Autoethnography and the Power of Stories

 

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath lived a short life decorated with vibrant but dark emotions, before she succeeded in her second attempt at suicide. Her later pieces, written from a freezing cold flat in London, often between 1am and 4am whilst her young children slept, bring the grim reaper to life cruelly; he swoops about the reader like a cold, eerie chill.

When you finally look away from the page you’re reading off,  Sylvia’s depression takes a few moments to rest off your shoulders. The impact of her words is so heavy. She wrote so that others could understand her. When  I read her work I am whipped into her realm of loneliness and her sphere of pain. Sylvia used words to draw readers into her personal story.

“I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me” Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath was a feminist poet in the 1950s and 60s. Her work grew slowly darker until her suicide at age 30 (image: Flavorwire)

Whilst Sylvia did not produce her work as a means of research, there are some parallels between her storytelling and that of autoethnography.

Autoethnography, a steamy concoction of art, science, research and storytelling, involves a researcher thoroughly immersing themselves into a field before recounting and analysing their experience, often in story form. It sprouted after post-modernism; a “crisis of confidence” in the limitations of ontology, axiology and epistemology of research pushed the need for meaningful stories in research. Cold data and sterile fact don`t always cut it anymore. New age legitimacy comes from sharing  qualitative experiences. This is a powerful paradigm. There is a whole spectrum of autoethnography which ranges from the scientific to the creative. My focus will be on the latter.

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Image: Quotesgram

Here are the questions I pose to myself now, before my research project begins; how will I evoke such a sensation in my own audience as Sylvia Plath did in hers? How can I apply the impact of words, as explored by her, in my own work; the research sphere? How will I make my research real?

It will be fascinating to explore autoethnography as both a formula and a product as I delve into the realms of Digital Asia this semester. This is particularly so in light of recent global events; Brexit and Donald Trump`s immigration ban to name a few. Given my position; 34°25’30.26″S latitude and 150°53’35.34″E longitude in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood and having visited several countries within South-East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand), how will my story navigate the terrain of Chinese divination? I have many biases but these will help to create my story; this is the point of autoethnography. I’m an avid journal-keeper and thus will record my experiences on paper initially, however at this point I am unsure of the format my final artefact will take.

-Claire

References

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘,  Qualitative Social Research, 12:1, viewed 10th August 2017, http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Leong, Susan and Woods, Denise 2017, ‘“I Don’t Care About Asia”: Teaching Asia in Australia’, Journal of Australian Studies, viewed 11th August 2017, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14443058.2017.1344998 

Paulos, J 2010, ‘Stories vs. Statistics’, New York Times, viewed 11th August 2017, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/stories-vs-statistics/

 

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