Literary Studies and Personal Voice: Exploring Autoethnography as a Research Method in the Graduate English Thesis

One of the ways that literature instructors can actively address states of insecurity with graduate thesis writers is by helping them develop projects that build upon strengths and interests and critically explore connections between personal and cultural experience. As such, this session seeks to expand concepts of literary research by examining the enduring paradigm of author-evacuated research (see Geertz’s 1988 Works and Lives, and Swales’ 2004 Research Genres) in traditional literary criticism and analysis, and challenging this paradigm by presenting the stories of six instructor-researchers who performed autoethnography (see Ellis, Adams, & Bochner’s 2011 manuscript in FQS) as an alternative research method in their graduate English theses.

We begin this project (see SECTIONS in the menu above) with a conversation between Harrison and Whyland discussing the pedagogical implications and rationale of adopting a socio-anthropological methodology in literary studies (“An Introduction to Autoethnography and the MA English Thesis: Student & Advisor Perspectives”). We continue with two additional conversations that illustrate this method in practice: Beasley, Coleman and Bridgeman discuss the significance of “voice” (“Silenced No More: Claiming Voice via Autoethnographic Explorations of Literature and Writing”) while Ruppert, Jones-Young and Schimke explain how personal reflections on the classroom experience can illuminate literary research (“Milton, Post-Colonialism and Feminist Diarists: What Autoethnography Has to Offer Pedagogy”).

Our discussions highlight the tensions, challenges and emotions involved in performing autoethnography as literary scholars. We pay special attention to the uncertainty inherent in placing oneself into one’s research and navigating an unknown method. We conclude with practical implications for curricular development and advice to writers and their advisors (“Advice to Writers & Their Advisors) who wish to undertake or advocate autoethnographic scholarship.



  • Marlen Elliot Harrison, Ph.D., M.A.
  • Jamie Coleman, M.A.
  • Angela Whyland, M.A.
  • Marsha Bridgeman, M.A.
  • Sabrina Beasley, M.A.
  • Mary Schimke, M.A.
  • Neisha Jones-Young, M.A.
  • Sarah-Kathleen Ruppert, M.A.

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