-347) Bournemouth University Doc Ed Project (2016)
Reflexive critique, the process of us becoming aware of our own perpetual biases. EW blog.

Ex-media student interviews (actuality/ happened) not projected reality.

Dialectical critique, a way of understanding the relationships between the elements that makes up various phenomena.

 

 

EW blog.

Participants identified Transferable Skills to track.

Focus group data impact on direction of cycles.

‘Guess Who?’ – Strategy to cluster learning at end of the tracking process.

Collaboration, intended to mean that everyone’s view is taken as a contribution to understanding the situation.

 

 

 

Pilot devised to invite participant collaboration on methods used.

Participants identified Transferable Skills to track.

Focus group data impact on direction of cycles.

Participant-devised scenarios.

Risking disturbance, an understanding of our own taken-for-granted processes/ willingness to submit them to critique.

 

 

 

Making the personal political – Transferable Skills identification not considered a remit/ responsibility.

Practical solution to neo-liberal problem/ working within constraints of subjectified education system (struggling against ideological power-based systems, seeking democratic resolve via dialogue & action).

Creating plural structures, developing various accounts and critiques rather than a single authoritative interpretation.

 

 

EW blog devised as a platform to connect to others who may relate to its content (references the data produced by participants throughout).

Participation in ‘disrupted Journal of Media Practice’ (DJMP) digital experiment/ attending conferences such as ‘Troubling Research…’ at Newman University Birmingham.

Theory and practice internalized, seeing two interdependent yet complementary phases of the change process. Political discourse (employability agenda) did not match practice, (Hayler 2011) ‘I felt like a fraud.’

For reader clarity, I will outline steps undertaken.

Workshop Activity 1: Emma Walters (EW) to cut up each individual criterion suggested by both Holman Jones (2005) and Winter (1996) mix them up and place into individual sealed envelope (x 6).

EW to ask attendees (in pairs or groups of three) to discuss, identify and label criteria they believe to be associated with PAR and likewise Autoethnography… and commit by pasting (using glue sticks provided) the criteria onto the provided blank template.

Workshop Activity 2: EW to chair mini-referendum at the end of the workshop to ascertain attendee position on my problematic.

troubling-findings

Fig. 7 Troubling Research, Liminal Spaces, Methodological Challenges, Innovative Approaches Workshop Findings (1) 07.07.16 (personal collection)

To conclude workshop activities, I asked the participants if I could take a quick fire response as to whether they thought my blog and its attempts to combine autoethnography with PAR into a form of hybrid methodology seemed (in their view based on information shared in the session and their a priori research experiences) a legitimate and valid research approach.

 

Reflections On An Encounter

On the day, 13 attendees (out of a total of 16) voted ‘for’ and only 3 voted ‘against’ the idea of using my blog as an autoethnographic tool to unify two diverse methodologies. One attendee bolstered up her own belief in what I was attempting to do by leaving a personal message stating ‘you can do this’ on her worksheet. I should have felt overwhelmed and reassured with the majority result however as I mulled over the 3 who voted against, the concerns raised by the Bournemouth University panel during my transfer viva would only return to haunt me. All attendees that day worked across a variety of Higher Education Institutions in some capacity and I did not know any of them therefore no one single judgement or vote mattered any more or less than another. Needless to say, due to my own academic insecurities, deep down I sought for 100% in my favour because the somewhat destructive pressure for perfection lives in me. Much to my own agitation, it remains a long-held self-identified weakness I cannot seem to shake off. I was however touched by this one participant’s wish to add such a personal response on her worksheet. Her comment felt like a lit matchstick in a darkened room.

IMG_0241

Fig. 8 Troubling Research Workshop Findings ‘13 Voted In, 3 Voted Out’ 07.07.16 (personal collection)

Muncey quotes Spry 2001, by aptly alluding to and attempting to quantify the oscillating role of the inquirer, she (Muncey, 2010, p. 28) asserts, ‘in autoethnographic methods, the researcher is the epistemological and ontological nexus upon which the research process turns.’ This description is further echoed however ethically problematized by Short et al. as they (2013, p. 3) state:

This critique initially emerged in the late twentieth century and is associated with two inter-related onto-epistemological phenomena: the so-called ‘triple crisis’ and the ‘narrative turn’ in human and social science inquiry.

Within the social sciences, the ‘triple crisis’ to which they refer is what Holman Jones (cited in Denzin and Lincoln 2005, p. 765) explains as ‘a triple threat, a triple crown of thorns: representation, legitimation, and praxis.’

Adhering to her warning, as stated by Holman Jones (2005) thoughts began to oscillate; questioning how much I had shared my blog with my participants during the research process and how the action research elements were not effectively narrativized in any one consistent form. Additionally, the spurious nature (which for reflective purposes can be considered a strength) of the blog-as-method evokes questions on continuity of narrative and methodological consistency. As the participants were on a journey of self-study, I could have integrated within my methodology their use of blogging too. Collectively we could have decided on one consistent method to pool our reflective accounts. Thus emerging as a key oversight on my behalf, I became lost in the facilitation of enabling emergent action cycles. It felt experimental and thus exciting.  However, the actual data was about participants not me, I was just carrying the weight of how to communicate it.

Looking forward and knowing I would need to legitimize and ultimately defend how the two approaches could be harmoniously rationalized as a hybrid methodology immediately curbed my researcher commitment. The painful realisation dawned that the positioning of my blog as I knew it, would require a drastic rethink.

A short time after attending the ‘Troubling Research…’ conference, Katherine Wimpenny responded to my contribution by writing her own blogpost entitled, ‘Practice-Based Methodologies And The Researcher As Subject’ along with her supportive words, provided personal reassurance regarding my advocacy of autoethnography and a deeply held belief that the intentions of my blog were (and remain) purposeful. On reading her critique and learning about her own experiences as a researcher (see Figure 9) this came to signify something tangible and worthwhile for my writing was no longer restricted to my experiences, imagination and laptop. It had reached someone and making that personal connection with someone else felt good.

katherine-wimpenny

Fig. 9 Katherine Wimpenny Blogged Response 08.08.16 Screen Grab (personal collection)

 Wimpenny (2016) states:

Emma’s blog also re-connected me to my own research experiences not least in the challenges of conducting authentic PAR. During my doctoral journey I used a similar method of self-reflexive write-ups, and whilst not in the form of a blog, they were shared openly with my supervisory team and participants. As a valid form of ‘data,’ these entries were used alongside the practitioners’ narratives, and analyzed as part of ‘first person action research practice’ as discussed by Heron and Reason (2001)[4], as part of fostering an inquiring approach, acting with awareness, and carefully considering the effects of action. This emphasis on the researcher playing a committed part within the inquiry process, and not taking an outsider researcher role, can only help to portray the layers of complexity involved in research inquiry and to question established theories, to situations as they arise, to acknowledge that people think differently from one another, and importantly that one does not always know what is best.

I appreciated Wimpenny’s acknowledgement of ‘conducting authentic PAR’ using ‘self-reflexive write ups.’ Her words serving to consolidate my thinking that perhaps an autoethnographic/ PAR hybrid might just signal a step too far. I personally can live with the hybrid and believe it can be justified (other attendees at the conference clearly agreed). However, at this point in time, I fail to be convinced that my examiner(s) will agree with the majority vote. This journey has not been an easy one and I have still to analyze my data and submit my thesis. Needless to say, participation in this experiment has unexpectedly served as a welcome disruption. The process of engagement in the dJMP special edition has helped me to see that the risk of keeping the auto in autoethnography is simply too great because I now fully recognise that I ceased to be the subject the moment the action research cycles evolved.

 

A Conclusion Of Sorts

I am finally able to confirm to you the reader (and to myself) that I do plan on deleting the auto from An (Auto?) Ethnographer’s Tale (2016) for purposes of my final thesis. Not only as a strategy to avoid unwelcomed bullets during my final viva but because I see that writing a blog as a method is a form of reflexivity, it is not auto ethnography. I ceased to be the subject when the action research cycles began. This acknowledgement does not mean that my writing(s) on autoethnography and conviction in the promise it brings (in relation to the celebration of one’s biographical knowledge within academic research in the 21st Century) will discontinue. As the title makes explicit, although my story somewhat reluctantly resides in moving away from autoethnography, a key paradox has emerged; actual participation in this process has crystallized my thinking whilst simultaneously it has provided academic support that I needed to believe in my ability to write as an autoethnographer as I move forward.

Fig 10 Rebranded

Fig. 10 Adjusted Framework: ‘An Ethnographer’s Tale’ (2017) 05.04.17 Screen Grab (personal collection)

Having decided to participate in this experiment (whilst using hypothes.is software for the first time) and by responding to online peer review comments on initial drafts posted, my story has become one more multi-layered than previously anticipated. On receiving reviewer feedback together with continued support from the disrupted Journal of Media Practice editorial team, the process of writing has become unexpectedly transformative on an emotional level in relation to developing confidence in my own evolving scholarship. It has been a privilege to contribute to new and emerging discourse(s) on the possibilities of where autoethnographic research approaches might gravitate towards as the future unfolds.

This process has helped me confront innate inhibitions and underlying tensions in terms of making decisions on what to reveal (or not reveal as the case may be) of my identity and illuminated why such choices are conflicting and not always clear cut. Outcomes of engagement have provoked challenges that require addressing and additional reflection. For instance my fascination with autoethnographic writing as a more honest research approach within academia currently remains juxtaposed with a very personal and fundamental desire for anonymity and privacy. I need to be more courageous and go deeper with my writing; this article is only the beginning. An additional issue is fear itself, fear of the professional ramifications of making transparent my voice in terms of the potential for thwarted corporate and/ or institutional perceptions of how my writing represents who I am, particularly as public education is devolving at such speed into a highly branded consumer targeted culture and where representation matters.

As recognized by Ellis & Flaherty (1992, p. 3), ‘researchers who write about their own emotions risk being seen by colleagues as emotional exhibitionists. One reason for this, is that researchers, and their colleagues who read their work, typically have been males from upper-middle-class, Anglo-American, professional backgrounds where emotions are suppressed.’

At the same time, I now identify fear as integral to repression and repressive institutions and my personal mission to seek genuine liberation has become a narrative to hold onto more now than ever before. I may not have won the battle regarding positioning myself as an autoethnographer in relation to my project thesis but I am a step closer regarding the direction I will take and the position I will assume beyond it.

In a paper presented at The Media Education Summit 2009 entitled, ‘Distributing Education in the Google Age,’ Jeff Jarvis (2009: 2-3) talks about the notion of ‘beta’ and associated philosophies of Google:

‘When Google… releases a Beta, it’s saying this product is imperfect, it is unfinished, help us finish it. It is necessarily a call to collaboration. And what is education but a constant process of living in the Beta and understanding how to benefit from that… and how to make mistakes part of your process. We don’t do that in education.’

As a direct consequence of responding to the dJMP call for collaboration, my interest in autoethnography remains ‘living in the Beta’ as well as hopeful as I unapologetically assume the research cloak mirroring that of (Bennett et al., 2016, p. 2) ‘the pedagogy of the inexpert’. Therefore if this U-turn in my project framework is to be considered a disruption or naive mistake by those who read this, then it was a happy one and one I welcome with open arms.

To elaborate, as a researcher who embraces absolute subjectivity (including spiritual and emotional factors including our passions, hopes, rage, ideologies, fears, and repressions) as integral to the human condition, I believe it takes courage to make transparent our flaws, dilemmas, and indeed weaknesses as a processual necessity. It takes strength to acknowledge fully and commit to such multi-stranded narratives in a peer review open sourced digital space such as this one.

And finally, I suggest it takes a certain unique hybrid of character traits; confidence combined with vulnerability on behalf of both the writer under review as well as the reviewer(s). Ironically, precisely because comments via Hypothes.is are made public and open to all, there resides a sense of equality, fairness and tolerance within the critique process itself that is not so clearly evident in the more traditional peer review selection process.

 

References

Bakhtin, M. 1984. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Introduction by Wayne C. Booth. Translated by Caryl Emerson (Ed.). Minneapolis London: University of Minnesota Press (Twelfth Printing 2011).

 

Bennett, P., McDougall, J, eds. 2016. Doing Text. Leighton Buzzard: Auteur.

 

Chomsky, N. and Foucault, M. 2011. Human Nature: Justice vs Power, The Chomsky-Foucault Debate. Introduction by Fons Elders. London: Souvenir Press (Originally published in 1974).

 

Cohen, L., Manion, L., Morrison, K. 2011. Research Methods in Education, (7th ed.). Oxon New York: Routledge.

 

Denzin. K. Norman, Lincoln. S. Yvonna, eds. 2005. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.

 

Denzin, K. Norman. 2014. Interpretative Autoethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

 

Ellis, C., and Flaherty, M., G, eds. 1992. Investigating Subjectivity Research on Lived Experience. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, Inc.

 

Foucault, M. 2000. Michel Foucault Ethics Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 Volume 1. Paul Rabinow (Ed.). England: The New Press/ Penguin Books. (Originally published by Editions Gallimard in 1994).

 

Freire, P. (1993; originally published I 1970) Pedagogy of The Oppressed. Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. London: Penguin Group.

 

Hayler, M. 2011. Autoethnography, Self-Narrative and Teacher Education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

 

Holman Jones, S. 2005. Autoethnography: Making the Personal Political. In: Denzin. K. Norman and Lincoln. S. Yvonna, (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, (3rd ed.) pp. 763-791. London: SAGE.

 

Law, J. 2004. After Method. Oxon: Routledge.

 

Mills, C. W. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 

Moriarty, J. 2013. Leaving the Blood in: Experiences with an Autoethnographic Doctoral Thesis. In: Short, N.P., Turner, L and Grant, A, (eds.). Contemporary British Autoethnography. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

 

Muncey, T. 2010. Creating Autoethnographies. London: SAGE.

 

Pink, S. 2013. Doing Visual Ethnography, (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.

 

Sartre, J. –P. 1963 The Problem of Method. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.

 

Short, N.P., Turner, L and Grant, A, (eds.). 2013. Contemporary British Autoethnography. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

 

Winter, R. 1996 In: Cohen, L., Manion, L., Morrison, K. 2011, pp. 346-347. Research Methods in Education, (7th ed.). Oxon New York: Routledge.

 

Online

Blades et al., ‘Measuring Employability Skills.’ National Children’s Bureau (2012). Available from:

http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/579980/measuring_employability_skills_final_report_march2012.pdf (accessed 18.03.17).

 

Creative Education in Media Practice, ‘Distributing Education in the Google Age’ (Professor Jeff Jarvis 2009, pp. 2-3). ISSUU Available from:

https://issuu.com/stedranet/docs/distredugoogle/1 (accessed 12.09.16).

 

‘disrupted Journal of Media Practice’ (2016). Disruptive Media Learning Lab (2016). Available from:

http://journal.disruptivemedia.org.uk (accessed 12.09.16).

 

Data Images Produced By Emma Walters.’ Flickr (2017). Available from:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/131988099@N03/ (accessed 17.03.17)

 

Hypothes.is (2017). Available from: https://hypothes.is (accessed 17.03.17)

 

Taylor, M., Klein. E. J. & Abrams, L. ‘Tensions of Reimagining Our Roles as Teacher Educators in a Third Space: Revisiting a Co/autoethnography Through a Faculty Lens.’ Taylor & Francis Online (2014):

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/17425964.2013.866549 (accessed 03.09.16).

 

Walters, E. ‘An (Auto?)ethnographer’s Tale’ (2016). Available from: https://anautoethnographerstale.com (accessed 18.03.17).

 

Wimpenny, K. ‘Practice-Based Methodologies And The Researcher As Subject’ Blog. Disruptive Media Learning Lab (2016). Available from:

http://journal.disruptivemedia.org.uk/blog/practice-based-methodologies-and-the-researcher-as-subject/ (accessed 12.09.16).

 

Wolf, A. GOV.UK. ‘Review of Vocational Education – The Wolf Report’ (2011). Available from:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-vocational-education-the-wolf-report (accessed 18.03.17).

 

[1] A term coined by Levi-Strauss (1966 cited in 2005, Denzin and Lincoln, p.4).

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________

 

 

 

See X (ARCHIVE) Version 2 of dJMP

A ‘disrupted’ Self-Narrative: Taking The Auto Out Of Autoethnography (Version 2)

 

Part 1. An (Auto?) Ethnographer’s Tale (2016) An Introduction

The impetus behind writing this blog article to accompany the ‘disrupted Journal of Media Practice’ (2016) experiment is not founded on blogging per se (as my blog never claims to account for either a technical or critical appraisal of the media as a platform) but rather its discursive interest(s) lie within the idea of the researcher as subject and how that might be framed, communicated and disseminated beyond the confines of the thesis. Each identified section is structured into story strands for user clarity however they do not necessarily have to be read in chronological order. At the time of writing, I am mindful of the problematics involved when discussing issues relating to what might be considered ‘researcher subjectivity’ particularly within the academic field. Therefore perhaps most compelling the author identifies the researcher’s ‘biographical knowledge’ as signifying a more appropriate and effective term as it implicates the researchers’ biographical history and experiences (both personal and professional as carrying equal leverage) as a form of knowledge itself. I prefer to refrain from using the term researcher subjectivity because I believe insinuates (through language alone) bias and represents something to be cautious of, a weakness to be mistrusted, as lacking rigor and/ or quality. Therefore, the researcher’s biographical knowledge as a way of seeing or framing my project forms the nexus on which the blog hangs. The term is inspired by Sarah Pink (2013) and her notion of ‘biographies of methods,’ meaning that each method selected by a researcher carries with it and is informed by the ideological, technical and ethical choices taken by researcher.

Therefore, the act of writing and developing An (Auto?) Ethnographers’ Tale (2016) has enabled (and will continue to enable) my own biographical knowledge and thus help shape and provide explanation on how the dominant narrative of my research project is constructed/ reconstructed and (Moll 2002 cited in Law, 2004) ultimately how the diverse research components ‘hangs together.’

As both writer and insider-researcher, I make no apologies for the fact that this introduction should come with a caveat (or warning even) to traditional academic writers and thinkers. This my journey has paradoxically become one about validating the emotional connections and at times, disconnections that exist when engaging with the qualitative research process. Initially (for me anyway) the blurring of the lines between attempting to simultaneously apply both autoethnographic writing together with Participatory Action Research (or PAR) alongside one’s own students has resulted in a repositioning of my stance as one of re-negotiation; meandering down the inevitable road of compromise relocating myself as an ethnographer who writes a reflexive blog. A transition I intend to explain to you.

 

 

Part 2. Autoethnography? A Brief History (Interpreted)

The researchers’ biographical footprint acknowledged as present in the research process itself is not a new phenomena. Almost sixty years ago, C. Wright Mills (1959, p. 6) advocated the idea that ‘no social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey.’

A few years later, in agreement Sartre (1963, p. 139) purported ‘the heuristic method must consider the “differential” (if the study of a person is concerned) within the perspective of biography.’

Building on their founding philosophies, Denzin (2014, p. 26) succinctly acknowledges that, ‘the ethnographer’s writing self cannot not be present, there is no objective space outside the text,’ dismissing and discarding claims on palpable objectification to the edit room floor. Conversely, autoethnography is a celebration of making more explicit ones researcher signature or being in the research in some selected form.

Hayler (2011, pp.18-19) recognises this in his own work with teacher educators in HE stating, ‘our narratives become both method and data that is empirically derived from our articulated experience and observation.’

As Jess Moriarty (2013, p. 63) aptly describes it, meaningful research is more about ‘leaving the blood in’ and not sanitizing it (if possible). This premise represented my original intention only it became something else over the course of time.

Fig. 2 Original purpose of An (Auto?) Ethnographer’s Tale 2016 (personal collection)

(Auto?).png

 

I have yet to succeed in locating an agreed consensus across the body of literature encountered so far with regards to ascertaining one single definition of autoethnography. It may have proved difficult to access due to the prefix of auto and the very nature of autoethnographic practice(s); multimodal approaches seemingly rooted in a broad range of depictions or vignettes of individual researcher stories, histories, biographies and cultural contexts. Writings encountered on autoethnography (Muncey 2010, Hayler 2011, Short et al. 2013), have, in turn, inevitably equated to a multitude of unique definitions, each one dependent on site-specific researcher personal accounts and experiences.

As opposed to perceiving this as unsettling, on the contrary, I view this as enlightening precisely because autoethnographic writing comes to resemble something more democratic, flattened in structure and fluid as it escapes the shackles of categorization and oversimplification. Furthermore, regardless of its historical traces previously discussed, clarifying my personal interpretation of autoethnography will serve as an additional layer to what is still recognized as an emergent (although somewhat contentious) field of inquiry. Consequently, this autonomous status lends me the opportunity to write myself into the field by formulating my own situated definition of autoethnography. Therefore I attempt to conceptualize my project framework to the reader here by defining it as:

Purposeful research with a pulse. Destabilizing the self with the goal of rethinking biographical knowledge and practice(s) for the benefit of everyone involved.

As Sartre (1963, p. 150) states, ‘man defines himself by his project’ and in this article I will make reference to and draw on narrative fragments encountered, making connections at intersecting points in order to triangulate seemingly divergent and disconnected ideas to aid reader understanding on why although my direction may have changed during the course of this experiment, my commitment to autoethnography remains absolute.

 

Part 3. Origins

The origins of the blog resided with a self-identified need to create a hybrid shared ‘third space,’ a term Taylor et al. (2014, p.4) describe as ‘not an either/or space but an and/also place to share and construct knowledge.’

In addition to it signifying a free writing space to work through a professional identity in transition whilst carrying multiple roles (teacher-researcher-learner-mother-writer) it enabled reflexivity and self-scrutiny on my own handling of the research process. It allowed me to juxtapose images of pizza (as a ‘thank you’ to participants) next to a sketch on data strands collected and know it was acceptable to do this.

Fig. 3 Pizza and Data (personal collection)

Pizza.png

I came to view my blog as a space to reconcile some of my own divorced perceptions, contradictions of practice and personal struggles whilst attempting to reach out to others who may connect with the content. In part, it also sought to demystify the doctoral process with the aim of encouraging others to do the same. Perhaps one day my children will discover my blog and finally understand why mummy went to Bournemouth and wrote an essay for four years? By having a value for me personally, I can only hope that it may be of value to someone else.

Within my research context the scholarly blog-as-method can be aligned within a post-structural (influences include Bakhtin 1984, C. Wright Mills 1959, Sartre 1963, Law 2004 and more recently Denzin 2014) framework and in my view represents a more honest approach to the interpretation and management of social science data in an educational setting.

To summarize and conclude this section, I have validated my blog as serving several scholarly purposes:

1) Extending reach and engagement beyond institution.

2) Platform for researcher reflexivity.

3) Attempts to connect to other Professional Doctorate researchers as a mode of bridging both personal and professional tensions as ‘a third space.’ The dissemination of more personalized artefacts (e.g. photographs, poems, embedded moving image links etc.) enhance communication with others by storying the researcher journey.

4) A digital blog is free from word count; such an unstructured form of researcher voice would neither prove as visually effective nor as permissible in a text-based published journal article.

4) Platform to host, analyze and exhibit data with a focus on balancing out both process and outcome(s) as a flattened structure.

 

 

Part 4. We Need To Talk About The C Word

My storied article on what was to become academic compromise should begin by reminding the reader of my original problematic, as stated on the digital ‘disrupted’ platform:

Can a scholarly-storied researcher blog and its multi-textual forms signify a legitimate method in its own right within the context of my project or is it merely a tool to facilitate reflexivity?

I needed to devise a plan in order to accrue external viewpoints to clarify and consolidate my position. Therefore I decided to integrate the ‘disrupted’ experiment question I was posing into workshop activities designed for a conference I was attending at Newman University Birmingham around the same time.

Fig. 4 Planning for Newman University Birmingham Conference Screen Grab (personal collection)

Planning Workshop at Newman.png

Developing Richardson’s (2000) creative analytical practices (or CAP) criteria, Holman Jones (2005 cited in Denzin and Lincoln, 2005, p. 773) identifies six criterion in the left hand column (below in Figure 5), for the evaluation of autoethnographic practice(s). Based on project outcome(s) I used her criterion to tabulate a reflexive summary (in the right hand column) on how I believe this (my) Doctorate of Education project and its associated blog is aligned to each criteria, criterion which I also argue are closely connected to the characteristics of PAR as defined in Winter (1996). See Figure 6 below.

As Denzin (2014, pp. 70-71) succinctly states, ‘the criteria for evaluating research are now relative.’ The ethnographic framework for this project celebrates subjectivity whilst simultaneously refutes ideas of methodological certainty; attributes of which my project are closely aligned.

Figure 5. Reflexive Summary of Holman Jones’ (2005) Six Criterion (personal collection):

Holman Jones (2005 cited in Denzin and Lincoln, 2005, p. 773) Bournemouth University Doc Ed Project (2016)
Participation as reciprocity. Pilot devised to invite participant collaboration on methods used.

Participants identified specific Transferable Skills to track.

Focus group data impact on direction of cycles.

Partiality, reflexivity, and citationality as strategies for dialogue (and not “mastery”). Emma Walters (or EW) blog devised as a platform to connect to others who may relate to its content (references the data produced by participants throughout).
Dialogue as a space for debate and negotiation. Space for participant autonomy has been a consideration throughout the project – Dialogue on specific transferable skills ‘words’ identified by participants were refined on application (based on feedback received).

Participation in ‘disrupted Journal of Media Practice’ (DJMP) digital experiment/ attending conferences such as ‘Troubling Research…’ at Newman University Birmingham.

Personal narrative and storytelling as an obligation to critique. EW blog – representing my story, how data and journey ‘hang together.’

Audio data (interim 1-1) on usage.

Creation of ‘scenarios’ based on participant experiences (trackers used as supportive/ reflective strategy to facilitate articulation).

Evocation and emotion as incitements to action. ‘Rationale’ and ‘Stings of Memory’ sections on EW blog provide assembled fragments of personal and, at times, biographical narrative strands connected to the project impetus.

Personal response to employability agenda.

Engaged embodiment as a condition for change.

 

 

Political – The pilot and broader project represents a practical application of transferable skills for the benefit of all participants’ involved and ultimately wider society, seeking liberation through action research.

Blog as ‘representative’ of wider project narrative.

 

Figure 6. Reflexive Summary of Winters’ (1996) Six Criterion (personal collection):

Winter (1996 cited in Cohen et al. 2011, pp. 346-347) Bournemouth University Doc Ed Project (2016)
Reflexive critique, the process of us becoming aware of our own perpetual biases. EW blog.

Ex-media student interviews (actuality/ happened) not projected reality.

Dialectical critique, a way of understanding the relationships between the elements that makes up various phenomena.

 

 

EW blog.

Participants identified Transferable Skills to track.

Focus group data impact on direction of cycles.

‘Guess Who?’ – Strategy to cluster learning at end of the tracking process.

Collaboration, intended to mean that everyone’s view is taken as a contribution to understanding the situation.

 

 

 

Pilot devised to invite participant collaboration on methods used.

Participants identified Transferable Skills to track.

Focus group data impact on direction of cycles.

Participant-devised scenarios.

Risking disturbance, an understanding of our own taken-for-granted processes/ willingness to submit them to critique.

 

 

 

Making the personal political – Transferable Skills identification not considered a remit/ responsibility.

Practical solution to neo-liberal problem/ working within constraints of subjectified education system (struggling against ideological power-based systems, seeking democratic resolve via dialogue & action).

Creating plural structures, developing various accounts and critiques rather than a single authoritative interpretation.

 

 

EW blog devised as a platform to connect to others who may relate to its content (references the data produced by participants throughout).

Participation in ‘disrupted Journal of Media Practice’ (DJMP) digital experiment/ attending conferences such as ‘Troubling Research…’ at Newman University Birmingham.

Theory and practice internalized, seeing two interdependent yet complementary phases of the change process. Political discourse (employability agenda) did not match practice, (Hayler 2011) ‘I felt like a fraud.’

 

 

Part 5. Workshop Plan: A Summary

Workshop Activity 1: EW to cut out all criterion by Holman Jones (2005) and Winter (1996), mix up and place into individual sealed envelope (X 6).

EW to ask attendees (in pairs or groups of three) to identify and label what criterion they believe to be associated with PAR and likewise Autoethnography… and commit by pasting (using glue sticks provided) the criteria onto the provided blank template.

Workshop Activity 2: EW to chair mini-referendum at the end of the workshop to ascertain attendee position on my problematic.

Fig. 7 Troubling Research, Liminal Spaces, Methodological Challenges, Innovative Approaches Workshop Findings (1) 07.07.16 (personal collection)

Troubling Findings.jpg

In the spirit of the European referendum, to conclude workshop activities and preliminary questions, I asked the participants if I could take a quick fire response as to whether they thought my blog and its attempts to combine autoethnography with PAR into a form of hybrid methodology seemed (in their view based on information shared in the session and their a priori research experiences) a legitimate and valid research approach.

On the day, 13 attendees (out of a total of 16) voted ‘for’ and only 3 voted ‘against’ the idea of using my blog as an autoethnographic tool to unify two diverse methodologies. One attendee bolstered up her own belief in what I was attempting to do by leaving a personal message stating ‘you can do this’ on her worksheet. I should have felt overwhelmed and reassured with the majority result however as I mulled over the 3 who voted against, the concerns raised by the Bournemouth University panel during my transfer viva would only return to haunt me.

Fig. 8 Troubling Research Workshop Findings ‘13 Voted In, 3 Voted Out’ 07.07.16 (personal collection)

Troubling Programme.jpg

Muncey quotes Spry 2001, by aptly alluding to and attempting to quantify the oscillating role of the inquirer, she (Muncey, 2010, p. 28) asserts, ‘in autoethnographic methods, the researcher is the epistemological and ontological nexus upon which the research process turns.’ This description is further echoed however ethically problematized by Short et al. as they (2013, p. 3) state:

This critique initially emerged in the late twentieth century and is associated with two inter-related onto-epistemological phenomena: the so-called ‘triple crisis’ and the ‘narrative turn; in human and social science inquiry.

Within the social sciences, the ‘triple crisis’ to which they refer is what Holman Jones (cited in Denzin and Lincoln 2005, p. 765) explains as ‘a triple threat, a triple crown of thorns: representation, legitimation, and praxis.’

Adhering to her warning, as stated by Holman Jones (2005) thoughts began to oscillate; questioning how much I had shared my blog with my participants during the research process and how the action research elements were not effectively narrativized in any one consistent form. Also, it remains that the spurious nature (which I view as a strength) of the blog content evokes questions on presence/ absence and representation/ misrepresentation. Looking forward and knowing I would need to legitimize and ultimately defend how the two approaches could be harmoniously rationalized as a hybrid methodology immediately curbed my researcher enthusiasm. The painful realisation dawned that the positioning of my blog as I knew it would require a drastic rethink.

 

 

Part 6. Reflections On An Encounter (Wimpenny)

A short time after attending the ‘Troubling Research…’ conference, Katherine Wimpenny’s responsed to my contribution by writing her own blogpost entitled, ‘Practice-Based Methodologies And The Researcher As Subject’ and her supportive words provided personal reassurance regarding my advocacy of autoethnography and a deeply held belief that the intentions of my blog were (and remain) credible. On reading her critique and learning about her own experiences as a researcher this came to signify something tangible and worthwhile for my writing was no longer restricted to my experiences, imagination and laptop. It had reached someone and making that personal connection with someone else felt good.

Fig. 9 Katherine Wimpenny Blogged Response 08.08.16 Screen Grab (personal collection)

 Katherine Wimpenny.png

Wimpenny (2016) states:

Emma’s blog also re-connected me to my own research experiences not least in the challenges of conducting authentic PAR. During my doctoral journey I used a similar method of self-reflexive write-ups, and whilst not in the form of a blog, they were shared openly with my supervisory team and participants. As a valid form of ‘data,’ these entries were used alongside the practitioners’ narratives, and analyzed as part of ‘first person action research practice’ as discussed by Heron and Reason (2001)[4], as part of fostering an inquiring approach, acting with awareness, and carefully considering the effects of action. This emphasis on the researcher playing a committed part within the inquiry process, and not taking an outsider researcher role, can only help to portray the layers of complexity involved in research inquiry and to question established theories, to situations as they arise, to acknowledge that people think differently from one another, and importantly that one does not always know what is best.

I appreciated Wimpenny’s acknowledgement of ‘conducting authentic PAR’ using ‘self-reflexive write ups.’ Her words serving to consolidate my thinking that perhaps an autoethnographic/ PAR hybrid might just signal a step too far. I personally can live with the hybrid and believe it can be justified (other attendees at the conference clearly agreed). However, at this point in time, I fail to be convinced that my examiner will agree with the majority vote. This journey has not been an easy one and I have still to analyze my data and submit my thesis. Needless to say, participation in this experiment has unexpectedly served as a welcome disruption. The process of engagement has helped me to see that the risk of keeping the auto in autoethnography is simply too great.

Additionally, being part of the disrupted Journal of Media Practice experiment has allowed me the opportunity to engage with other researchers and contribute to new and emerging discourse(s) on the possibilities of where autoethnographic research approaches might gravitate towards (as the future unfolds) in what is undoubtedly, as Lincoln and Denzin identify (2005, p. 1116) ‘the methodologically contested present.’

 In a paper presented at The Media Education Summit 2009 entitled, ‘Distributing Education in the Google Age,’ Jeff Jarvis (2009: 2-3) talks about the notion of ‘beta’ and associated philosophies of Google:

‘When Google… releases a Beta, it’s saying this product is imperfect, it is unfinished, help us finish it. It is necessarily a call to collaboration. And what is education but a constant process of living in the Beta and understanding how to benefit from that… and how to make mistakes part of your process. We don’t do that in education.’

 

 

Part 7. A Conclusion Of Sorts

I do plan on deleting the auto from An (Auto?) Ethnographers’ Tale (2016) for purposes of my final thesis as a strategy to avoid unwelcomed bullets during my final viva. However, this does not mean that my writing(s) on autoethnography and conviction in the promise it brings (in relation to the celebration of one’s biographical knowledge within academic research in the 21st Century) will discontinue.

My interest in autoethnography remains ‘living in the Beta’ as well as hopeful as I assume the research cloak mirroring that of (Bennett et al., 2016, p. 2) ‘the pedagogy of the inexpert’. If this U-turn in my project framework is to be considered a mistake or disruption, then it was a happy one.

 

As C. Wright Mills (1959, p. 15) aptly observes:

As images of ‘human nature’ become more problematic, an increasing need is felt to pay closer yet more imaginative attention to the social routines and catastrophes which reveal (and which shape) man’s nature in this time of civil unrest and ideological conflict.

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