Monthly Archives: December 2012

Autoethnography, theory and analysis

I am reading a methodological novel at the moment, The Ethnographic I, by autoethnographer Carolyn Ellis. Up until now I had not anticipated that working through a particular theoretical framework (perhaps Collectivist Moral Theory or Actor Network Theory) might pose challenges in how I analyse experiences in a partial autoethnographic thesis. As I delve into Ellis’ novel questions are arising… will applying a theoretical framework to autoethnographic storytelling eventuate in a dissected narrative and undermine the analysis already embedded in the stories?

Ellis (2004: 194) puts forward that, ‘There is nothing more theoretical or analytical than a good story,’  suggesting that stories themselves are analytic, because storytellers use analytic techniques to interpret their reality (2004). In particular reference to narrative analysis, Ellis suggests that the analysis is twofold; carried out through the storytelling process and by the readers, who, ‘… provide theoretical validation by comparing their lives to ours, by thinking about how our lives are similar and different and the reasons why,’ (Ellis, 2004: 195).

She also describes a ‘stepping back from the text’ to further theorize a narrative from a specific disciplinary viewpoint, either through the thematic analysis of the story’s content or structural analysis of the story’s form (Ellis, 2004). When I first began designing my research I had felt a tension between ‘doing analysis’ through reflexive writing (taking a step back from my own stories and those shared by others) and needing to apply a secondary form of analysis that would be viewed more credibly by the academy. In these initial stages the theories I was mulling over (CMT and ANT) looked like they might offer an epistemology from which to discuss these stories. Now I feel like there might be a tension between the theories and the practice…

My thoughts are suspended on this topic. I feel as though I need to read more about autoethnography, CMT and ANT, start writing the stories that are emerging out of being with country and see how the mix feels. Maintaining the integrity of mine and others’ stories is critical though and it is this which forms a central preoccupation for me at the this stage in my research.

Underlying this discussion on analysis is the deeper question of how we/I use theory. There is definitely reluctance on my part to use theory to ‘represent, generalize, control, and predict’ (Ellis, 2004: 196).

Ellis, C. (2004). The Ethnographic I, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

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The everyday and flesh

Back on Phillip Island and I finally get to spend precious time with S talking about our research. She has a gift of making the everyday things, which I gloss over as being unimportant, seem relevant. We were comparing blogs, the perceived deficiencies of our own and the things we liked about each other’s. I was judging my own for not being theoretical enough, for being too much about the everyday.

So why have I been taking refuge in the everyday? Maybe it is about documenting my own experiences of being with country in a way that is present, right here. Staying with the experience for as long as I can before I lift out and become detached, reflexive, analytical. On my return from Broome last month M reminded me of Verran’s writing about ethnographers in the flesh and ethnographers in the text. My recent reluctance to be reflexive and analytical has been a ploy to stay in this embodied, fleshy state.

I ask myself, what is it that I want to give voice to through this blog? What needs to be written and acknowledged which may struggle to find its way into my thesis? Myself? My own connections?

My everyday reality has shifted dramatically since leaving Milibinyarri. The birds and ancient Jigal trees that were my companions are gone, except the Double-barred finch which followed me to Darwin. I heard it in an unlikely place, a work-site at the Darwin waterfront, as I arrived after my long drive back from the west coast. So not all gone… Up here in this tree-top house from which I write, in a gully above Tathra beach, a chorus of Bell Miner and Whip birds remind me to keep opening up to what is outside/inside.

I am in a post-fieldwork cloud, waiting for ideas and insights to precipitate and fall to the ground. Listening to the conversations I had with people on country is grounding. Through people’s words and silences I hear their truths resonate through story; this process challenges me though. I need to maintain a trust that narratives will emerge. What I am revealing to myself are the buried expectations of what I might ‘find’ through my research, or what I’d hoped I would ‘find’. The danger of gathering ‘evidence’ to justify a pre-existing idea lingers. Researching with integrity and objectivity when I myself am in it is a tricky business. My body/landscape journals seem so messy. Writings about being with country entangled with other personal experiences. But amid the messiness is a wholeness. I have not dissected and extracted, compartmentalised.

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