Autoethnography as Critical Inquiry

Where was I to start? The world is so vast, I shall start with the country I know best, my own. But my country is so very large. I had better start with my town. But my town, too, is large. I had best start with my street. No: my home. No: my family. Never mind, I shall start with myself 

— Elie Wiesel 1972, Souls on Fire

[This assignment has a weight of 3x; it accounts for 1/4 of your grade in class].

As ED503 explores the histories, philosophies, politics, and cultures of education, I invite you to make deep personal connections. Who are you as a subject of education?  What have you experienced as a student? Why do you want to become an education professional (teacher, school psychologist, etc.)?  What do you believe about education? What is your personal narrative — what is your story? Beginning with analysis and synthesis of your ED503 weblog, and other course experiences and readings, research and produce an autoethnographic essay of yourself as a subject of education. Written in the first person, your essay should be approximately ~2000 words or eight pages.


Autoethnography combines cultural, historical and political analysis and interpretation with self-reflection and personal narrative. As a method of critical inquiry, autoethnography begins with the lived experiences of the researcher. However, it does not focus on the self alone. Rather, it is a method for searching for understandings of school and society through reflection, analysis and interpretation of lived experience.

How might you situate and contextualize your personal narratives, as a subject of education, within foundational aspects of the field of education? As a human subject, an agent of education, you have a unique identity informed by matters of race, class, gender, ability, religion, ideological beliefs, family and more. These aspects of your identity relate to foundational issues in the field of education. How do these issues influence your actions and beliefs about education and about yourself as a subject of education — as a grad student and/or rising education professional? To this end, I invite you to identify issues, events and ideas in the history, political economy and sociology of education that relate to your lived experiences and understandings of schooling.

The goal of autoethnography is to develop historical, political and cultural understandings of the self within a broader societal context of education. To this end, the emphasis in autoethnography is a refusal to distinguish or separate the deep exploration into the rich details of personal narrative from the foundational context of education. Commitment to historical, political and cultural analysis and interpretation is the key.  It is not enough to develop a rich narrative of the self or to rely solely on the evidence of lived experience. Instead, autoethnography is a method of researching the foundational conditions that make personal experience possible.

Unfortunately, the methodological focus on self reflection and lived experience is sometimes misconstrued as a license to dig deeper into personal psychological experience without digging into the societal significance of the individual stories. (Chang, 2008, p.54) Indeed, autoethnography is NOT related to a psychological analysis of the self.

Instead, autoethnography is an opportunity to consider the historical, political and cultural conditions that are inseparable from your personal narratives. It is a strategy for questioning or making problematic your lived experiences — what are the broader societal conditions that have made your lived experiences possible?

As with any research paper, a first issue and challenge is to identify a research focus. Initial ideas will be refined, adjusted, altered, abandoned until the right focus is identified. Suitable topics relate your lived experiences, memories, and ideas about school to foundational themes in the field of education. I encourage you to consider expanding on the personal narratives and lived experiences you have posted already to your weblog. It is appropriate to understand your autoethnography as an expanded and refined version of a weblog post or a series of posts.



Benoit, B. (2016). Schools as Artifacts: Critical Autoethnography and Teacher Renewal. Mcgill Journal Of Education51(3), 1121-1142.

Boyd, A. S., & Noblit, G. W. (2015). Engaging Students in Autobiographical Critique as a Social Justice Tool: Narratives of Deconstructing and Reconstructing Meritocracy and Privilege with Preservice Teachers. Educational Studies: Journal Of The American Educational Studies Association, 51(6), 441-459.

Boylorn, R. M. (2008). As Seen On TV: An Autoethnographic Reflection on Race and Reality Television. Critical Studies in Media Communication,25(4), 413-433. (available online)

Boylorn, R. M. (2011). Black Kids’ (B.K.) Stories: Ta(l)king (About) Race Outside of the Classroom. Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies,11(1), 59-70.  (available online)

Bullough, R.V. and Pinnegar, S. (2001) Guidelines for quality in autobiographical forms of self-study research. Educational Researcher. 30 (3). 13-21. (available online)

Bushnell, M.; Henry, S. (2003). “The Role of Reflection in Epistemological Change: Autobiography in Teacher Education.” Educational Studies. 34(1), 38-59.

Chang, H. (2008). Autoethnography as Method.  Chapter 3: Autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA : Left Coast Press. pp.43-57.

Chávez, M. S. (2012). Autoethnography, a Chicana’s Methodological Research Tool: The Role of Storytelling for Those Who Have No Choice but to do Critical Race Theory. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(2), 334-348. (available online)

DeLeon, A. P. (2010). How Do I Begin To Tell a Story that Has Not Been Told? Anarchism, Autoethnography, and the Middle Ground. Equity & Excellence in Education, 43(4), 398-413. (available online)

Forber-Pratt, A. J. (2020). My Chameleon Life. Taboo: The Journal of Culture & Education19(4), 132–139.

Hoppes, S. (2014). Autoethnography: Inquiry Into Identity. New Directions For Higher Education2014(166), 63-71. (available online)

Hughes, S. A. (2008). Maggie and Me: A Black Professor and a White Urban School Teacher Connect Autoethnography to Critical Race Pedagogy. Educational Foundations22(3/4), 73-95.(available online)

Miller, A. (2009). Pragmatic radicalism: An autoethnographic perspective on pre-service teaching. Teaching & Teacher Education, 25(6), 909-916. (available online)

Nutbrown, C. (2011). A box of childhood: small stories at the roots of a career. International Journal of Early Years Education, 19(3/4), 233-248.

Pennington, J. L. (2007). Silence in the classroom/whispers in the halls: autoethnography as pedagogy in White pre-service teacher education. Race, Ethnicity & Education10(1), 93-113. (available online)

Rodriguez, D. (2009). The Usual Suspect: Negotiating White Student Resistance and Teacher Authority in a Predominantly White Classroom. Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies, 9(4), 483-508. (available online)

Smagorinsky, P. (2011). Confessions of a Mad Professor: An Autoethnographic Consideration of Neuroatypicality, Extranormativity, and Education. Teachers College Record, 113(8), 1701-1732. (Not available online)

Vasconcelos, E. S. (2011). “I Can See You”: An Autoethnography of My Teacher-Student Self. Qualitative Report16(2), 415-440. (available online)

Warren, J. T. (2011). Reflexive Teaching: Toward Critical Autoethnographic Practices of/in/on Pedagogy. Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies11(2), 139-144.