Putting the auto in ethnography: The embodied process of reflexivity on positionality

Journal article

Morrow, F. and Kettle, M. (2023). Putting the auto in ethnography: The embodied process of reflexivity on positionality. Qualitative Social Work. https://doi.org/10.1177/14733250231196430
AuthorsMorrow, F. and Kettle, M.

This article describes an unexpected methodological shift made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during doctoral research, and exemplifies reflexivity in action whilst negotiating my complex positionality as both a researcher and a social worker. The first UK national lockdown was announced after I had conducted 3 months of ethnographic data collection in a local authority adult social work team, thus halting my research. As society shut down, face-to-face research was paused overnight, however, the local authority continued to provide essential services and support. Forging a path forward, I successfully gained a job practising as a social worker within the team and completed a supplementary ethics application to include auto-ethnographic data which would complement the existing ethnography. Although practicing reflexivity and analysing positionality are established and encouraged parts of ethnographic research, how a researcher actively conducts them varies and usually remains unseen. Methodologies are often presented in a sanitised and polished manner, depriving the reader of the messy yet informative reality of research. This article draws upon fieldnotes to practically illustrate and bring this reflexivity on positionality to the fore. As I move from participant-observer to complete-participant, the findings zoom in on my experience of navigating positionality, revealing a micro picture of the details and subtleties of this process. This unexpected research journey enhanced my level of intimacy with the phenomenon, the research site, and the participants. Overall, this example of enacting reflexivity helps to bridge the gap between how positionality is theorised and how it actively practiced. Finally, this article is a call for more open, deeper, and continual reflexivity on our positionality as researchers.

Keywordsethnography, auto-ethnography, positionality, research reflexivity, COVID-19, doctoral research
JournalQualitative Social Work
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1177/14733250231196430
Publication dates
Online19 Aug 2023
Publication process dates
Deposited25 Aug 2023
Publisher's version
File Access Level
Accepted author manuscript
File description
Accepted Manuscript for Qualitative Journal of Social Work
File Access Level
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