Autoethnography and Reflexivity

Villareal, L. (2019) Star Ceiling [LED Installation]. New York; Pace Gallery at the Armory Show

The Meaning of Reflexivity

Reflexivity is reflection as a process of investigation, as a living inquiry into subjectivity and as an experiencing of the research topic. It is an evaluation and re-evaluation of a research topic, which can relate to a review of literature and knowledge through self-awareness. It is an immersion of oneself into a topic, and living within a dissertation topic as a narrative and artistic composition. Reflexivity also involves the questioning of experience, and the habits of perception—it is reviewing a research topic from many different possible perspectives.

Reflexivity is self-critical reflection. It focusses upon one’s actions, thoughts, hopes, fears, role, values and assumptions with the aim of gaining insight into them.  Reflexivity can, for example, enable us to perceive that we do not every day practice according to the values we state as being significant to us in our practice (i.e. our values-in-practice prove to be at variance with our espoused values). This illuminative self-questioning, is inevitably also a process of uncertainty and self-doubt: the reflexive practitioner has no idea what it will lead them to question”.

“Reflexivity” by Gillie Bolton and Russell Delderfield

Praxis (Action/Reflection)

“It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality.  They must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection”.

“Praxis” by Paulo Freire, Freire Institute

Pattern and Interpretation

Identifying patterns in the literature you are reading, as a repetition of vocabulary, concepts and themes. This is the legacy of terminology in your area of research. By proposing an innovative way of reviewing your dissertation topic, you are beginning a new pattern of thought which will lead to different ways of thinking about your topic and new approaches of art therapy.

A Conceptual Lens

This is way of viewing, understanding and describing your chosen topic. It can be a theoretical frame of reference that you are applying to the way you are approaching your literature review and the development of your model of practice. And, the concept could also apply to a particular art material, approach to art making, context for art making, and definition of participants.

Villareal, L. (2017) Particle Field [LED light installation]. New York: Pace Gallery

Autoethnography Videos

An Autoethnography on Learning about Autoethnography by Sarah Wall

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Autoethnography: An Overview by Carolyn EllisTony E. Adams & Arthur P. Bochner in Forum: Qualitative Social Research

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Abstract: Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. This approach challenges canonical ways of doing research and representing others and treats research as a political, socially-just and socially-conscious act. A researcher uses tenets of autobiography and ethnography to do and write autoethnography. Thus, as a method, autoethnography is both process and product.

 “In particular [Ellis and Bochner, 2011] wanted to concentrate on ways of producing meaningful, accessible, and evocative research grounded in personal experience, research that would sensitize readers to issues of identity politics, to experiences shrouded in silence, and to forms of representation that deepen our capacity to empathize with people who are different from us, autoethnographers recognize the innumerable ways personal experience influences the research process. Consequently, autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research, rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist.

“Most often, autobiographers write about “epiphanies”—remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life, times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyze lived experience and events after which life does not seem quite the same. While epiphanies are self-claimed phenomena in which one person may consider an experience transformative while another may not, these epiphanies reveal ways a person could negotiate “intense situations” and “effects that linger—recollections, memories, images, feelings—long after a crucial incident is supposedly finished”

Villareal, L. (2019) Star Ceiling [LED Installation]. New York; Pace Gallery at the Armory Show

“When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity”.

“Autoethnographers must…consider ways others may experience similar epiphanies; they must use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders. To accomplish this might require comparing and contrasting personal experience against existing research”

Reference: Autoethnography: An Overview by Carolyn Ellis, Tony Adams, and Arthur Bochner

From Liminality to Transformation: Creating an Art Therapist Identity through Myths, Metaphors and Self-Portraits by Professor Sherry Beaumont

Link to Article


“This paper addresses a gap in the literature on art therapy identity by providing an arts-based autoethnographic account of the author’s identity and growth-related experiences while training as an art therapist and developing a private practice. The data analyzed included personal journaling (written and art-based), course papers, and art made over a six-year period. Using organic inquiry, narrative presentation, and qualitative thematic coding, analyses of the writing and art revealed evidence for the macrolevel themes of liminality (feeling between identities) and transformation (experiencing transformative growth and self/identity integration). Within those macrolevel themes, the art and writing were related to expressive metaphors. For the period of liminality, the metaphors included: (a) hanging between worlds; (b) seeing without sight; (c) shapeshifting; and (d) dark night of the soul. Within the period of transformation, they included moving from: (a) darkness to light; (b) dismemberment to “rememberment”; and (c) death to rebirth. Throughout the narrative, the roles of identity processes (e.g., contemplation), myths, metaphors, and art-making, especially self-portraiture, are discussed as important tools for self-identity development during and after art therapy training”

The Art of Words: Expressive Writing in Art Therapy by Professor Sherry Beaumont

“Expressive writing can develop new vocabulary within the profession of art therapy. It informs the way art therapists articulate their practice and reflect upon their work. We appreciate the words of our clients, when we choose to spend time with our own words. Art therapists can appreciate the metaphors and idioms within their clients’ words, when they too are creating with language in their own artistic practice. The art of words within art therapy should be equally valued. The artistry of our clients encourages a contemplation of their unique voice, that must not only be seen, but heard.”

“I believe that unless art therapists are willing to express themselves in both images and words, they may lose contact with the holistic sense of common humanity that exists within the artistic endeavour. The synchronicity of artistic pursuits that exist between ourselves and our clients encourages a shared understanding that art is transformational.”

Quotations by Sherry Beaumont (Interview with Pamela Whitaker included in Envisage Magazine, produced by the Canadian Art Therapy Association