Saturday, November 15, 2008


I've been throwing together an annotated bibliography--I mean, compiling the carefully selected evidence that I've been accumulating over the past three months--for the blog class all night. (Exciting Friday night madness!) And I came across this paper. For the nonlink clickers, it's basically a paper on how two scholars, Lilia Efimova and Andrea Ben Lassoued, became friends through the power of blogging, but through the lens of ethnography. First, a quick moment to show off. From what I've read in the past two days, Ethnography is a study of culture (ie. anthropology) that requires the ethnographer to participate directly in the rituals of the culture, as an outsider. And when the ethnographer crosses the line between outsider participation to insider, it becomes autoethnography. And the whole field is sort of an attack on the view that the only way to get any real knowledge is via the detached, separate scientist.
And that's where my "uncomfortable" factor starts to seep in. I've done a lot of autobiography and digital technology reading from this course, and one thing I've noticed is that both areas tend to involve personal narratives in a way that most other scholarly papers really don't. Being raised on the whole "there is no 'I' in essay" school of teaching (I'm totally claiming that phrase, and plan on unleashing it to year after year of undergraduate), I've got something of a problem with this approach. Maybe that's why I'm more comfortable analysing fiction--the defining trait about fiction is that it's not real, so it's easier to detach yourself from it, a bit.
Anyway, the Lassoued and Efimova essay struck me because, even in this area, it's a lot more personal than most, to the point where I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. They're basically articulating how and why they came to know each other. On the one hand, it's all slightly uncomfortable-feeling, but on the other hand, I appreciate that this is what it's all about: the way social and private and public and everything else can get blended together when people create new forms of communication. It's a paper documenting their relationship, but at the same time, it IS their relationship. Like this blog: it's writing about my life, but it also, in some hopefully not at all depressing way, IS my life.
Not to mention the more you study this sort of thing, the more it paralyzes you towards writing about it. Clearly, I'm going to have to do a half-dozen or so comic book reviews just to regain some perspective.
Hope everyone likes Wolverine!

Later Days.


Kate said...

The ways that the internet -- and blogging in particular -- breaks down barriers between public and private are myriad. One of the consequences is that we have this generation of kids coming into undergrad with a very strong sense that their personal perspective is endlessly valuable in all situations. The trick is to teach them that it is not appropriate in, say, a formal essay. Easier said that done, yes?

Person of Consequence said...

Especially in the course I'm currently TAing, where they're explicitly allowed and encouraged to bring in personal experience "when relevant." Consequently, I know a lot more about my students' parental relations, classes, and horse-back riding abilities than is strictly necessary.

Lilia Efimova said...

Thanks for reading :)

Funny enough, 'being raised on the whole "there is no 'I' in essay" school of teaching' myself I eventually migrated into autoethnography because of blogging. In case you feel like reading a bit more, I have a section on it in a recent paper -

Other two cents:
- I guess lots of qualitative research (not only ethnography) on sensitive issues includes "eavesdropping on a private conversation", however it's usually anonymous.
- If you are not afraid of a possibility of a further paralyses you may try reading some autoethnographies in a collection by Ellis & Bochner (1996, "Composing ethnography: Alternative forms of qualitative writing"). Reading those have seriously changed my own academic writing.

Person of Consequence said...

Thanks for the reading suggestions. I'll try to check them out in the near future. And I'd like everyone to take a moment to appreciate how my point on social and private blending is underscored (in a nice, really cool sort of way) by the fact that the writer of the essay that prompted the point has taken the time to actually come to my blog and comment on it. (And maybe another few moments to parse the tortured syntax of that sentence.)