Autoethnographic writing inside and outside the academy and ethics
Keywords:autoethnography, ethics, research supervision, ethical education
Published writers of fictional or semi-fictional works entering the academy as doctoral candidates express surprise at the requirements of formal human ethics reviews. Admitting an element of the autoethnographic exists in their writing, they may insist that they possess what Freeman called ‘narrative integrity’. This paper considers the ethics of autoethnography as they apply to both the academy, chiefly within the PhD by artefact and exegesis, and the world of published writers, seeking possible solace from such scholarly concepts as ‘relational ethics’, or ‘ethic of care’. Drawing methodologically on our experience as doctoral supervisor and student and with the permission of writer/students whose stories are inseparable from this work, this study unpacks in ethical terms the problems reported by students whose methodology involves evocative or performative autoethnography. As interpretatist methodologists, autoethnographers maintain it provides insights into the interplay between the personally engaged self and mediated cultural descriptions. Methodologically, it enacts the self and others as data. This connection between the personal and the social makes it difficult for autoethnographers to speak of themselves without speaking of others. Examining autoethnography involves a close scrutiny of the boundaries between the self and the other, a process that is both enlightening and essential for supervisory dyads in creative writing methodologically informed by autoethnography. These aspects of the ethics of autoethnography are crucial, but little attention has been paid to the problematic notion that practiceled research is emergent in practice and that its autoethnography requires a retrospective approach, looking backwards as well as forwards. The reality of applying this methodology in practice-led research clashes with the pro-active nature of ethics procedurals required by universities. The paper identifies nine praxical problems that arise from such clashes, and considers best-practice principles for responding to these problems, drawing strongly on indigenous research. Finally, it offers conclusions relating to consent, transparency and the need to open a dialogue around best practice in autoethnographic research in the academic field of Writing.
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