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  • 00:01

    [MUSIC PLAYING][Sherick Hughes Discusses Autoethnography][Why is learning about research methods important?]

  • 00:16

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES: Learning about research methodsis important because [Dr. Sherick Andre Hughes,Associate Professor of Education,University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]research informs our theory, our policies, and our practices.It's important, also, from there,then, for students to learn how to bebetter consumers of research so theycan have a critique of the research,

  • 00:38

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: for students to also learn how to bebetter participants and more criticalparticipants over certain researchthey decide to participate in, and thenalso to help them to be better, more confident,authors of research later themselves sothey can make a contribution.[What is autoethnography?How would you explain it to a student who has not encountered

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: the concept before?]The easiest for me to define it, I guess,is to break down the different pieces of the word, sothe "auto" being self, the "ethno" beingculture or cultural, and the "graphy" work being on a fieldof study.So essentially, when you put them all together,autoethnography is a qualitative method

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: that connects the self or person to the cultural context.And so most autoethnographers are doing critical researchon themselves, but how they, themselves,are living within a particular cultural contextand usually issues of equity, issues of power,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: things are problematic, social issues that they focus uponin that social context connection.[What do you see as the key strengths of autoethnography?]The critical self-reflexivity, whichis a term that's often used by autoethnographers,the actual focus on the gaze and lens

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: upon oneself to ask questions, like, how might Ibe complicit in the problem that I'm having teaching,learning, leading a particular group asopposed to doing what most of us tendto learn to do from fifth grade forward, which is to blameeveryone else when there's a problemrather than looking back at ourselves.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: I think, to me, that's the biggest strength of itas a process.[What kind of research questions or issues can autoethnographyhelp you to answer or address?]Critical social researchers have asked questionsabout how is my work in this context havingan influence on the workers that I'm leading?How, as a mental health nurse, might my own biases

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: have an influence on my ability to provide care?Those are the types of questions that, again, separate it.And that first- person piece are the typeof questions that are separated from other formsof qualitative research.[What are the common criticisms of autoethnography?How would you respond to those criticisms in defenseof autoethnography?]So the common criticism of autoethnography,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: as with any self-study, has been the notionthat it can lead to narcissistic navel-gazing.This is a terminology that is often usedfor some of the critics, that you're writinga piece to self-aggrandize.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: But for the way that we use autoethnography and addressthat, as far as being as a form of critical social research,is this critical self-reflexivity piece.So for those that do autoethnography in a waythat I teach it and use it and haveseen it to work in real-life settings,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: that critical self-reflection question and that asking one'sself consistently, am I self-aggrandizing?How did the story go, and how was I a part of that?How did I enhance it?Or how was I part of perhaps a strategic obfuscationover ambiguity?And that tends to be the idea of autoethnography.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: That side of it, the critical self-reflection piece,should keep one from writing a piece that's simplya narcissistic navel-gazing type of piece, which wouldn't reallycontribute anything to our work in social science.It may be cathartic for the writer,but the notion of it being educative

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: is really the ability of the authorto maintain that standpoint.Which answers-- to answer the second part of the questionwhich is one of the problems, then,is really within the individual and howthe individual has been taught to pursue or to use

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: autoethnography, and it relies upon their integrityand their ability to, again, keep that self-critical stance.And if someone that's willing to do that, obviously,then that's-- the other challenge is being willing

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: to share our failures.Autoethnography is, when people have a chance to read them,much of the writing is about situationsof how one has failed in a particular time and thenhow they were working through thator are continuing to work through the failurein a particular social context or social setting.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: And not many people were willing to share or publish those.And even when they are, when I've worked with students,the question of what to share thenbecomes really important in the course.And those can be stressful and painfulin deciding what to share and what that reveals,not just about the individual, but the others

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: within that social context.But then we'll share a discussion.[You have written about "good enough methods"for autoethnography.Can you tell us what you mean by this?]One of my doctoral students helpedme come up with an actual acronym for this,which she calls CREPES.Now what you know, a crepe is sort

  • 06:25

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: of a French pastry that can be filledwith all of these different assortments of things.And she said, she thought about autoethnography in that waybecause there is a systematic sort of way-- as far as,again, the way we use autoethnographyin critical social science, there

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: is a way that it's taught and learnedthat wraps around this individualistic piece that'sinside, the piece that everyone brings outinside of them that makes autoethnographiesquite unique and different.And so for C for the CREPES is Critical reflexivity,again, the notion of author being able to take and point

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: a critical finger at him or herself in orderto understand better or to explore or to look or searchfor some answers to very personal questions and problemswithin their social context.And then two is the Role of positioning one's

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: self as a vulnerable, complicit self,and which, again, is counter to what we are often taught to doand what we learn to do and what we're socialized to do,which is to project onto others what wedon't want to see on ourselves.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: We use the term of scapegoating, the term that we use,so this R for the role of setting one'sself up in a role of being a vulnerable, complicit self.The E is for Education and consideringone's context and multiple levels of education.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: So for some people, writing autoethnographies,they may consider a semester's time.Some look at a connection between their experiencesabout a particular context from high schoolto how it has now played out in their collegeor later has now played out now that they'rethe leader of a particular unit in a hospital

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: or a teacher leader in their classroom or principalsand others and looking at those multiple educational contextsand how their experiences connect across those lenses.The P is for Privilege and Penalty.And this one, again, is another piece

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: that's important for the critical self-reflexivitypiece, and it comes from the work--we borrowed from the work of Patricia Hill Collins.Patricia Hill Collins is the writer and pioneerwho wrote a book, Black Feminist Thought.I've had opportunity to actually meet and workwith her as on the faculty at the University of Maryland

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and recently started my dissertation committeewith her.I never thought I would meet her.She's a woman who's very, very well known,and her work is used across the fields of study in the USand abroad.Her work, when she talks about privilege and penalty,says for us to recognize that all of uswalk around in our social contextswith privileges, things that give us

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: a leg up, unearned privileges that we discuss.When we tried to get into a discussion of what an earnedprivilege is, and those tend to be things that are moreon paper sort of requirements, here'swhat you have to do in order to earna privilege, but this notion that we have privilegeand we don't always recognize the privilege.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: On the opposite end, she also argues that we all walk aroundwith penalties, things that, where others have privilegesand those, we're-- things that are penalties for us.Again, we may not always recognize them as such.So one example that I often use, I grew uplike a kid who was poor.I would qualify for free-reduced lunch,the youngest of seven children.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: And we lived in a single-wide trailer.So clearly, social class was a penalty.I also grew up in a time, you know,in post-school desegregation in the south,where being African American could beand often was a penalty.But where I had privileges were, as many of my sisters

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: often reminded me, a male privilege.I have privilege in ability privilege.I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't.I aced early IQ tests.They put me on a different trajectory than most children,even white children who may have had a privilege for beingwhite, but not so much an ability of these early IQtests.So that's this notion of considering

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: privilege and penalty and your lifeand in this situation when you'redoing autoethnography research and tryingto answer those questions becomes important.So that's the P. The E is ethics,really important with ethics, there'sbeen some growing work on ethics in autoethnographybecause, again, it's an individual sharing

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: their individual story, but there are other peopleinvolved in that context.And so how do you protect the anonymity of those folks?Institutional review boards at all of our universities--there are a set of criteria we have to,essentially, write to them, tell them what our research is,and then there's a board that reviews whether or notwe can pursue that research with human subjects.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: Where there becomes some interesting lines is,for example, with institutional review board,there's this notion of informed consent.But if I, for example, am a young woman who'swriting about my experiences in collegeand haven't been sexually harassed or haven'thad an experience of date rape or any of these type of things,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: how do I go about getting informed consent for the personwho was the object of this tormentto get them to sign a form so that I can write about it.So that's where all the autoethnographyhas opened the space for people whohave had those type of really difficult and challengingexperiences and people from marginalized populations

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: to allow them to write their story.But there's still an ethical piece,without naming the person, tryingto make sure that, again, we maintain the anonymityof spaces and confidentiality.And then the other S is Salient stories, critical incidents.These are the things that tend to be shared.As many of us, if I ask you to tell me a story,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: you would tell me a story of something that was salient,something that was a critical incident,usually something-- you felt something,that meant something.And these are the ones that tend to be the students' when theyask their questions for autoethnography research,and those of us who aren't students anymore who do thiswork, it's those episodes, events, encounters,these critical incidents that seem to be important.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: So that's the CREPES.That's sort of what I found to be the key areas to doinga type of autoethnography that makesthe scrutiny of the academy and can be educative.[What first inspired you to start research in your field?Which key thinkers have most inspired you,and who continues to inspire you?]So I was inspired to do research.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: In this area of doing autoethnographybecause I was trying to find-- when I first startedas a junior faculty member, as an assistant professorwithout tenure working at a universitythat had a large sort of urban inner city area, where,like many spaces in America, you have

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: a predominantly white, European American teaching forceteaching in many schools that are predominantly raciallyisolated, youth that are predominately blackor Latino or a combination of both.And so here you have folks who grew up and stillin segregated neighborhoods and so the teachers are now

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: in a situation where they're teaching and have evengone to a university and haven't reallyhad enough time or experience with the communitiesthat they're now teaching.And I was trying to find a way to,when I taught courses for them-- now these teacherswere coming back to their master's degrees in the program

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: where I was teaching at the University at thattime, which would have been around 2003 or 2004.And I thought, OK, there must be some wayto think through that could both help me teach them a processto think self-critically and reflexively in this way

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and a way to help me better thinkthrough how am I teaching this?And how do I describe my own failures?And to make myself vulnerable, I feellike I had to model that in order for the studentsto do it.So at the time I thought I invented autobiography.I thought, OK, there's a self-- because I was alreadyan ethnographer, my dissertation, my first book,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: the award-winning book was based on ethnographythat looked at black family's experiencesbefore and after school desegregationin northeastern North Carolina.And the title of the book is Black Hands in the Biscuits,Not in the Classrooms.And coming from autoethnography, I thought, OK,here's a way to do a long-term semester,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: a yearlong work on these studentsso they can study themselves.I'll call it autoethnography.And just as I do, and I normally think I'm brilliantand I've coined a phrase, I googled it.And it turns out, yeah, there were tons of people doing iton autoethnography.Not tons, but it was already starting to grow by 2003.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: So the first one, then, I read that was an influential piecefor me was by Laubscher and Powell.It was a piece on the Harvard Educational Review.Laubscher was a, I believe, native-born African facultymember.Powell grew up white from Appalachia,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: is how she identifies herself, and also hadsome deformity with her hands.And say they both talked about teachingthis diversity-based course in psychology and co-teaching it,and they did this really interesting piecewhere they draw from critical reflects of autoethnographyto use the terminology they used in the piece.That turned out to be informative for about teaching

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: as other and teaching as other and teaching othersto be critical of othering.And so it was this very powerful piece,and I started to use that and started to work.And I found it to be really somethingthat was quite productive with the teaching, which

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: was predominantly a group of women,white females, European-American females, teachingin predominantly black and Latino schools in the cityto ask themselves questions like, again,how might I be part of the problemthat I'm having with the studentsor with their parents, with their families, as opposedto simply pointing the finger at others

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and taking a more no-fault approach.And this comes from Dr. James Comer's workat Yale University he's done since 1968 in his Yale ComerSchool project.On the idea of a no-fault approach.I doesn't mean that there's not somebody-- well,there's always someone to blame.That's fun.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: But the idea is to not focus on whoto blame when children are involved,but focus upon resolution.We're looking at the problem and how towe go about working together because whenyou've worked with folks on the blame,the teachers blame the kids.The kids blame the teachers.The parents blame the teachers.The principal blames the teachers.The teachers blame the principal.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: The teacher's blame the parents, and everyonegets caught in a blame game.In the meantime, the kids are still being underserved.And so I found that autoethnography was,time and again, a useful methodology for those teachersthat I had worked with, and they'd report back to meeven long after the class was over,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: how it had influenced how they taught and their relationshipwith the communities that, for which,again, they had very little experience with and had,I think, initially took the stance that we all tend to takeas a knee-jerk stance, which is their problemmay be with them and not with me.[How has the field of autoethnography changed over

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: time, and which developments have most influenced you?]One of the things that autoethnography has now,seems to be, these two poles that are-- there'sa tension among some of the writers that, on the one sideare doing, what's called, evocative autoethnography

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: by a very influential pioneer in autoethnography,whose works out of communication and cultural studies.It was Carolyn Ellis.Carolyn Ellis is one of the definite pioneersof autoethnography, and on the evocative side.So part of what she talks about is this connectionof more literary style writing, including poetry,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and combining that with the social scientific styleof writing.And part of with the goal to elicit emotion.Part of, I think, her critique isfor too long we've taken and tried to strip emotion outof the disciplines and tried to interact and perform,and this sort of prescribed a more sort of robotic ways

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and in our writing.But with the disparities that we continueto see what the relation to education and healthcare and so on, in her argument, itbecomes clear that that stoic stancehasn't been as helpful or useful of a projectas we may have wanted.So then she was starting to write her work, I believe,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: in the late '90s.The Ethnographic I was one that was her piece thatwas very well known there and among folkswho do ethnography work.Then we cut to '06, then there was developed by Leon Anderson,Analytic Autoethnography, which is more of a traditional

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: qualitative approach to autoethnography.It doesn't seem to have the same appreciationfor the emotional piece and doesn'tfeel that that emotional piece should be a goal.And also, for the literary writing piece connection,the focus is more of wanted, again,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: write more in the traditional scientific way that we write.And Anderson's piece even goes so faras to say he's looking to reclaim autoethnographyand the ethnography tradition.For my purposes, I haven't taken a side,and I don't teach my students to take a side between evocative

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: or analytic.I don't believe, in particular my students whoare from marginalized populations-- I tell them,we don't have the luxury of getting in these wars.They need to appropriate whatever styleof autoethnographic work that theyneed that they feel can help them answer the questionand that they feel if they have something to contribute

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: to our critical social research into society,then they should use their approachthat they feel best helps them to do that.Some then use autobiography autoethnographyas the methodology for their research.Others use autoethnography more as a method or a toolwithin the larger ethnographic research,or maybe they're doing narrative inquiry research.Or maybe they're doing phenomenology research,

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and autobiography becomes just a toolwithin a piece similar to where we discuss positionality.They use autoethnography sort of as a wayto discuss their position and their standpointin relationship to the- between the researcher and researched.[What advice would you give to a student embarkingon an autoethnography research project for the first time?]

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: One of the pieces of advice I would give to studentsembarking on autoethnography for the first timewould be if they're at my universityto talk to some of my other studentswho embarked upon it for the first timebecause really the idea of collaboration of dialogue

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: with autoethnography, the sharing of them as the piecethat is really important.And that's what we do when we publish them.We're sharing the story.One of the things that my students who hadn't completedautoethnographies for the first time say that is good advice--and I agree with them-- is to prepare

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: for the messiness of it.As qualitative research tends as the termwe often use that it's messy.It's not linear.You won't start at point A and thenmove to point B in your story.The second is to just consider what we call assemblage,some pronounce "ah-sem-blaj."

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: The idea with using assemblages of a datacollection for your autoethnographymeans that you're going to be able to-- similarto an archaeologist, you're pulling from different piecesof data and resources that you canfind to help you understand your phenomena of interestand the central research question.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: So you may pull from photographs.It may be that you interview.Why would you interview someone about your ownif it's a critical self-reflection?Well, part of the interview in people is asking,this was my experience of this?How did you experience this moment?You were there with me.And so that's where the Institutional Review

  • 24:35

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: Board, again, comes into play because you dowant to get an informed consent from those.The member checking piece that most folks whodo qualitative research know about,meaning checking in with the people thatare part of your story and giving theman opportunity to respond or critique what you've written

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: is important but, again, preparing yourself for that.And the students said, also for new students,you need to tell them to prepare for-- there'ssome pain involved because many, again,of the critical incidents of those critical encounters,the stories, there are some painful memoriesthat are involved.

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    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: And that's one of the things for a new autoethnographerto be able to dig deep enough to that source of that painand then to turn that pain and use autoethnographysort of, as my student's mention this,as a way of it being cathartic in many ways

  • 25:39

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: to work toward a new purpose.That's something that I think folksthat are starting on autoethnographyfor the first time should definitelybe prepared that there may be some painful moments.It's not unusual in my autoethnography classfor me to cry with the students because they're sharingthe very painful moments.But those painful moments out of those

  • 26:01

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: like the Phoenix and the ashes comes some transformationas well.And it's permanent.It's not just to get an A in our class.It's one of the things I learned that Ilove about being at the University of NorthCarolina, where we are now, our grading systemis HPLF, High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, Fail,

  • 26:22

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: for the graduate students only.That moves students away from being concernedabout whether they're getting an A or B. Mosteveryone gets a P, which is a Pass, and if you're High Pass,it means you are you clearly-- everyone in the classwould have given that person, or persons, the High pass,H in the class.So that was the person that consistently led.

  • 26:44

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: So particularly for autoethnography class,but for all of the others, it takes the focusaway from trying to please the professor,trying to get the A to really focusupon trying to learn the methodologyand what it can and can't do for individuals.[What new research directions do you find most exciting?]

  • 27:07

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: New areas of research for autoethnographyI'm finding as citing is how autoethnographyis being used in the health and both physical and mental healthand well being.So seeing psychiatric nurses using autoethnographyagain to explore how any biases that they may have come

  • 27:29

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: into play when they're giving care or biases evenin previous experiences, what the previous patient whomay have had a similar diagnosis in using autoethnographyto think through the-- it's very exciting to see howautoethnography has been now used with technology.

  • 27:49

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: There's been more-- there are autoethnography blogs,and there's visual autoethnography piecesthat people are doing.I was very interested in the digital storytelling connectionwith autoethnography, that studentswrite their autoethnography and then record themas digital stories, so they become almost like shorts,you know, six to seven minute, but really powerful

  • 28:13

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: pieces about some central phenomenon of interestor question that the student has asked themselvesand putting those on tape and filming thosehas been wonderful.[Where would you like to take your own researchin the future?]I'm very interested in-- I'm doing a study that

  • 28:36

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: combines and works with autoethnographywith educators who are looking at exploring their own biases.Right now we have an issue nationallythat's under this large umbrella of disproportionality.And so really the in many of the schools districts, irrespective

  • 28:58

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: of the ethnicity of the educator or the principal or so on,black, Latino, and impoverished youthare disproportionately placed in the special education,even though when we find later they don't have special needs.They're disproportionately excluded from gifted education,

  • 29:19

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: even though we find that many of themactually hadn't scored high enough on the benchmark testthat they should be there because there'sa subjective component to who gets in.And then, of course, what more people are hearing aboutis this issue of the school-to-prison pipeline,the disproportionate disciplinary action,the harsher disciplinary sanctions for, again,black students, Latino students, and impoverished students.

  • 29:42

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: So this is something that's a problem nationally.And it's a problem that goes across racial lines.What I mention in the study, this issuewe call implicit association bias because in workingwith so many of the folks that are involved,I'm convinced that most of them are notconscious of what they're doing.So we have implicit association tests,

  • 30:03

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: and I'm now connected with a neuroscientist at DukeUniversity, which is the neighbor to UNC,to look at what goes on in the brain of people that wepre-test as having particular racial bias against a groupversus those that don't.Now there's already been research on that,but the next step is where we're looking to ishow do we go about interventions and developing

  • 30:25

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: a comprehensive intervention?And part of what I'd like to include in thatis autoethnography.It won't be the only piece of the intervention,but in having seen how it has contributedto people transforming their thinking about themselvesin relation to how they think about raceand the implicit associations, that they hadn't considered

  • 30:46

    SHERICK ANDRE HUGHES [continued]: before.I'd like to include that in the research that we're doing,application for an NSF grant for the National ScienceFoundation.[MUSIC PLAYING]


Dr. Sherick Andre Hughes explains authoethnography as a form of critical self-reflexivity that is particularly useful in helping people see how they are complicit in systems of oppression. He discusses his own experiences using and teaching the method, as well as the ethical issues that surround it.

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Sherick Hughes Discusses Autoethnography

Dr. Sherick Andre Hughes explains authoethnography as a form of critical self-reflexivity that is particularly useful in helping people see how they are complicit in systems of oppression. He discusses his own experiences using and teaching the method, as well as the ethical issues that surround it.