Autoethnography and Other Self-Inquiry Methods for Practice-Based Doctoral Research

Autoethnography and Other Self-Inquiry Methods for Practice-Based Doctoral Research

Crystal Lewis (Northcentral University, USA) and Robin Throne (Independent Researcher, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6664-0.ch005


For some doctoral practitioner-researchers, the methods used within autoethnography and other self-inquiry-based research methods are appropriate for a practitioner dissertation as the phenomenon of inquiry is a central human, intrinsic, and experiential self-focused construct. The tenets of autoethnography and other self-as-subject research support the view that new knowledge can be discoverable from within the individual lived experience, and this chapter presents current trends and scholarship for the use of autoethnography and other self-inquiry research methods for practice-based doctoral research. The chapter also presents one case from a recent doctoral autoethnographer to illustrate the experience of a practice-based autoethnographic dissertation study within a practitioner doctoral program.
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More and more practitioner doctoral programs allow for qualitative autoethnography as a specific research approach for dissertation research. In autoethnography, new knowledge is discoverable from the individual lived experience and as a research design, autoethnography may offer societal implications to enhance the meaning of the phenomenon or lead to further insights that may inform others’ experiences (Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011). In the use of self-inquiry research methods at the doctoral level, the lived experiences of individuals can illuminate an understanding of numerous constructs across disciplines that often lead to new insights for better understanding to inform societal and practice-based problems.

Previously, the authors have noted the need for a more consistent operational definition for research supervisor agency and the personal competencies necessary for a high-mentoring ethos and non-hierarchical doctoral research supervision (Throne & Oddi, 2019; Throne & Walters, 2019). In addition, doctoral research supervision has nuances for practice-based doctorates that often differ from the supervision of research doctorates as these frameworks may allow for specific guidance for practitioner research that may differ from the Ph.D. (Burrington et al., 2020; Perry, 2016; Storey, 2017).

In this chapter, these considerations for the doctoral researcher-research supervisor relationship are considered from the unique perspectives of autoethnography as a practice-based dissertation research design choice. New insights are presented for doctoral research supervisor engagement within online environments for practitioner doctoral programs using self-inquiry research methods. The authors have also previously called for continued collaboration to achieve a consistent framework for quality practitioner dissertation research supervision of autoethnography to allow for individuals to more deeply consider the insights to facilitate further meaning and understandings to improve these aspects of dissertation completion. Thus, the current literature specific to the supervision of practitioner doctoral self-as-subject research is appraised and models to foster effective practitioner research supervision for self-as-subject research methods are presented in the context of deep individual explorations of various phenomena.

Finally, the authors have previously noted practitioner-researcher agency may be enhanced through self-examination and introspection to reduce unequal power relationships and further develop a high mentoring ethos necessary for the doctoral dissertation writer’s success and dissertation research completion (Throne & Oddi, 2019). Lewis (2020a) noted autoethnographic research allows for a deeper understanding of the researcher-participant from a specific sociocultural context and to consider the interconnectedness of the individual amidst complex sociocultural settings. This then may lead to an enhanced understanding of a doctoral researcher’s positionality and allow for entrance into the academic community as trust is furthered and the dissertation writer is introduced to the research publishing community (Throne & Bourke, 2019).

Thus, this chapter seeks to illuminate these opportunities from the individual experience and bridge to the collaborative insights gained from the other. The chapter also presents a case from one doctoral autoethnographer to illustrate the experience of a practice-based autoethnographic dissertation study within a practitioner doctoral program (Lewis, 2020a). The elucidation of the insights gained from self-inquiry may further enhance the facilitation of the researcher’s development into a new investigator and scholarly writer (Throne, 2019). When successful, the research supervisor may positively influence the practitioner dissertation writer’s journey of self-inquiry of a specific construct from the periphery of the doctoral learning community and bring them to the center of academic life, a continued research agenda, and continued research and scholarly publication post-doctorate. This chapter presents the use of autoethnography and other self-as-subject research methods within practitioner doctoral programs from these multiple perspectives and benefits. Specific recommendations from the current scholarship are discussed along with the calls for continued research into the use of autoethnography and other self-inquiry methods for doctoral research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Self-as-Subject Research: Ellis and Bochner (2000) referred to researcher as subject to describe autoethnography; thus, self-as-subject research involves data gathered from a singular researcher-participant, rather than data gathered from other participants, within an original empirical inquiry of the lived experience of a construct and/or phenomenon ( Throne, 2019 ).

PCS/PCS Orders: A PCS is a permanent change of station, which happens when an active duty service member is ordered to transfer from one duty station to a different duty station, which could be in another state or another country ( Bonura & Lovald, 2015 ; Burke & Miller, 2018 ). PCS orders are based completely on the service member’s job assignment and the spouse of the service member does not have a say in the PCS location ( Burke & Miller, 2018 ).

Autoethnography: An often-cited definition of autoethnography was offered by Ellis and Bochner (2000) as “auto” (the self), the “ethno” (the culture), and the “graphy” (the research process).

Evocative Autoethnography: Meaningful and accessible, evocative autoethnography is both transgressive and critical, grounded in personal experience that sensitizes readers to issues of identity, voice, and forms of representation that deepen empathy, acceptance, and understanding of larger societal constructs ( Ellis et al., 2011 ; Bochner & Ellis, 2016 ).

Agency: Agency is a belief in one’s ability to assume the initiative necessary to accept an active role in one’s own research, content, process, engagement, and synthesis ( Throne, 2019 ).

Heuristic Inquiry: Moustakas (1990) noted transcendent phenomena are worthy of deep examination as much as any physical ailment or disorder, and later systematized the process of examination of this human experience and used the Greek origin for heuristic inquiry to discover or find meaning from this lived experience of self by using empirical research methods.

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