Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Trying Not to Lie.And Failing: Autoethnography, Memory, Malleability

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Trying Not to Lie.And Failing: Autoethnography, Memory, Malleability

Article excerpt

All research is experiential, whether this is the experience of reading in the library or observing in the field. Autoethnographers take experience into narratives and are themselves key participants in their research, and often also its subject. For autoethnographers the idea of research as a neutral process is abandoned in favour of a self-reflective form that explores the researcher's perspective on the subject in question. Autoethnography inevitably negotiates the relationship between the stories we want to tell and the histories we have lived through; between the necessary fictions of publication/presentation and the real world experiences we draw upon. This article questions whether we can ever tell our experiences truthfully. This article questions what it might mean to write oneself into research findings and narrative reports, and it asks what happens when one's self goes further and becomes the research. It offers perspectives and provocations which are informed but not bound by autoethnography's extant body of thought and readers are invited on a brief journey through self-writing as it relates to the vagaries of memory and the illusion of truth. Keywords: Autoethnography, Self-Deception, Self-Reflection, Experiential Research, Memory

This article casts a wide net and it will range across many fields of practice. In so doing paragraphs will turn from the general to the particular and back again in ways that, hopefully at least, cut through a surface treatment to the heart and blood of self-writing.

In taking writing as a theme the sections that follow will weave form and content in ways that are not always quite deliberate and perhaps not always fully under control. For these moments to come I can only beg the reader's forgiveness and hope that the article's searching for answers rather than documenting that which has already been found will read less like structural collapse than a genuine and useful attempt at practising a little of the things that autoethnographers often preach.

If the macro of the article is writing, its micro is research, brought face-to-face in the idea of communication that legislates against its own concealment of construction. The etymology of obscene is off scene, hidden, out of sight. In most traditional forms of research the investigator's self has likewise been historically hidden, camouflaged in borrowed cloaks and behind the representation of other. In a similar way, and with some notable exceptions, the writer's self has traditionally been excised from all but autobiographical publication, limited to the idea of observation from a distance; as though this act of disentanglement would somehow result in rigour; as though good research could only take place when the researcher stays firmly outside the frame.

Essentially the researcher's position has been regarded as not at all interesting; indeed convention has preferred the neutrality of the term disinterested. Nor have we generally regarded the researcher's perspective as important, with the main schools of thought being that one's research should echo that of a dispassionate and essentially objective observer, of an articulate, trained and intelligent uber-everyman/everywoman grounding findings within a coolly coherent body of sustained theoretical prose.

As an alternative to this the autoethnography focused on in this article functions as a pedagogic and creative tool for focusing attention on the inevitability and indeed the usefulness of subject positions. Its concern is also with acknowledging the inevitable overlaps between the maker and the made, and with a hopefully cautious relationship with truth. This caution is not something we need take as suspect. On the contrary it stems from recognition that ideas of truth are sometimes no more than the opinions that have been spoken by the loudest voices and that any truth is a half-truth at best. In this context any and all claims for objective truths that creep into the next few pages should be treated with healthy disdain. …

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