Denzin, N  (2006)  'Analytic Autoethnography, or Deja-Vu all Over Again', in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35 (4): 419 - 28

[This is one of the replies to Anderson's article on analytic autoethnography. It is written in a rather unusual way, with a series of  'voices' making statements, some of them clearly belonging to Denzin himself. For some reason -- as a performance? -- what the voices say is sometimes rendered as {not very good }verse]

The piece begins with a number of statements about autoethnography from a number of experts. The ideas to show that Anderson's comments about the need to connect autoethnographic research with a social context has long been understood and agreed. He also notes, however, that the different authorities want to do quite different things -- Anderson wants to improve theoretical understanding, but others want to do something very different, including developing a politics, or rescuing the personal in the social.

Classic narratives in ethnographic writing have become imbalanced by  'new writing practices... autoethnography, fiction - stories, poetry, performance texts, polyvocal texts, reader's theatre, responsive readings, aphorisms, comedy and satire, visual presentations, allegory, conversation, layered accounts, writing stories and mixed genres' (420). These are used in particular by those engaged in creative analytical practices (CAP).

Anderson wants to reclaim autoethnography and domesticate its success. He wants to located in  'traditional symbolic interactionist assumptions' (421). This is similar to the response by (third phase) Chicago School ethnography following critiques offered by  'ethnomethodology... standpoint epistemologies... feminist, queer, critical race, postcolonial and... indigenous methodologies' (421). Returning to this traditional symbolic interactionism is only possible by rejecting the poststructural and anti-foundational critiques of recent years.

Good traditional ethnography always acknowledged autobiographical elements, Anderson argues, but not obsessively so. However, they did not  'write messy vulnerable texts that made you cry' (421)  [so we're invited to assume this is good?], and they tried to be apolitical. They focused on description rather than worrying about epistemology or legitimation. Recent ones  [including Bourdieu, Willis and Wacquant] attempt to be more reflective, and sometimes borrow CAP techniques.

In Denzin's view, ethnography cannot use objective language, but is better understood as performative, pedagogical and political. It is deconstructive. It requires a new research tradition. His own recent work indicates these qualities. It is about how Native Americans are depicted in sites like Yellowstone Park and in the movies. He wants to write  'from the heart... to love, to forgive, to heal, and to move forward' (423).

In doing so, he recaptures his own thoughts, and experiments with a number of writing styles and  'representational performative forms' (423). The idea is to  'create a chorus of discordant voices (and images)' (423). 

[What follows is a number of personal recollections, reminiscences of watching movies, and extracts from anthropological work. This is arranged as columns of short sentences and phrases, to look like, and maybe claim the status of blank verse. Quite what this adds is unclear -- we could easily rearrange it as straightforward prose without losing anything, in my view. Try the following for yourself. Denzin writes as follows:

'Voice 1 - Narrator as a young boy:

When I was not yet 10
one Sunday Mother and Dad
took my brother and me to Tama,
to the Mesquaki Reservation,
to see a powwow...'

But why not just write it as straightforward prose: When I was not yet 10 one Sunday Mother and Dad took my brother and me to Tama, to the Mesquaki Reservation, to see a powwow...' Perhaps I have missed something? ]

After citing an account by an anthropologist (Foley) , also written in this rather curious way, which describes racial tension between whites and Indians, Denzin concludes with a comment from the  'narrator as writer':

'It saddens me to hear a story
such as Foley's.
Is it true?
because, because [sic] if it is
to forgive
is to risk letting everything
and can there ever be any
                       hope of healing? 

[I don't know if the curious spacing of the last and third-last lines has to be exact. Your browser might render it differntly anyway, but in Denzin's original 'apart' is spaced just above the 'v' of 'ever' in the line below, and 'hope of healing' is similarly indented]

[ I also think this is pretty banal and sentimental politics -- see my comments on Ellis and Bochner]

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