American Thought Today: Carolyn Ellis

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Jeffrey Rubard

Aug 2, 2020, 7:14:17 PM8/2/20
From the faculty page of US sociologist Carolyn Ellis, proponent of the "autoethnographic" approach to exploring life histories:

Carolyn Ellis is distinguished university professor emerita of communication and sociology at the University of South Florida (USF). She has established an international reputation for her contributions to the narrative study of human life. Having published extensively in qualitative methods, storytelling, emotions, and loss and trauma, she integrates ethnographic, literary, and evocative writing in short stories, research articles, and documentaries to portray and make sense of lived experience in cultural context. She is best known as an originator and developer of autoethnography, a reflexive approach to research, writing, and storytelling that connects the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political. Seeking to do research that has the possibility of improving human lives and enhancing social justice, she currently is engaged with survivors of the Holocaust in collaborative and compassionate interviews guided by a relational ethics of care. Her most recent books are Evocative Autoethnography: Writing Lives and Telling Stories (with Arthur Bochner, Routledge, 2016) and Final Negotiations: A Story of Love, Loss, and Chronic Illness, Expanded and Revised (Temple University Press, 2018).

From a recent volume co-authored with Tony E. Adams and Stacy Holman Jones:

What Is Autoethnography?
Writer Joan Didion notes simply and powerfully, “we tell stories
in order to live.”1
In this book, we embrace Didion’s call, believing the stories we tell enable us to live and to live better; stories
allow us to lead more reflective, more meaningful, and more just
lives. The stories we discuss in this book—autoethnographic stories—are stories of/about the self told through the lens of culture.
Autoethnographic stories are artistic and analytic demonstrations of how we come to know, name, and interpret personal and
cultural experience. With autoethnography, we use our experience to engage ourselves, others, culture(s), politics, and social
In doing autoethnography, we confront “the tension
between insider and outsider perspectives, between social practice and social constraint.”3
Hence, autoethnography is a research
method that:
• Uses a researcher’s personal experience to describe and
critique cultural beliefs, practices, and experiences.4
• Acknowledges and values a researcher’s relationships
with others.5
Introduction to
2 : Autoethnography
• Uses deep and careful self-reflection—typically referred
to as “reflexivity”—to name and interrogate the
intersections between self and society, the particular and
the general, the personal and the political.6
• Shows “people in the process of figuring out what to do,
how to live, and the meaning of their struggles.”7
• Balances intellectual and methodological rigor, emotion,
and creativity.8
• Strives for social justice and to make life better.9
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