Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Doing Autoethnography on the Internet – Experimenting with Style

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One of the things that frustrated my PhD supervisor when I was submitting chapters to him as I went about writing my dissertation, was that I kept experimenting with styles of writing; as a qualitative/interpretive researcher, and someone who reads a lot of fiction, I was heavily influenced by narrative writing styles that bordered on informal and non-academic. So he kept trying to get me to write in more formal ways. You’d think I’d therefore learn to fit into that box. Wrong. I finished my PhD and published a few peer-reviewed pieces, but most of my writing was less formal through trade journals and my blog. And most of my research since then has been autoethnographic, which allows me to bring in that narrative style again.

One of the really cool things about autoethnography is that you can experiment with different styles of writing it, from the heavily storytelling type, to a more thematic or analytical style. I was reading Carolyn Ellis’ “Ethnographic I” (which, incidentally, until recently, I thought the “I” was “one” … as in research about one person… not “I” as in doing research about myself… go figure) and she writes the book as a semi-fictional narrative of her teaching a class. The details and sequence are not real, but the characters and incidents are a composite of real things that have happened to her and her students. It reads like a novel, which is really engaging. Anyway, she talks about how one can focus an autoethnography on one’s own experience, or on one’s reaction to others’ experience collected via interviews or observation or other methods. I was talking to Rebecca about my previous post reflection on synchronicity and VConnecting, and asked her whether it was autoethnographic enough, or it needed to be more storytelling-y. She pointed me to this article by Stahler Towards Moderate Autoethnography which highlights the spectrum of different styles of writing autoethnography.

So I’m thinking of showcasing a few different approaches in my chapter. Here are some thoughts on this… I’m not sure if I’ll be able to try all of them within word count (autoethnography is FOR SURE one of the most difficult writing styles to do properly within a word count limit – you cut down details and the whole thing is centered on rich, thick description).

  1. Write about the process of doing Collaborative Autoethnography on the internet – story of #rhizo14, and point to the evolution of it from Facebook to Twitter to Google docs to publication. Mention the “Writing the Unreadable Untext” as a document we published that makes a big part of our messy process public.
  2. Write about the process of actually doing research *about* the internet. I kind of did that already, in a previous blogpost… saying why I think autoethnography is important to do when the research is about so much that is already publicly out there.. because so much is… not… and the only people who know it are the people living it, not an external researcher looking in, whether they use the public artifacts or go deeper into interviewing people.
  3. Showcase one method of doing research on digital artifacts by looking at a particular moment in time on, say, Twitter. I’m thinking of the Tweets people wrote in response to my question about what they value about Vconnecting, ahead of my Challenging Academic Gatekeeping keynote last summer. My autoethnography would be reacting to those tweets, integrating some of what I already know about the person beyond their tweets in my reflection.
  4. Showcase another method where I can pick one person, and look at artifacts they’ve left public about their interactions with Virtually Connecting over time (examples are tweets, blogposts, and what they’ve said in sessions)
  5. Reflect on “turning points” in the evolution of my understanding of Virtually Connecting, and show some of this over time – such as the idea that VConnecting may not serve a social justice purpose to all people. There were indications of this early on, and we kept digging deeper into it, and there are focus group interviews that raise this point which I can draw upon, and going all the way up until recently, with my understanding of Nancy Fraser’s framework for social justice and the Mozilla Open Leaders exploration of hospitality, and a piece the co-directors and I just published (it’s coming out VERY soon, already announced on the website but not linked yet) on intentionally equitable hospitality.

I don’t know… just some starting points…

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