John Van Maanen, “Fieldwork on the Beat,” in John Van Maanen, James M. Dabbs, Jr., and Robert R. Faulkner (eds.), Varieties of Qualitative Research, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1982, pp. 103-148

[p. 139]: “Fieldwork means both involvement and detachment, both loyalty and betrayal, both openness and secrecy, and, most likely, both love and hate. Some where in the space between these always personalized stances toward those one studies, ethnographies get written.”

I’m not sure if that description represents a false dichotomy or an acknowledgment of the complexity of human relationships. But if there is a dichotomy, I hear something that SPN might address. SPN at least challenges detachment and secrecy.

[145]: “Ethnography involves participant observation, but observation is the governing term because no matter how far the researchers may move in the opposite direction, they remain outsiders who will eventually leave the field, write reports, and move on in ways quite different from those studied.”

There’s a dividing line between SPN and ethnography (and a description that makes me wonder if autoethnography is oxymoronic). I won’t leave the field I study via SPN, at least not just because I’m done studying or have other research projects. I will continue equally as observer and participant, fellow constructor of the reality studied.

[147]: “I think it unavoidable that a reasonably well done study will make some people mad.”

Tee hee. Or should I say, uh oh?

[147-148]: Member and collegial tests are therefore hardly unequivocal or determinative. How far one chooses to respond to them is essentially a matter of reason, taste, and gut feeling. To use the elegant words of sociologist Egon Bittner (1973, p. 121), ethnographic research is based fundamentally on “passion and judgment”; thus, the accuracy of such reports can never be fully assessed. Perhaps the essential test as to whether one got it right or not is a most practical and heuristic one, a test based simply on the use the ethnography has for others who follow into the same field. Validity is then partially grounded in the return trip and established or denied only in close contact with those who were studied (and others “like those” who were studied). The original concepts and descriptions are then either rediscovered, altered, or abandoned on the basis of their ability to capture and give meaning to another’s observation and experience. Imperfect as this test may be, it is, in the final analysis, what is usually called science.

Ellingson, L. L., & Ellis, C. (2008). “Autoethnography as Constructionist Project.” In J. A. Holstein & J. F. Gubrium (Eds.), Handbook of Constructionist Research (pp. 445-465). New York: The Guilford Press.

I’m reading up on autoethnography, trying to get clear on how (and whether!) to distinguish it from scholarly personal narrative. Ellingson and Ellis (p. 450) talk about how Enlightenment ideals of scientific inquiry—remaining dispassionate, controlling conditions, converting observations to numerals, searching for the answer, separating truth from practice—”are rhetorically constructed to privilege the powerful elite and marginalize other voices” (they cite Gergen, 1999, pp. 91–93). Then this:

Autoethnography developed in large part as a response to the alienating effects on both researchers and audiences of impersonal, passionless, abstract claims of truth generated by such research practices and clothed in exclusionary scientific discourse (Ellis, 2004). It attempts to disrupt and breach taken-for-granted norms of scientific discourse by emphasizing lived experience, intimate details, subjectivity, and personal perspectives. Thus autoethnography as a method participates in the ongoing social construction of research norms and practices at the same time that it seeks to influence the social construction of specific phenomena (e.g., child abuse; Hacking, 1999).

Whether or not SPN and autoE are equivalent, it’s pretty clear they offer the same response to the “impersonal, passionless, abstract” research paradigm. SPN and autoE are a critique of the academic status quo. In a way, they are in-house action research: by advancing SPN and autoE, we call those marginalized voices back to the center.

Reading about Lou’s SPN dissertation and defense (Nash, 2004, pp. 124-125), I encounter Lou’s word multilogue and his desire for authenticity and connection.

Why was I drawn to the South Dakota blogosphere? Because for the first time, I could hear my state’s voice, South Dakotans speaking in their own voices about the life and the places I know. They were placing (are placing) this multiloguing (multilogical?) voice online, on an even footing with the professional media, which can never make South Dakota sound as authentic as the amateurs, in the original sense of the word, writing for love. I could hear South Dakota as more than a rare condescending mention from a national news reporter (clearly detached, sounding surprised to even be mentioning South Dakota, and almost always mispronouncing if not mislocating our capital).

And I could join them. Welcome to the conversation.

Nash, R. J. (2004). Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power Of Personal Narrative. New York: Teachers College Press. 

I’m clearing out the bookmarks from returns to the library… gotta write this stuff down again! Not gospel, just brainstorming…

  1. Nash says (on page 9 of… I think it’s Spirituality, Ethics…) that he sought to become a philsopher of education. Do we have a philosopher of information systems? Is that what I’m trying to become? And does anyone hire philosophers any more?
  2. Where’s the IT artifact? That’s the positivists’ question. I ask, Where’s the IT agent, the postmodern quantum observer to give meaning?
  3. Facebook and Twitter tap something… but not this narrative knowledge SPN digs up. They build awareness, but not knowledge, definitely not wisdom. They transmit information and connection, but they are not permanent. They live in the moment and build no past or future. In Facebook and Twitter, we do not (can not?) build stories that transform us (authors or readers).

Hey, check this out: Manish Singhal, currently acting coordinator of doctoral programs at XLRI School of Business and Human Resources in Jamshedpur, India, used scholarly personal narrative in his doctoral research on spirituality at work. Cites Nash and everything!

We still haven’t found an implemented overlap with information systems research, but organizational behavior seems to move us a step closer to management studies. Closer, closer….

Yahoo! Call it a dry run for MWAIS: here’s my slideshow on SPN in KM! It should have audio; if it doesn’t, contact me and complain, and I’ll fix it!

Practicing What We Preach: Narrative in Knowledge Management

Dissertation-Topic for Consideration
Scholarly Personal Narrative and Social Knowledge Management
CA Heidelberger
Friday, April 3, 2009

Working Title: Self-Organizing Social Knowledge Management: A Case Study Investigating Evolutionary Learning Communities and Scholarly Personal Narrative


  1. Define and demonstrate scholarly personal narrative (SPN) as an information systems research methodology.
  2. Develop a model of geographically based self-organizing social knowledge management built on the “evolutionary learning community” model proposed by Laszlo and Laszlo (2002).
  3. Describe and investigate South Dakota online communities as first-generation IS manifestations of self-organizing social knowledge management. (more…)