ERG SES H 07, Ethics and Education
Those of us who work in education have stories to tell. I only have to walk down the corridor at my institution and start a conversation with a colleague and I will be immediately engaged with tales of frustration, laughter, sleepless nights, emotional stress, joy in seeing a student succeed, and quite a lot of ‘just getting on with it’.
Autoethnography, as a research method, seems to be the perfect way of examining - and then telling - our stories. Autoethnography involves active self-reflection, exploring “a social and cultural context, but through the personal experience of the researcher” (Haynes, 2011). By focussing the ethnographic lens back on yourself, you become the site of the study. For me, autoethnography is an exciting and intriguing qualitative method that allows me to analyse my own lived experience.
But can autoethnography be done ethically? This is the ongoing debate. Sikes states that this type of insider research is “inherently sensitive and potentially dodgy” (Sikes, 2006). It is hard to disagree. To date, 85% of the articles that are listed in my autoethnography literature review do not mention ethics whatsoever. Perhaps it is more troubling that some of those that do make passing mention have appeared to use autoethnography as a way to ‘get around’ ethical issues. Jones states that autoethnography is the “solution” to the “ethical problem” of telling others’ stories (Jones, 2007). Ernest & Vallack used autoethnography when they could not get ethical approval to investigate (what they saw as) a poor change to the school curriculum. They said it gave them “license” (Ernst & Vallack, 2015) to write their story. Grant openly admits that his family “when sane” are “narrow-minded Daily Mail readers” (Grant, 2010) so he feels fine writing about them because they are unlikely to read the academic journals in which he publishes. For educational researchers, there are questions about who forms part of our stories – students, parents, colleagues, stakeholders – and whether we have the right to tell those tales. Put simply, what’s okay to write about and what isn’t?
If we are going to use autoethnography then these questions must be explored. The paper seeks to do this.
Haynes, K (2011) "Tensions in (re)presenting the self in reflexive autoethnographical research" 6(2) Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 134 Sikes, P (2006) "On dodgy ground? Problematics and ethics in educational research" 29(1) International Journal of Research & Method in Education 101 Jones, K (2007) "How Did I Get to Princess Margaret? (And How Did I Get Her to the World Wide Web?" 8(3) Forum: Qualitative Social Research (Art 3) Ernst, R & Vallack, J (2015) "Storm Surge: An Autoethnography About Teaching in the Australian Outback" 21(2) Qualitative Inquiry 153 Grant, A (2010) "Autoethnographic ethics and rewriting the fragmented self" 17 Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 111
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