Last updated on August 30th, 2019 at 10:47 am
“Generalizablity takes on a different meaning in autoethnography than in traditional social science research. The question we ask is: how does a particular story depicting a specific context–a story like mine–manage to acquire something akin to universal significance? The answer is through resonance. When a story resonates, it moves beyond itself by questioning, probing, and expressing feelings that connect to lives lived apart, often far away, from the time and place of the story. These stories do not tell people precisely what to do. Rather, they take readers into one universal struggle or another that exemplify ways of dealing with the difficulties of living a good life.” (Bochner & Ellis, 2016, p. 237)
I’m almost finished reading Bochner & Ellis (2016) recent book Evocative Autoethnography: Writing Lives and Telling Stories. As a blogger, so much of this book and its descriptions of autoethnography have resonated with me. I also have an area that I’m just not sure about – does a reflective blog post that resonates with readers, cites research in various places, qualify as an autoethnographic work?
“autoethnography as a genre of writing designed to put meaning in motion so that the readers of social science texts could not only receive but also feel the truth of first-person accounts of lived through experiences” (Bochner & Ellis, 2016, p. 218)
“Evocative autoethnography is a narrative practice aligned with a pragmatist orientation to inquiry that replaces the concept of ‘truth’ with the concept of ‘usefulness’ (Bochner, 1994)…The question is not whether autoethnographic stories convey precisely the way things actually happened, but rather what these storied do, what consequences they have, and to what uses they can be put.” (Bochner & Ellis, 2016, p.239)
Another area where this form of autoethnography really resonates with is in its philosophical underpinnings in pragmatism. This actually surprised me, as I expected it to fall more with interpretivist worldview. I had not really thought of the two things as complementary, rather I thought of them as mutually exclusive. But really, autoethnography is a combination of both. It is intended to be ‘useful’ and also provides an interpretation of lived experience, not a direct account of one. I think this is where some blog posts are not examples of autoethnographic writing, where others are.
“I’m seeking a pragmatic kind of truth that rests at the meeting place of my story and the reader’s life” (Bochner & Ellis, 2016, p.240)
I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. This is largely what I believe I have tried to do in a lot of my BCBecky blog posts. It isn’t that I necessarily intentionally did it all the time, or even that all my blog posts did it, just that there are several cases where I did intentionally tell my story in a manner that was meant to resonate with the reader in some way.
When looking at how to evaluate authethnography, the idea that an autoethnographic piece of writing should in some way resonate with readers. Bochner & Ellis (2016) share ideas introduced by Frank that the goal is to have your readers “thinking with the story rather than about it (Frank, 1995)” (p. 219). In many ways this goes to idea that the autoethnographic text does not just tell a story for the sake of telling the story, rather it tells a story to get you as the reader to think about about it might apply to your life. If I’m interpretting correctly, it isn’t just about empathizing with the author, rather it is thinking beyond what is on the page to what might resonate with your own experiences.
In the case for blogging, I see this happening by the comments that I receive from those who read my blog. For example, Diana regularly shared long comments about how the telling of my experiences helped her reflect on her experiences. Her comments demonstrated a resonance between reader and author and blogging made it possible for us to share a connection. In many ways this demonstrates the impact that blogging as autoethnography can have.
Does a reflective blog post that resonates with readers, cites research in various places, qualify as an autoethnographic work?
Feature Image: (c) Rebecca J. Hogue