Academic Attainment Amongst One Family Education Essay

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The research issue of interest is to explore the academic achievement of three generations of one family, using autoethnography as the methodology, with the concept of researcher as subject (Ellis and Bochner, 2000) being of fundamental importance.

Justification (Intrinsic and extrinsic factors):

Reasons both intrinsic and extrinsic make this topic of interest, namely because this topic is of great personal interest, in terms of understanding where the researcher/subjects love of academic work arises from and understanding the researcher/subjects family history. Also sociological terms make it interesting because of understanding the inter-generational factors that are important in encouraging academic attainment and achieving academic success. This is particularly important because of the fact that many students are not motivated, academically, and that the results gained could shed some light on how to inspire de-motivated individuals in terms of encouraging the interest in academic matters and encouraging academic achievement. There is a link between the personal and sociological, allowed through the use of the intended autoethnographic methodology which allows an interesting perspective to be explored, namely the extrapolation of the personal to the sociological. This research topic is interesting through the use of the research methodology suggested, which allows for a personal exploration of an issue that is important to the researcher/subject and a more general extrapolation of these explorations to a sociological level. As Klinker and Todd (2007) argue, autoethnography, undertaken within a sociological context, can prove to be a powerful research tool.

Research questions:

The research project is aimed at looking at academic attainment across one family, from the perspective of the researcher. Three possible research questions can be suggested:

1. What determines academic attainment?

2. Is family support vital for academic attainment?

3. How is academic attainment supported within the family?

These three research questions would allow the researcher/subject to reveal the level of academic achievement by the individual family members and to look for factors that are related to academic achievement in general, and their own academic achievement with the aim of revealing general factors that are important in encouraging academic achievement. It is intended that this would give rise to some more general sociological factors that are important too.

Literature search:

Anon (no date) Autoethnography: A social science inquiry method. [Online] [Accessed 12th March 2009] Available from: <>

Anderson, L. (2006). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35(4), pp. 373-395.

Atkinson, P.A. (2006) Rescuing autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35(4), pp. 400-404.

Atkinson, P.A. and Coffey A. (2003) Key themes in qualitative research. Cardiff: Altamira.

Bochner, A.P. and Ellis, C. (2001). Ethnographically speaking: autoethnography, literature and aesthetics. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira press.

Butz, D. and Besio, K. (2004) The value of autoethnography for field research in transcultural settings. The professional geographer. 56 (3) pp. 350-360

Buzzard, J. (2003). On autoethnographic authority. The Yale Journal of Criticism 16(1), pp. 61-91.

Cunningham, S.J. and Jones, M. (2005). Autoethnography: a tool for practice and education. ACM International Conference Proceedings Series. Volume 94, pp. 1-8.

Denzin, N. And Lincoln, Y. (eds) (2005) Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage (3rd edition)

Delamont, S. (2009) The only honest thing: autoethnograpy, reflexivity and small crisis in fieldwork. Cardiff: Routledge, pp51-63

Ellis, C. and Bochner, A.P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: researcher as subject. In Handbook of Qualitative Research, N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln, London: Sage Publications.

Ellis, C. (2004). The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel about Autoethnography, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press

Etherington, K. (2004) Becoming a reflexive researcher: Using ourselves in research. UK: Jessica Kingsley publishers.

Hardaker, G. (2007) Performative Criteria: Autoethnography research. [online] USA: BeyondLabels. [accessed 1st March 2009] Available from: <>

Jackson, A.Y. and Mazzei, L.A. (2008). Experience and 'I' in autoethnography: a deconstruction. International Review of Qualitative Research 1(3), pp. 299-318.

Janesick, V.J. (2004). "Stretching" exercises for qualitative researchers. London: Sage Publications.

Reda, M.M (2007) Autoethnography as research methodology? [online]. USA: Academic exchange quarterly. [accessed 9th March 2009] Available from: <>

Reed-Danahay, D.E. (1997). Introduction. In D.E. Reed-Danahay, Autoethnography: rewriting the self and the social. London: Berg

Tillman, L.M. (2009) Speaking in silences: Autoethnography, Communication and applied research. Journal of applied communication research. 37(1) pp. 94-97


There are two research approaches that can be taken. The one in which this methodology focuses on is the interpretivist. The methodology proposed is autoethnography, which is a postmodernist construction, combining autobiography and ethnography (Reed-Danahay, 1997). Autoethnography includes many layers of consciousness, mixing the personal and cultural and including dialogue, emotion and self-consciousness (Klinker and Todd, 2007; Jackson and Mazzei, 2008). As Holt (2003) argues, autoethnography is a highly personalized research methodology, drawing on the researcher/subject's own experiences in order to understand a particular research question, allowing, as Buzzard (2003) argues, "…otherto silenced groups to enunciate…it's vision of its self and the world" (Klinker and Todd, 2007). This does not mean, however, that autoethnography has nothing to say about the wider sociological context of the particular research question in hand (Reda, 2007): as Klinker and Todd (2007) argue, looking at research questions from a sociological point of view can lead to both individual and sociological conclusions being drawn, with the social context of the individual experience being ever-present and the methodology allowing this to be understood from an individual perspective (Geertz, 1973; Buzzard, 2003; Anderson, 2006). The reason a positivist methodology is not being used is because it primarily focuses on experiments, surveys and field studies which cannot be used when doing an autoethnographical study.

The methodology proposed is qualitative in nature, which is, essentially, a "holistic approach to understanding the emerging picture of the social context under study" (Janesick, 2004) and which will examine the relationships within the family, study the personal interactions, explore the setting and use the researcher as a research instrument (Klinker and Todd, 2007). As argued by Klinker and Todd (2007), qualitative methods generally allow the researcher to explore the truth as a derivation of art, intuition and experience, and as social problems that need problem-solving and negotiated resolution (Creswell, 1997). As the role of the researcher in any autoethnographical study, the instrument of data collection and the subject of that data collection, credibility, dependability and trustworthiness can give some substance to the results gained, with intellectual severity and integrity being demonstrated through the search for themes, explanations and interpretations of the findings (Klinker and Todd, 2007). Credibility is gained for this research methodology through the fact that the findings are of the researchers own families academic achievements. The researcher has also lived experiences that are their own which are authentic and valid, from a scientific standpoint (Klinker and Todd, 2007; Patton, 1990).

Using a qualitative methodology within the context of autoethnographic studies can allow the researcher to reflect on their own knowledge, intuition and personal experiences in order to reflect upon the research questions which allows a genuine approach to the research question in hand (Klinker and Todd, 2007). It is generally understood, autoethnography is based on an analytical approach to personal narratives, allowing for conclusions regarding self and the self as part of a wider culture/society (Roth, 2005): as Walter Goldschmidt has stated, "There is a sense in which all ethnography is autoethnography.". As Roth (2005) argues, the methodology allows the relationship between the 'knower' and the 'known' to be explored, which is at the centre of the knowledge that is created as part of the research methodology, which can be a powerful evidence-gathering tool, leading to interpretations that are unexpected and thus powerful in their aptitude to reveal (Duarte, 2007; Cunningham and Jones, 2005). It is expected that this methodology, in conjunction with the thorough literature review, would succumb interesting results regarding when looking at the academic attainment of one family across three generations.

Data collection instruments:

Autoethnography revolves around the collection of personal narrative that allows and explores the researcher/subjects life (Chang, 2008; Holt, 2003). As Klinker and Todd (2007) argue, there are various instruments through which autoethnographic data can be collected: conversations or written accounts of the life of the reseacher/subject (such as diaries, journal entries, scrapbook pages etc) It is argued that the more data collection instruments that are used, the more likely it is that a complete picture of the researcher/subject will be built up, and the more likely that the research question will be thoroughly explored (Klinker and Todd, 2007; Ellis and Bochner, 2000). In this case, as the research topic involves three generations of one family, it is not only important to include various data collection instruments in the collection of data, but also to include the narratives, and reflections, of other family members on the research topic, in order to provide as broad as possible understanding of the research topic in hand. In this topic, the student themselves, parents and grandparents will be used.

It is therefore suggested that the general autoethnographical research methodology take the specific form of interviews by the researcher/subject with family members, with the purpose of addressing the three suggested research questions, namely to find out about their academic achievements during their schooling years, their opinions about this, and their motivations towards this. Also how they think their aspirations have helped there family members to achieve. The researcher/subject would also address the same issues in a questionnaire format, with their responses to this forming the basis of an account regarding their own opinions of, and motivations towards, education and academic life and their own academic achievements and aspirations. Once these numerous narratives had been collected, other accompanying material should be collected. For example diaries entries, which would allow historical opinions of the researcher/subject with regards to education and academic matters. The collection of diary entries would minimize the collection of memories, allowing the collection of the researcher/subjects feelings at different points in their personal history, be built up and made applicable to the research topic and questions.

As Holt (2003) advises, as autoethnography is a genre of writing and research that connects the personal to the cultural, placing the self within the sociological context, first person narratives are fundamental to the success of this autoethnographical methodology. As Reed-Danahay (1997) argues, for the autoethnographic method to have worth as a research tool, each researcher/subject will differ as to their emphasis on graphy (the research process), ethnos (culture) and auto (self), but whatever the specific focus, the researcher/subject needs to use their own experiences to explore beyond their self and self-other interactions, and the repercussions of these for their own life history, towards a more general sociological understanding of the particular research topic and questions (Hart, 2003). With this in mind, the focus on the analysis of self narratives, and the interviews with other family members regarding the social context of the academic achievements and aspirations is fundamental in understanding the broader social context of the proposed research. The use of oneself alone in autoethnographic studies has been widely criticized (Sparkes, 2000; Hart, 2003) and so the inclusion of narratives other than those of the researcher/subject, in order to understand the personal narrative of the researcher/subject is primarily the vigor and validity of this research project.


As Buzzard (2003) argues, there are many limitations that explain why autoethnography is not commonly used as a research tool. Firstly, because the methodology uses 'essentialism'; that the method lacks a process that would allow the opinions and voice of the researcher/subject to become the voice of people and, as such, the methodology lacks any ability to become generalisable; and that the problem of self-identification and the researcher/subjects understanding of their place and movemement within the culture can make the results seem biased; meaning that no true explanation of the researcher/subjects experiences can ever be found (Klinker and Todd, 2007). All of these reasons would suggest that the methodology is not valid, yet autoethnography can give precious insights in to the particular research question, from the researcher/subject's perspective and, as such, the methodology will be deemed as valid, for this particular case at least. To make the data collected robust, I will firstly pilot all questionnaire's used to see what result's I get back. The only problem with this is the people the questionnaire's first go to will not be family members and are more likely to give honest answer's compared to family members who may not be truthful. Interviews will also be piloted to see what results are gained.


Autoethnography, as a research tool, includes reflections on a person's own narratives within the context of understanding a particular research question. Personal narratives recounted within the context of a particular research question can include reference to other individuals, meaning that if the person uses a family member in their research it is seen that other narratives are included within the context of the reflection. It is my responsibility as the researcher/subject to seek permission from these individuals to include their names with their responses/narratives within the research project, under the ethical guidelines for this type of research. When researching the BERA guidelines online, it was found that I do not need to worry about interviewing the individuals as they are all over eighteen years old, but I must sought permission. This is not problematical in this particular research project, as all the other individuals are family members, who have all given their consent for the inclusion of their narratives within this research project. However, research projects based on autoethnographical methods can often fail if the permission is not sought after and due to this, the methodology is unethical. As Chang (2008) argues, despite this potential problem with the methodology, autoethnographical methods can prove to be a powerful tool in gathering information upon which to assess pertinent research questions in the social and anthropological sciences.


Apart from the obvious constraints of the lack of time to conduct such a study and lack of resources on the topic in question, there is also many more constraints.

As Delamont (2007) argues, autoethnography has many flaws: it is literally and academically indolent; familiarity can make the study seem bias; it is lacking in any analytical basis, based, as it is on the presentation of experiences (Atkinson, 2006); it is ethically unsound, in terms of the inclusion of information about other people connected to the researcher's story, who may not have given permission for their inclusion in the study. The methodology focuses on the powerful, not the powerless (Becker, 1967), leading to the wrong 'social gaze' being studied. As such, as Delamont (2007) argues, autoethnography as a research tool is invalid for the social sciences, as it does not study the social world, rather studies one individual from an introspective perspective, and does not move the discipline, as a whole, forward, and, as such, holds many constraints.

As Chang (2008) argues, these can all be challenging if several key flaws in the methodology are not controlled for. For example; focusing on the researcher/subject on their own, without consideration for other people who are also important in the story; paying too much attention to narrative and not to the analysis of this narrative and also relying too much on memory to engender the narrative, rather than including props to aid in recollection; and ignoring ethical standards in terms of the inclusion of other people within the narrative. As Chang (2008) argues, if these potential flaws are controlled for, the methodology can be a powerful research tool, and, indeed, is entirely appropriate for the research question in hand, as has been discussed.