An ad hoc exploration ethnographic research

The following is an initial attempt to restart some earlier explorations of research methods that may prove useful in examining the “Story of BIM” for potential useful insights. The starting place is ethnography and auto ethnography and an exploration of some writings.

Rescuing Autoethnography

Atkinson, P. (2006). Rescuing Autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 400–404. doi:10.1177/0891241606286980

Apparently a response to or a continuation of an on-going debate about the value and problems of analytic autoethnography.

(Atkinson, 2006, p. 401)

These are not just matters affecting the choice of fieldwork site but a biographically grounded, experientially rich engagement with the social processes that are observable in the field, and that render those processes comprehensible in particular ways.

Comment arising from a range of examples where the particular skills and background of researchers enabled engagement/insight that would have previously been not possible.

This close connection need not be justified “exclusively on postmodernist rationales” but is indicative of a longer history of close relationships between the researcher and the informant. More broadly the idea of understanding a social life ethnographically depends on the “homology between the social actors who are being studied and the social actor who is making sense of their actions” (Atkinson, 2006, p. 402) This is linked to the fundamental principle of reflexivity – a much abused term – which is defined as

the ineluctable fact that the ethnographer is thoroughly implicated in the phenomena that he or she documents, that there can be no disengaged observation of a social scene that exists in a “state of nature” independent of the observer’s presence, that interview accounts are coconstructed with informants, that ethnographic texts have their own conventions of representation. In other words, “the ethnography” is a product of the interaction between the ethnographer and a social world, and the ethnographer’s interpretation of phenomena is always something that is crafted through an ethnographic imagination. (p. 402)

If it’s so embedded in ethnography, what is the problem with auto-ethnography? When the ethnographer becomes more memorable than the ethnography.

The solution to this is to insist on the analytic aspect of ethnography. The “experiential value, its evocative qualities and its personal commitments” should not be promoted at the expense of the “scholarly purpose, it’s theoretical bases and its disciplinary contributions”.

Obviously a time to look at the rest of the discussion.

Analytic autoethnography

Anderson, L. (2006). Analytic Autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 373–395. doi:10.1177/0891241605280449

Appears to be the origins of “analytic autoethnography”. An explicit attempt to distinguish it from “evocative autoethnography”. Analytic autoethnography is defined as, (Anderson, 2006, p. 373)

research in which the researcher is

  1. a full member in the research group or setting;
  2. visible as such a member in published texts, and
  3. committed to developing theoretical understandings of broader social phenomena.

Ellis, Bochner and Denzin said to be influential in rise of auto-ethnography. But Anderson does also outline a broader history of “an autoethnographic element i qualitative sociological research” (Anderson,2006, p. 375). Though much of this work “continued the earlier tendency to downplay or obscure the researcher as a social actor in the settings or groups under study” (Anderson, 2006, p. 376). They were “neither particularly self-observational in their method nor self-visible in their texts”. There were other strands of research but it is 1979 and an essay on autoethnography by David Hayano in 1979.

There is then the rise of “the descriptive literary approach of evocative autoethnography” (Anderson, 2006, p. 377). An approach that moves away from the analytical and toward an empistemology of emotion. Anderson (2006, p. 377)

Evocative autoethnographers have argued that narrative fidelity to and compelling description of subjective emotional experiences create an emotional resonance with the reader that is the key goal of their scholarship.

Within the paper five key features of analytic autoethnography are then proposed, these are

  1. Complete member researcher (CMR) status.

    quotes Merton (1988, p. 18) describing the research as “the ultimate participant in the dual participant-observer role”.

    Patricia and Adler (1987, p. 67-84) identifies 2 types

    1. opportunistic” – the more common, born into a group, thrown into it by chance or acquired familiarity through occupation, lifestyle etc. Group membership may precede the research decision.
    2. covert – begin with a purely data-oriented research interest but are converted into immersion and membership during the course of research.

    Membership gives close connections, but does not “imply a pnaoptical or nonproblematic positionality” (Anderson, 2006, p. 380). Auto-ethnographers are apart in that the spend time documenting and analysing action as well as engaging in action.

    Analysis raises the “Schutzian distinction” (Schutz, 1962) between practically oriented, first-order interpretations and the more “abstract, transcontextual , second-order constructs of social science analysis”. Then there is the problem of the variety of first-order interpretations within the social social groups. Different members see things differently and the researcher’s role in the group makes some of these more accessible than others. This leads to the question of how or even if it is possible for the auto-ethnographic research to achieve “becoming the phenomenon” (Mehan and Wood, 1975, p. 227).

    What the auto-ethnographer “knows”/learns emerge from engaged dialogue, rather than detached discovery

  2. Analytic reflexivity.

    reflexivity involves an awareness of reciprocal influence between ethnographers and their settings and informants. It entails self-conscious introspection guided by a desire to better understand both self and others through examining one’s actions and perceptions in reference to and dialogue with those others. (Anderson, 2006, p. 382)

    For auto-ethnographers it goes deeper than this. Their data arises from their own experience and sense marking. They are part of the representational process but are also partially formed by those processes through co-creation in conversation, action and text.

    While this is an important component, it’s not enough to engage in reflexive social analysis etc. There’s a need to be…

  3. Narrative visibility of the researcher’s self.

    In convention ethnography there is apparently a problem with the enthnographer being often invisible in the text, but omniscient. Even though this has not always been the case.

    Autoethnography “demands enhanced textual visibility of the researcher’s self. Demonstrate the researcher’s personal engagement in the social world. Illustrate analytic insights through recounting experiences and thoughts as well as those of others. Should also “openly discuss changes in their beliefs and relationships over the course of field work”. To show the grappling that occurs with issues in “fluid rather than static social worlds”.

    The goal of reflexive ethnography (and autoethnography) according to Davies (1999, 5) is to “seek to develop forms of research that fully acknowledge and utilize subjective experience as an intrinsic part of research” (Anderson, 2006, p. 385)

    The descent to self-absorption is where autoethnography loses its value. The visibility has to be more than “decorative flourish”. For analytic ethnography the aim “is to develop and refine generalised theoretical understandings of social processes”.

  4. Dialogue with informants beyond self.

    Quote from Rosaldo (1993, 7) “if classic ethnography’s vice was the slippage from the ideal of detachment to actual indifference, that of present-day reflexivity is the tendency for the self-absorbed Self to lose sight altogether of the cuturally different Other.”. There is a need to engage with others in the field. “No ethnographic work – not even autoethnography – is a warrant to generalise from an “N of one”. There is a need for dialogue with “data” or “others”

  5. Commitment to theoretical analysis.

    There must be some aim to use “empirical data to gain insight into some broader set of social phenomena than those provided by the data themselves” (Anderson, 2006, p. 387). Using evidence to formulate and refine theoretical understandings of social processes. This narrower definition of “analytic” is in line with Lofland (1970, 1975) and Snow et al (2003) points to “a broad set of data-transcending practices that are directed toward theoretical development, refinement and extension”.

    The aim is not to produce “undebatable conclusions”, but instead to contribute “to a spiraling refinement, elaboration, extension and revision of theoretical understanding”.

Virtues and limitations of analytic autoethnography

Analytic autoethnography is positioned as a sub-genre of analytic ethnography.

Virtues fall into

  • Methodological.

    Being a CMR makes data more available. There are multiple incentives to participate. But the multitaking also creates potential pitfalls. Research focus fading. Participation outweighing writing of field notes.

    There is also access to “insider meanings”.

    Personal involvement also provides access to data not normally available.

  • Analytic.

    Provides “grounded opportunities to pursue the connections between biography and social structure”.

Limitations. Most don’t find research interests that are deeply intwined with personal lives – as required by autoethnography. Analytic ethnography assumes a “professional stranger” role.

There is little more conversation of the limitations, beyond that all methods have limits. Perhaps this is taken up more by the rest of the articles in the issue.


Specific research method flourish in the absence of other well-articulated methods. This is one explanation given for the rise of evocative autoethnography and the paucity of analytic autoethnography.

An example closer to home

Time to explore autoethnography a bit closer to the context or type of application I’m interested in.

Clark, C., & Gruba, P. (2010). The use of social networking sites for foreign language learning : An autoethnographic study of Livemocha. In C. Steel, M. Keppell, P. Gerbic, & S. Housego (Eds.), Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown future. Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010 (pp. 164–173).

Data collection – self-aware participation, learner diaries and peer debriefing. To investigate use of social networking sites in foreign language learning. A grounded, thematic analysis used.

In describing the method, starts by mentioning history of “large-scale diary studies” in a range of fields. “particularly useful to examine events in their natural context to obtain reliable, person-level information”. Autoethnography can be considered “unstructured, uncontrolled ….and necessarily subjective and anecdotal”. And a quote or two to justify.

One author recorded all language learning experiences with the chosen site in 3 phases: register as himself, a four week study of Korean starting from scratch. Detailed notes were taken. Using Bolger et al (2004) principles for event-based autoethnographic design – details/impressions/experiences were recorded during and after. Later collation of all into a learner journal.

Phase three – thematic analysis involving two analysts. Primary issue was return to the site and continued study – was the site “addictive and effective”.

In terms of continued use: three themes emerged – motivation, frustration and demotivation. These are explained in detailed, summarised in a table and linked to suggestions for pedagogical improvement.

And another

Duarte, F. (2007). Using Autoethnography in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Reflective practice from “the Other Side of the Mirror”. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(2), 1–11.

Initially strikes me as potentially more evocative autoethnography.

this essay is based on my reflections and recollections of important events and insights that occurred during the Redevelopment Project, and on the notes of the reflective journal I kept to document my shifts of consciousness as I gained new pedagogical knowledge and skills.

The author has used autoethnography in prior research and argues that it has good links with SoTL – particularly due to the focus on reflection in both. Gives quotes from Bass around SoTL and reflection.

The story told reveals a great deal about the experience of the “early adopter” of blended learning in a system with technology and processes that isn’t set up well to handle it. In particular focuses on the “time pressures created by the shift to blended learning”. Includes a reference to a study by Lefoe and Hedberg (2006, p. 334)

Some other interesting quotes there. Not sure the paper offers a strong example of a method that might be accepted, but some good insights into blended learning and it’s implementation.

Explorations of narrative research

For a long time I’ve had a vague interest in narrative research, i.e. it’s one of those things I always meant to learn more about. Here are some initial explorations.

Narrative approaches to education research

My google for “narrative research method education” turns up this site from the UK as the #1 hit. I’ll start there.

Connects strongly with me from the start due to this “Human beings are storying creatures. We make sense of the world and the things that happen to us by constructing narratives to explain and interpret events both to ourselves and to other people.”

Dave Snowden often uses the label Homo Narrans as an alternate label for the species. These folks have an academic reference for something similar

Indeed, somewhat playfully, it has been suggested that there is a case for revising the term homo sapiens to ‘homo fabulans – the tellers and interpreters of narrative’ (Currie, 1998: 2).

Lots of discussion here, particular liked this

Bruner has suggested that there are two basic ways in which human beings think about, make sense of, and tell about the world: narrative cognition and logico-scientific paradigmatic cognition (Bruner, 1986). Essentially, logico-scientific cognition is concerned with universals, empiricist reasoning and proof: and narrative cognition, with how the particular and specific contribute to the whole.

Especially the last point about the “particular and specific” have contributions to make for the whole.

Richardson’s (2000) criteria for evaluating narrative papers

  • Substantive contribution.
  • Aesthetic merit.
  • Reflexivity and participatory ethics.
  • Impact.
  • Experience – near

Deluze and rhizomes get a mention for a number of things, including structure.

List of narrative approaches

  • Autoethnography.
  • Ethnographic fiction
  • Poetry.
  • Performance ethnography.
  • Mixed genres.
  • Writing as a method of inquiry.
  • Narrative interviewing.

It would appear that autoethnography is approach currently most appropriate. Resources to follow up with include

  • Sparkes A (2001) Auto-ethnography: self indulgence or something more In: Bochner A and Ellis C (eds) Ethnographically Speaking Alta Mira Press CA
  • Bochner A (2000) Criteria Against Ourselves Qualitative Inquiry, Volume 6 Number 2, pp.266 – 272
  • Denzin, N. (2003) Performing (Auto)Ethnography: The Politics and Pedagogy of Culture (Thousand Oaks, Sage).
  • Ellis C and Bochner A (2000) Auto Ethnography, Personal Narrative, Reflexivity: Researcher As Subject, In Denzin N and Lincoln Y (eds) (2nd Ed) Handbook of Qualitative Research Sage Thousand Oaks
  • Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a reflexive researcher. London: Jessica Kingsley


So let’s explore this little thread a bit. Wikipedia is about as good a place as any to start.

Apparently I’m leaning towards analytic authoethnography, rather than evocative authoethnography, as per Ellingson and Ellis (2008, p 445) – as quoted on Wikipedia

Analytic autoethnographers focus on developing theoretical explanations of broader social phenomena, whereas evocative autoethnographers focus on narrative presentations that open up conversations and evoke emotional responses.

But perhaps not, in some other literature there appears to be some disquiet about the rationale of analytics autoethnography.

This captures an aspect/perspective interesting to me (again from Wikipedia)

According to Bochner and Ellis (2006), an autoethnographer is “first and foremost a communicator and a storyteller.” In other words, autoethnography “depicts people struggling to overcome adversity” and shows “people in the process of figuring out what to do, how to live, and the meaning of their struggles” (p. 111).

More resources

  • 35(4), August 2006 of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography
  • 13(3), Summer 2007 of Culture and Organization
  • Humphreys, M. (2005). Getting Personal: Reflexivity and Autoethnograhic Vignettes, Qualitative Inquiry, 11, 840-860
  • Ellingson, Laura. L., & Ellis, Carolyn. (2008). Autoethnography as constructionist project. In J. A. Holstein & J. F. Gubrium (Eds.), Handbook of constructionist research (pp. 445-466). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Maréchal, G. (2010). Autoethnography. In A. J. Mills, G. Durepos & E. Wiebe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of case study research (Vol. 2, pp. 43–45). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.