A dear colleague of mine, Danny Bakan, a not so young scholar but new PhD, read to me the last few pages of his newly submitted for publication performative autoethnography. Afterward, I needed to sit for a few minutes, prior to speaking. I was chocked up; a tear welled in my left eye and I just felt the need to take it in, not the words, but the evocative lived truth of the words. I wanted to be with it, not pull it apart and compartmentalize what he was saying.
This is why autoethnography can be so powerful. Well done autoethnography (and this one was brilliant), helps us understand the socially situated lived experiences of others in such a way as to help us develop empathy. Well done personal narratives, like well done poetry or narrative nonfiction, provide us the opportunity to take in the fullness of how people feel about complex, powerful, and often painful social events. When a sensitive, analytical and/or expressive mind bends these insights back to the social, the personal narrative is transformed into autoethnography.
For professions that demands self reflection and self reflexivity in service of helping and empowering others (i.e. education, social work, counseling, ect) autoethnography provides a powerful tool. The reading of well chosen autoethnographies can help be used to develop sensitivity to nuanced experiences, internal an external, that are difficult to capture and teach in less evocative, expressive methods. Helping students write their own “practice” autoethnographies takes it to an entirely different level. I have done this a few times, and will need to write about it soon.
Over the last few months, I have been writing a good deal on autoethographies. Some conceptual, some methodological, and some actual ones. With some book projects winding down it will soon be time to complete these suckers and push them into the world.