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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