Abstract: “Exposure to the Suffering of Others: Directions in Ethnographic Storytelling”
Art Bochner and Carolyn Ellis, University of South Florida
In this keynote, we discuss the ethical practices of autoethnography and personal narrative inquiry that we have developed and encouraged over the past three decades. Our project centers on texts and performances that blur the boundaries between social sciences and humanities in the pursuit of empathy and identification with the suffering of others. We seek to merge the literary eloquence of the humanities with the systematic, investigative spirit of the social sciences. Transgressing the borders and boundaries of traditional ethnography, our project promotes the creation of emotionally evocative stories that recreate difficult and morally challenging events composed by writers who engage in contemplative remembering, imagining, and feeling. Taking up Richard Rorty’s call to produce reflexive social texts that foster compassion through witnessing, we focus on the experiences of wounded storytellers told in detailed, vulnerable, first-person accounts that invite audiences to feel the sufferings of others. Our presentation focuses on three detailed exemplars through which we reflect on the moral and political quality of personal stories, how to produce greater openness to otherness through a relational ethics of care, and autoethnography as a genre of doubt and contingency that moves meanings and creates a design for a reading experience distinctly different from received texts of orthodox social science.