Auto-ethnography and Self Reflexivity

The following blog post is a summary of the ideas explored in the lecture: Auto-ethnography and Self Reflexivity.

The scientific paradigm is that the world is completely measurable, by studying and measuring all elements, we can eventually understand the world. Science itself is cultureless, however it is a cultural belief and the scientific notion of fact is incorporated into culture. Science constructs knowledge as fact and non-fact (a version of true and false), in previous sessions we have identified that the media constructs different versions of reality and academic knowledge is equally as constructed. There is a production method behind the knowledge produced and there is a format in which this knowledge comes, including essays, articles, journals and photographs. Knowledge is incredibly social and also incredibly political, it is always already colonial from the periods of research where people didn’t acknowledge themselves as researchers. The discourse of academia decided who gets to research who and othered the subjects being researched. However there can be no objectivity, when it is a case of people studying people, it is not possible to take an objective stance similar to the stance taken in scientific experiments. The researcher has to consider their own position in accordance to the research and what they will be researching.

Edward Said quoted Gramski when he proposed that the starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness, beginning to acknowledge and then know the self. However this is a complicated notion when you consider that there is a constant rebranding of the self, representing post-modernity, there is no one definitive version of an individual self. But becoming aware of the elements that constitute who you are as other people see you is the first step. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see gender, race, sexuality – or do you see what academia historically constructed as the researcher (white, old, middle class and male) or that is, nothing at all, because you represent the prescribed norm.

Reflexivity can be divided into three approaches: confession, positionality and praxis. Confession refers to a reflective process in which the researcher considers how the self impacts on the research process, this can be completed through reflexive notes such as a research diary. However this method can be problematic because it evokes the assumption that the researcher is then free from all bias, giving the power back to them. Positionality involves considering how the self is constructed through culture, history and society – not just in the present but considering how it has been constructed through time and space; how the self is a product of discourses that have been pulled together. Positionality does not align with individualism, because that implies that everyone has experience different circumstances, when in fact positionality would argue we have been shaped by the same or similar discourses. Praxis refers to theory as practice, where the research takes place as lived embodiment of the research.

Auto-ethnography can be defined by looking at the term autobiography and dissecting the parts that make it. Auto means self, bio means life and graphy means writing, therefore autobiography comes together to mean self-life-writing. Likewise auto-ethnography can be split into auto that means self, ethno that means culture and graphy that means writing. This comes together to define auto-ethnography as self-culture-writing. Ethnography refers to engaging with a specific culture over an extended period of time collecting multi sensory data, therefore auto-ethnography replicates this process but turns the data collection inward to consider the self. Auto-ethnography can be considered to be problematic when considering the statement by Descarte in 1637 ‘I think therefore I am’, this was the foundation for Western academia and it prioritises rational thought over embodiment. In addition to this there are discussions around auto-ethnography and authenticity, as it assumes the speaking person is the authentic version, when the reality is we have multiple versions of self. Auto-ethnography could be seen as another form of truth claim, when it could be impossible to really know the internal workings of our subjectivity. Privilege is also an important concept, those concerned with representation are generally considered as being in some form of privilege, that is because they don’t have to worry about the basic elements of survival.

Auto-ethnography is a really interesting approach to research, I feel that it could take my project in a really interesting direction. Previously I was concerned with how I would choose subjects to research on Instagram, whether to just choose celebrity accounts and analyse them or whether to try and find representative accounts of the everyday Instagram user. However using the term ‘everyday’ repeatedly to describe a non-celebrity was creating this notion that the user didn’t really matter as much as a celebrity user, that they wouldn’t be as important or interesting because they aren’t well known. When in fact I find the activity of non-celebrities really interesting because they wouldn’t be used to the idea of curating and constructing a version of identity with their best interests in mind. In addition to this, there is no way of knowing whether the celebrity accounts are actually run by the celebrity in question or whether a communications team is responsible for the posts, for example the singer Adele is banned from freely posting on Twitter and instead her tweets have to go through several members of management in order to be approved. This is because previously Adele has tweeted when she was under the influence of alcohol and could have deconstructed her good reputation, which is ultimately what encourages her fan-base to buy her music. Because I didn’t want to exclusively research celebrities I was posed with a choice of how to choose subjects that don’t identify as celebrities, this would be extremely difficult as it is hard to identify exactly who everyone is from their Instagram. Some accounts are descriptive but some are very bare and I didn’t want to appear to prioritise those who described themselves in text more as this excludes those abstract accounts, which could be extremely interesting. In addition to this, I had no idea what sample size to choose and whether I should be aiming for a representative sample, or just trying to choose users from one country. It was incredibly overwhelming and there didn’t appear to be a right answer, it was after this lecture on auto-ethnography that I realised I could choose myself as a subject and complete a highly detailed analysis of how I use Instagram.



Ethical Research

What kind of researcher do you want to be?

In this lecture we were introduced to the idea of being an ethical researcher and what that would involve. Being an ethical researcher means both the collection of the material and the publication of it.

Ethics was not always a concept recognised and acknowledged in academic and as a result, there have been some studies conducted in history that are now considered to be highly unethical. Humphrey’s study on sex in public places is a good example, he joined this culture as a ‘watch queen’, which meant protecting those involved against being found. However he abused this power and took down the registration numbers of those engaging in the activity. He then tracked these individuals down and interviewed them in their daily life. Humphrey’s findings were ground breaking as he found that only 14% of the men were openly gay, 54% were married and for all of them, their public personas were very different. As this research took place in the 1970s when being gay was publicly frowned upon, it was expected for many men to conceal their true sexuality. However it was unethical for Humphreys to track these people down and extremely unethical for him to publish his findings, which made his subjects identifiable by their friends, family and work colleagues. In addition to this, he didn’t ask consent from the participants and didn’t give them an option to opt out of the study because they were never aware that they were being observed in that way.

Another historic example of an unethical experiment was the Stamford prison experiment, where students were asked to roleplay guards and prisoners. This was controversial because some of the students were reported to have been overwhelmed with the sense of power they hand. Perhaps one of the most well known and discussed experiment, which is also regarded as unethical is the Milgram study of obedience. In order to question why so many people submitted to the Nazi regime and committed mass genocide, the study involved the deception of the subjects in believing they were administering electric shocks to other test subjects. The individual was tested to see whether they would conform to the authority that was telling them to harm another human being. The deception of the subjects and the traumatic experience they were put through as a result made this study unethical. Ethical procedures come from a scientific discourse in order to prevent studies like these happening again.

Procedural ethics, such as the ethics form an individual must fill out before completing a research project appear to be limiting and bureaucratic however it gives the research integrity and credibility and also protects the researcher and participants. Personal ethics involves considered who the research is for, who benefits from it and what informs your own personal ethics. Problems facing ethical research are the involvement the researcher has and their relationship to the content. In addition to this, in order to research in detail the researcher has to narrow down, which involves the inclusion of some content and the exclusion of others. How do you decide what to include and exclude ethically? Many researchers investigate concepts that affect them personally, meaning that many issues that are problematic in our lives, we also make problematic in the research. However as the research can challenge ethical, moral and political perspectives, it would appear to be a flawed idea to give voice to a concept you don’t agree with. What is important is reflexivity, being able to respond ethically when confronted with the unexpected.

The emotional researcher is a concept not often though about in research, as there hasn’t been many incorporations of emotions into studies. This is an effect of the masculine ideology of the emotionless researcher, the scientific, objective researcher apart from the content they are investigating. However research is the practice of emotional labour, from interaction with the subjects, creating emotional states to hiding our own emotions. Consider the pain of the researcher, which could possibly cause harm to them as they are having to cope with other people’s emotions. In order to prevent harm coming to the researcher, it is important to recognise subjectivity in the research process, form networks of support and keep a research diary.


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I’m a recent graduate of a BA in Photography at Coventry University, the focus of which was to develop a career in photography and image-making.

I am pursuing a Masters in Communication, Culture and Media (Photography Pathway) in September 2015, which will develop my knowledge and research.

Aside from my studies I am a freelance photographer specialising in equestrian, sports, portraits and events.