Auto Ethnography as a Method for Reflexive Research and Practice Invocational Psychology

By McIlveen, Peter | Australian Journal of Career Development, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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Auto Ethnography as a Method for Reflexive Research and Practice Invocational Psychology


McIlveen, Peter, Australian Journal of Career Development


This paper overviews the qualitative research method of autoethnography and its relevance to research in vocational psychology and practice in career development. Autoethnography is a reflexive means by which the researcher-practitioner consciously embeds himself or herself in theory and practice, and by way of intimate autobiographic account, explicates a phenomenon under investigation or intervention. Autoethnography is presented as a vehicle to operationalise social constructionist research and practice that aims to establish trustworthiness and authenticity. Furthermore, the method is presented as a means to operationalise the notion of critical consciousness within researchers and practitioners. It is concluded that autoethnography should be admitted to the methodological repertoire of vocational psychology research and practice.

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Although qualitative data and methods have regained a legitimised place-albeit as yet limited--in the mainstream of psychology theory, research, and practice (as indicated by special issues in prestigious journals such as The Counseling Psychologist, Journal of Counseling Psychology, and the Journal of Career Assessment), story as data and as method are yet to be comprehensively articulated within the field of vocational psychology and its attendant research programmes and practices. This is problematic because, as with other branches of psychology, the contemporary practices of vocational psychology have ostensibly outpaced theory and research--perhaps because of restrained research traditions. Take narrative career counselling as an example of the differential proliferation of practice over explanatory theory and research. The narrative approach treats the client's story as being integral to the very process and outcome of assessment and intervention, however explanatory theory and research studies for this approach are, as yet, limited (McIlveen & Patton, 2007b).

The most promising theoretical frameworks within vocational psychology which explicitly include story are the Systems Theory Framework (Patton & McMahon, 2006), the Contextual-Action Theory of Career (Young & Valach, 2004; Young, Valach, & Collin, 2002), the Theory of Career Construction (Savickas, 2005), and emerging theoretical approaches that conceptualise story and storying of career and identity as a dialogical process (Guichard, 2005; McIlveen & Patton, 2007a). All of those theoretical frameworks emphasise story and the process of storying career and, moreover, emphasise storying as a recursive co-constructive process that goes on between client and counsellor.

Although the development of theory and research into career counselling practice with the client's story as subject of intervention and enquiry is crucial for the field, there are additional foci requiring attention. If the notions of inter-subjectivity and co-construction in career counselling practice and research are to have a methodological place, then the stories of the practitioner and the scientist also must be brought into the frame of critical inspection. It is suggested here, therefore, that enquiry into story as data, and by story as method, would offer another means by which to close the purported gap between practice and research. Thus, within this paper, I posit autoethnography as a qualitative method of reflexive enquiry for narrative research and practice that specifically addresses the stories of the scientist and the practitioner.

STORY AS DATA AND METHOD

The narrative approach in psychology--promulgated by Polkinghorne (1988) and Sarbin (1986)--represents an ontological and epistemological stance generative of theory, research, and practice which comprehends the person as a social construction perpetually formed and reformed in and of socially mediated discourse, talk, text, and image (e.g., Barresi & Juckes, 1997; Baumeister & Newman, 1994; Bruner, 2004; Gergen & Davis, 1985; Hermans & Kempen, 1993; Hermans, Kempen, & van Loon, 1992; McAdams, 1993, 1996; Singer, 2004).

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