Welcome to "The Letter" - a multimedia auto-ethnography.
This project involves a letter written in 2009 and a 2012 re-reading and reflection by the letter's author. Please choose a voice from the top to help start you on your path through the story. Or click "Forward >>" to begin.

What is autoethnography?

My understanding of auto-ethnography is that it is a qualitative research approach involving the author telling his/her own story in such a way that both the author and the reader are able to better understand a research topic.  Carolyn Ellis (2004), a "mother" of the autoethnography field, defined autoethnography as "writing about the personal and its relationship to culture. It is an autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness" (p. 37).

How is this research?

Denzin and Lincoln wrote (in the SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2011):

All research is interpretive: guided by a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied. Some beliefs may be taken for granted, invisible, or only assumed, whereas others are highly problematic and controversial. Each interpretive paradigm makes particular demands on the researcher, including the questions that are asked and the interpretations that are brought to them (p. 13).

Qualitative research accepts that authors' interpretations are a natural part of all studies and - therefore - enables researchers to write in first person and/or to acknowledge our own voices.  The "scientific method" also need not necessarily apply to qualitative studies because researchers are seeking to understand particular ideas and particular contexts (so readers can judge transferability for themselves). Qualitative research is meant to show but not to prove.

Why is this on the web?

Autoethnographies have been published as poems, dramatic performances, novels, memoirs, and in countless other mediums. Ellis (2004) explained, "More and more, social scientists express themselves autoethnography through [personal narratives, performance, and dialogic materials], as well as through ... art, photography, personal essays, fiction and literature, diaries (both on- and off-line), plays, dance, film and video, music, and museum art installations" (p. 193).  She viewed on-line autoethnography (particularly blogs and other online journals/diaries) as similar to autoethnographic performance, through which readers can witness the thoughts and experiences of the authors.

Dominguez et al. (2007) described virtual ethnography as "a broad range of methodological approaches aimed at answering the complexities of the object of research and the different ways in which this object has been constructed" (ara. 3).

I have chosen the virtual medium for this autoethnography as an artistic and dynamic way to open my story to a broad audience. As a visitor to this story, I hope that you feel free to navigate your own path and find the elements which are most important and relevant to you. You may be a teacher looking for advice about working with students in foster care, or you may be curious about the ways in which challenging situations influenced my personal and professional development. You may be curious about advocacy, or perhaps simply a seeker of stories. In any case, I hope that this story and the virtual presentation are useful to you.  Feel free to contact me!

rebecca(dot)sheffield(at)ttu.edu