Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Critical Autobiography as Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Critical Autobiography as Research

Article excerpt

Identity is a reflection of how people view themselves within the social structure (Campbell, 2010; Hill & Thomas, 2000). Too often these identities are mirror images of normalized labels and affiliations defined by, and through, social norms and values. Introspective of social constructs and teachings of normalcy, often times one's identity and status is never questioned (Ramsey, 2004). Juxtaposing systemic thinking with personal knowledge, this article offers insights into the uses and contributions of critical autobiographical research as a both paradigm of research and practice. This article seeks to link the application of critical autobiography with educational practice and theory to promote social justice, identity development, and lifelong learning. Keywords: Autobiographical Research, Narrative Inquiry, Identity Development

Autobiographical stories are more than personal narratives. Stories reflect a set of values, rules, and norms that govern a person's learning and sense of logic (Maynes, Pierce, & Laslett, 2008). When viewed as a source of data, autobiographical narratives situate reflexivity within contexts of cultural settings (DeGloma, 2010) that offer researchers an important set of social and individualized contexts to study (Brockmeier, 2012). This article is situated within the framework of Polkinghorne's (1988) principle that storytelling is a natural component of life that all individuals engage in. It is within this framework that the aims of this article were established.

The first aim is to make an argument for autobiography as a viable methodology of research. The article draws on tenets of narrative inquiry and the paradigm of critical research to discuss autobiography as a meaningful and important contributor to research. The first section situates the discussion and frames autobiographical research within the context of narrative inquiry. Then, using narrative inquiry as the base, the discussion transitions to focus on autobiography and critical autobiographical reflection as research. Concerns about the ethical dilemmas associated with autobiographical research are also addressed before concluding the argument for critical autobiography as a research methodology.

The second goal is to demonstrate the potential of autobiographical research. The article includes excerpts from a dissertation study in which the author used critical autobiographical research to unpack the development of their racial identity. Having completed the study, this article draws from his study to personalize the process and utilize snippets of his autobiographical narrative to demonstrate the scholar-practitioner model. The use of research and theoretical frameworks, combined with the reflective analyses provide the platform to implement data-informed decision making into practice for the purpose of improving personal practice and impacting change.

Narrative Inquiry

Situated within the dominions of human as participant and qualitative research, narrative inquiry continues to become a noteworthy paradigm of social science research (Smythe & Murray, 2000). The narrative study of lives is an emerging, multidisciplinary tradition of research based on in-depth autobiographical interviewing of research participants (p. 318). Gay, Mills, and Airsian (2009), defined narrative inquiry as "the study of how different humans experience the world around them, and... allows people to tell the stories of their storied lives" (p. 384). Richardson (1994) identified writing as a process of discovery and way of knowing (pp. 516, 523). Narrative, represented through any form of written or spoken discourse (Polkinghorne, 1988) is diverse in design; however, even with its flexibility, narrative research shares links to six core elements: (1) storytelling, (2) process and movement, (3) interrelations within contexts, (4) engagement and decision making from participant(s), (5) cohesiveness in a central theme, and (6) chronology of events represented in narratives (Neuman, 2006)

A natural component to life, all individuals--at some point in life--engage in the art of telling stories as a means to express an opinion, highlight a life experience, or utilize a teachable moment (Creswell, 2009; Polkinghorne, 1988). …

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