Notes on: Atkinson P. (2006)
Rescuing Autoethnography. Journal of
Contemporary Ethnography , 35 (4): 400 –
04. DOI: 10.1177/0891241606286980
This continues Anderson's
discussion. Recent debates have been 'couched
in oversimplistic contrasts and dichotomies',
exaggerating differences with past practices, and
'novelties celebrated, even when things are not
all that new'. Autoethnography exemplifies these.
Subjective and evocative work minimises the value
of analytic ethnography.
Reflexivity implied by autoethnography has been
central to ethnography and even a 'key aspect of
the ethnographic repertoire' (400). [And lots of
examples are cited, where ethnographers have
actually been accomplished participants in the
study, providing 'a biographically grounded,
experientially rich engagement with the social
processes that are observable in the field' (401).
So there is no need to 'rely exclusively on
post-modernist rationales'. Ethnographers have
never been 'unrealistically wedded to an ideal of
entirely impersonal and dispassionate fieldwork'.
Life history has been used in ethnography for a
long time, and that has always depended on 'close
dialogic relationships with individuals', and has
often produced 'jointly produced accounts'.
Autoethnographic elements appear above all in the
Chicago traditions. There is an underlying
assumption there that there is 'homology between
the social actors were being studied in the social
actor who is making sense of their actions' (402).
This is fundamental to ethnography especially to
its 'reflexivity', that is 'the ineluctable fact
that the ethnographer is thoroughly implicated in
the phenomena that he or she documents'. There can
be no state of nature independent of observation.
Autoethnographic work implies personal engagement.
However, autobiography has been elevated 'to such
a degree that the ethnographer becomes more
memorable than the ethnography, the self more
absorbing than other social actors'. It is now
necessary to insist on an analytic purpose,
instead of 'experiential value, it's evocative
qualities, and its personal commitments rather
than its scholarly purpose, its theoretical bases,
and its disciplinary contributions' (402 – 3).
Issues of methodology have been 'transposed' into
matters of personal experience, research becomes
'a quest for personal fulfilment', texts tend to
look inward at the 'personal and emotional life of
the ethnographer – as – author'. They may lead to
social criticism but this 'does not excuse are
essentially self absorbed nature: personal is
political, but the personal does not exhaust or
subsume all aspects of the political' (403). In
particular 'we need to guard against any implicit
assumption that self transformation is the main
outcome of such research processes. "Others"
remain infinitely more interesting and
back to key concepts