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The ethics of autoethnography


This article queries the place of autoethnography in the study of International Relations as it relates to questions of truth, power, and ethics. The traditional denial of the authorial presence of the self in IR scholarship has been increasingly challenged in recent years, and autoethnography is perhaps the most obvious example of this. This article utilises autoethnography to explore some of the pitfalls and dilemmas associated with the approach – particularly the dangers surrounding ‘standpoint’ epistemologies, and the need to continue to distinguish between scholarship and storytelling. The article does not dismiss these concerns, but seeks to illustrate the ways in which the discipline is already engaged in storytelling as it narrates its own history and development. At the same time, the article seeks to ‘guard against a generation of novelists’ whose training would inevitably devolve into a question of crafting the ‘prettiest sentence.’ Mindful of these concerns, the article nevertheless seeks to demonstrate the ethical value of autoethnography in its exploration of the limitations of academic voice and its impact on those we write, the truths we are able to recognise and transcribe, and the ways in which the academic voice silences the self, who is forced to hide or minimise the often very personal motivations for engaging in IR scholarship. It argues that purposeful autoethnography should have a place among the diverse approaches to IR.

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Virginia Dominguez , ‘Towards a Politics of Love and Rescue’, Cultural Anthropology, 15:3 (2000)

Carolyn Ellis , ‘Telling Secrets, Revealing Lives: Relational Ethics in Research with Intimate Others’, Qualitative Inquiry, 13:1 (2007), pp. 329

J. Marshall Beier , International Relations in Uncommon Places: Indigeneity, Cosmology, and the Limits of International Theory (New York: Palgrave, 2005)

Liisa Malkki , ‘Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization’, Cultural Anthropology, 11:3 (1996), pp. 377404

Tony E. Adams , ‘A Review of Narrative Ethics’, Qualitative Inquiry, 14 (2008), p. 176

Roxanne Lynn Doty , ‘Maladies of Our Souls: Identity and Voice in the Writing of Academic International Relations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 17:2 (July2004), p. 380

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David Campbell , National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1998)

Debbie Lisle , ‘Consuming Danger: Reimagining the War/Tourism Divide’, Alternatives, 25:1 (2000)

Elizabeth Dauphinee , ‘The Politics of the Body in Pain: Reading the Ethics of Imagery’, Security Dialogue, 38:2 (June2007)

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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