Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Collaborative Autoethnographic Search for Authenticity Amidst the "Fake Real"

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Collaborative Autoethnographic Search for Authenticity Amidst the "Fake Real"

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the summer of 2007, Trenia taught for the first time, Diversity in Schools and Society, a required course at my university for the Bachelor of Arts in Education (which included a K-8 teaching credential). The class had a total of 48 students in the class, 47 female students and 1 male. In the course of the semester the students noted that in addition to virtually no gender diversity, there was also no racial or ethnic diversity in the class. Without these "obvious" diversities (which they based almost solely on skin color, first language, and country of origin) to work from, identifying cultural diversity was a bit more of a challenge for them. In fact it required more thinking work than most of them were willing to do as evidenced by their course performances. Perhaps it was because it was a six-week long summer class, or perhaps it was because I looked too much like them to convince them of the importance of "thinking about" diversity. Maybe they had a point. For years Trenia had been teaching students in my Elementary Social Studies Teaching Methods classes to avoid "multicultural" children's literature if it was written by white female authors. I would tell them that these books were "inauthentic." However, if they were inauthentic in their presentations of characters and stories, then Trenia, as an instructor in a Diversity class, must also be. Trenia was also an outsider trying to tell the stories of "others."

This realization brought up a question that I, as a self-professed transformative social educator, had been struggling several years to answer: what does it mean to be authentic? Is authenticity a birthright? Is it automatically granted based on how you identify (or are identified)? Does it require any additional action? Can a person who is not born into authenticity, earn it? Should authenticity, which reifies difference, even be a goal or should we really privilege neutrality and the resultant states of color-blindness, gender-blindness, culture-blindness, and so on? These are Trenia's questions, the questions of a white, late-middle-aged, mid-middle class, early-mid-career academic. Are these unique to me, those in my demographic? How might a person of color perceive authenticity, how might she describe her own experiences in trying to define it, and how would she interpret my experiences and I interpret hers? Trenia asked Colette, an African American, early-middle aged, upper-middle-class, late-early-career faculty colleague these questions. This article identifies and describes their shared journey and dialogic engagement with each other; here they ask their individual questions, consider each other's answers, and tell their stories in a collaborative autoethnography as they search for the meaning of/in authenticity.

Collaborative Autoethnography

There seems to be no easy or empirical answer to the question, what is authenticity? Indeed the very nature and value of authenticity has been explained by associating it with individual personal identity and one's ability to be true to oneself. A search for the answer to the question of authenticity is further complicated by the fact that authenticity has different meanings to different people; it can even mean different things to one person at the same time. .These differences result from the lived experiences of people. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) explain that "everything we experience grows out of prior experience and enters into new experience" (p. 318). Narrative, according to Chase (2005), is a way of understanding experience. Dillow (2009) claims that, "narratives form a structure within which to think about our daily lives and about the magic and mess of human possibilities" (p. 1344). Narratives are stories that we tell to make sense of our lives. Dillow (2009) says that using these stories in "research writing can help to evoke drama, urgency, and intense emotion in a way that traditional research reports do not" (p. …

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