Reflexivity as Autoethnography in Indigenous Research
Autoethnography has long been recognised as a qualitative research method involving reflexivity. Ellis and Bochner (2003, p. 209) describe autoethnography as an ‘autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural’. The flexibility of this method means that it can be moulded to suit specific research directions. In Indigenous contexts, using reflexivity as autoethnography is a helpful tool for social work researchers as it ‘unmasks complex political/ideological agendas hidden in our writing’ (Richardson, 1994, p. 523). In order to be selfreflexive researchers need to explore their own personal experiences so that the relationship between their subjective experiences are explained in relation to how they interact with the world of others. This clarification of positioning is significant to the power relations inherent in the research process; in particular, the tensions that exist between the researcher and participants. An assessment of the self is a critical area for evaluation, especially when the researcher is arguing that they are pursuing social change by focusing on ‘others’. In my evolving experience as a white woman researching in Indigenous contexts, the comparative powerlessness of participants due to a history of genocide, colonisation, persistent assimilative and discriminatory policy is at the forefront of my mind. The research context and the relationships that exist within it are particularly sensitive, with white people doing research ‘on’ Aboriginal Australian subjects being recognised as both personally and politically provocative. Thus, in order to adequately consider participants, I must firstly consider my own privilege and the privileged place in research that this advantage grants me. Accounting for oneself is of particular significance to social work research where the integration of research, theory and practice is a key concern (Fook, 1996; 2003). With a main focus on the most oppressed and vulnerable in our society, social work research requires inclusive methods that create the conditions for self-determined and collaborative change. Self-reflexivity can be harnessed in ways that consider the power inherent in relationships and
partnerships within research (McDermott, 1996; Fook, 2003). With values of social justice, empowerment and accountability at the core of social work, selfreflexivity helps to grow our awareness of self and sensitivity to others when researching in cross-cultural contexts (Weaver, 1999). While it is noted that the meaning of reflexivity is broad, in this chapter I examine what it means to be reflexive as it specifically relates to privilege and co-collaboration. When researching in Indigenous contexts I will argue that reflexivity is an integral part of method, as it enables the researcher to check authority by working creatively and co-collaborating with participants.