Autoethnography in a political mode

What happens when critical scholars engage politically with their own organizational practice as reflective ethnographers? In particular, what are the ethical and practical issues that arise for the critical scholar from seeking to combine the role of organizational scholar and activist, whether working alongside organizations one sympathises with (Graeber, 2004; Land & King, 2014; Reedy, King, & Coupland, 2016; Sutherland, Land, & Böhm, 2014) or working within such organizations, but seeking to critically challenge them (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2009)?

For despite the so-called performative turn in critical organizational studies (Spicer, Alvesson, & Kärreman, 2009), which calls on critical scholars for greater engagement with and to attempts to transform organizational practice, there are few examples of critical organization scholars working alongside alternative organizations, new social movements or even mainstream organizations. In particular there is little reflection on how their political perspectives (ranging from their methodological perspective such as Participant Action Research; theoretical perspectives such as CMS, CHRD or the nature of the groups studied, i.e. radical activists) shapes their experiences as researchers (King, 2015; King & Learmonth, 2015). Consequently, there is then little to guide the would-be critical scholar as to how they go about ‘doing’ engagement with the groups outlined above (Reedy & King, 2016).

This raises questions about how we practise ‘critical autoethnography’ in our own or in other organisations and to what effect? What are the challenges that are involved for researchers, be it doctoral students (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2011, 2012) or established academics? What types of relationships can we establish with practitioners through which we can integrate our critical perspectives? What role can autoethnography play, particularly through being reflexive about our own practice of engaging with practitioners, activists and others, in transforming our political activity and rethinking our relationships between ourselves as researchers and those we research?

This stream seeks to take up this challenge by placing the ethnographic practice of the critical scholar centre stage and asking what are the political possibilities of engaged ethnographic practice (Reedy & King, 2016) that self-consciously seeks to challenge and change organizational practice whilst in the field. It asks what are the issues of identity that a scholar faces when seeking to cross the research-practice divide (Empson, 2013; Gilmore & Kenny, 2015; Learmonth & Humphreys, 2012), what are the challenges that are faced when seeking to work collaborative alongside community groups and activists (Chatterton, Hodkinson, & Pickerill, 2010), traditional SME, larger organisations and businesses (Huzzard & Johansson, 2014; Ram, Edwards, Jones, Kiselinchev, & Muchenje, 2015), and how are issues of power that arise through such encounters negotiated (Reedy & King, 2016)?

In this stream we are particularly interested in the possibilities afforded by autoethnography as a means of enquiry into the political, ethical and practical issues that arise through engaged forms of work. Whilst some forms of auto-ethnography, particularly that of evocative autoethnography, have been accused of being insular and lacking in self-reflexivity (see Allen’s (1997) critique of Ellis (2007)), or offer naïve realism (Coghlan, 2007) that do not create wider sociological understandings (Sparkes, 2002), by combining evocative with analytical auto-ethnography (Learmonth & Humphreys, 2012) auto-ethnography can provide ways of investigating the experiences, understandings and practices of engaged political ethnography. We therefore are interested in the following and more:

  • Auto-ethnographies of political engagement during research. What can be learned from auto-ethnographic reflection on one’s own activism? What potential does activist auto-ethnography have for learning about ones self, others and wider organizational and societal aspects of political engagement?
  • Experiments with alternative ways of conducting auto-ethnographic political research. What experiments have been conducted with alternative (auto-ethnographic) ways of doing research and what have been learned through the process?
  • Autoethnography as a means of self-reflection. Can autoethnography contribute to a radical reflexivity that aids the research process through an awareness of the underlying social and political dynamics involved in the research process? Alternatively, is auto-ethnography a route to an overly introspective, self-indulgent intellectual cul-de-sac? How might the former be developed and the latter avoided? What forms of relationship could be formed with practitioners, including ‘co-produced’ autoethnography (Kempster & Stewart, 2010) and/or ‘collaborative autoethnography’ (e.g. Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernandex, 2013) and how might this challenge the power dynamics within the research setting?

Stream Convenors:

Daniel King, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behaviour, Nottingham Trent University

Patrick Reedy, Reader, University of Hull

Clair Doloriert, Lecturer, Bangor Business School

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal by Tuesday 28th February 2017.


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Reedy, P., & King, D. (2016). Academic Activism, radical ethnography and the critical scholar. Paper presented at the EGOS, Naples.

Reedy, P., King, D., & Coupland, C. (2016). Organizing for individuation: alternative organizing, politics and new identities. Organization Studies.

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Spicer, A., Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2009). Critical Performativity: The Unfinished Business of Critical Management Studies. Human Relations, 62(4), 537-560.

Sutherland, N., Land, C., & Böhm, S. (2014). Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The case of autonomous grassroots groups. Organization, 21(6), 759-781.

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