I’ve seen the name Carolyn Ellis on various articles (most likely during my research methods courses) and knew she was at USF, but now that I’m researching and reading more trauma theory-related stuff, I have come across her work on autoethnography and want to meet with her, talk to her, work with her! Her recent essay in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography reads as a conversation with her husband, Arthur Bochner, and is titled “Analyzing Analytic Autoethnography.” It opens with the two of them watching victims of Hurricane Katrina tell their stories on CNN, and then segues into a discussion about an article she is to be writing but naturally is distracted by the footage. She is to respond to a work by Leon Anderson and for the rest of the essay, she and her husband go back and forth about how Anderson defines autoethnography and how they wish to see it the label used for those stories that cause readers to empathize rather than theorize. They prefer a work that lets readers “see the presence of the author” and posit the following:
If you turn a story told into a story analyzed, as Leon wants to do, you sacrifice the story at the altar of traditional sociological rigor. You transform the story into another language, the language of generalization and analysis, and thus you lose the very qualities that make a story a story.
While I don’t know how much storytelling I can get away with in my dissertation, I hope that I do not have to sacrifice the unfinished stories told on the New Orleans-based blogs I plan to pull from in favor of “generalization and analysis.” Just as Ellis and Bochner admit early on in their essay, “Disasters…shake you loose from ordinary time and you find yourself concentrating on the moment at hand rather than worrying about the past and future,” I want my story of dealing with, learning about the storm and finding friends and family online to be immediate, engaged, and embodied.
I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this piece, but I’m going to try and read another one by Ellis published in the JCE, “Shattered Lives: Making Sense of September 11th and its Aftermath,” before hitting the sack. We’re off to New Orleans for the weekend early in the morning and I cannot wait to be THERE, the place where all of my energy for my academic work comes from!
P.S. Here is another related piece from Harpers Magazine: “The Uses of Disaster: Notes on bad weather and good government.”