Autoethnography is a research and writing method that uses autobiographical personal narrative that explores writer’s life experience, reflective of a cultural accounting through employing features such as concrete action, emotion, embodiment, self-consciousness, and introspection (Denzin 419).
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It totally differs with ethnography, as it uses the researcher’s experience instead of other people beliefs and practices while the latter uses fieldwork to interview people in order to get their views and narration that is analyzed to get a better understanding of their culture.
Autoethnography, apart from revealing personal experiences in relation to some cultural account, presents a platform for questioning cultural aspects generally viewed as appropriate by the vast majority of practitioners of a given practice such as diagnostic processes. Thus, involvement of personal aspects can provide valuable insight on issues that are mostly overlooked in culture such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), sexuality, eating disorders and others.
Institutional Autoethnography in the diagnosis of OCD presents an opportunity of using knowledge and daily events to accelerate rational and logical reasoning on social transformations needed to change psychiatric oppression (Tam 2010). Institutional Autoethnography may involve application of Autoethnography and institutional ethnography to understand a given situation.
This paper will further look at the understanding of OCD discourse through institutional Autoethnography by feminist psychiatric experiences and approach. The words madness and sense-making are used in this paper severally, and they are used in the following context.
Madness is used to refer to the “altered states of consciousness to different beliefs/feelings/needs/behaviours that are pathologized by psychiatry, while sense-making refers to the both available paradigms for rationalizing madness and alternative, self-determined ways of understanding and living with madness” (Tam 2010).
Understanding of OCD discourse through institutional Autoethnography
Institutions are recognized as a way of governance that involves institutional discourses and technologies. People working in a certain institution are guided by institutional practices that bind them into the institutional function. Thus, an institution is mainly coordination of people through the institution’s discursively organized practices in their system.
Through institutional Autoethnography, we are able to look at how institution’s work by coordinating people and involving their organized experiences that entail reality of their life experiences and own perspectives. The developing part of this paper is more of a personal reflection on institutional Autoethnography of Tam (2010) that narrates her personal experiences with mental illness, providing an analysis of the performative aspects of OCD and her feminist standpoint in challenging the OCD discourse.
OCD is a genetic disorder triggered by environmental stressors that cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, leading to biologically altered mental state and leaving the individuals to steer themselves among and between the expected good habits and secret rituals (Brooks 2011).
By evaluating Tam personal experiences and practices with OCD, we see the need for personality management for people suffering from OCD and pose a challenge to existing perception of the OCD discourse. From Tam’s encounters with OCD and how the concerned professionals handle it, one is able to gain an insight on the traumatic disorder that relies mainly on communicative practices, as the disease impedes the sufferer’s social life (Brooks 2011).
Tam, once a victim and now a critical reflective practitioner of psychiatry, hopes that through her autoethnographic narratives to shed light on some of the performances that can used to challenge the OCD discourse and improve understanding of self-embodied performances of the OCD patients (through sense-making).
Her autoethnographic research and presentation was motivated by the fact that during that period, there were limited or no research by psychiatric survivors that critically challenged the OCD discourse, but there were only alternative studies that focused on new ways of understanding madness based on borderline personality disorder, depression, hearing of voices and schizophrenia (Tam 2010).
By welcoming such an approach to madness and OCD, she feels that the proper description of this condition is at risk of being diluted or losing its context. Though unique in her approach, she has chosen also to involve works of other researchers in the analysis of OCD discourse in order to get more insights and testimonies that can justify her research.
The feminist element of her work comes from taking a feminist standpoint in regard to socio-economic disparities, colonization, racialization, and the position of disadvantaged women (mad) in the society. These factors mix, bringing about materialism and economic realities from local to universal setting; hence, personal experiences are vital in portraying the world relations (Tam 4).
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In taking the feminist standpoint, she was able to explain her societal and mental illness situation she had faced, leading to better understanding of her ideas in relation to social trends and occurrences. Her standpoint tends be in agreement with other feminist researchers that encourage narratives of liberal ideas that relate to surveillance of issues with gendered divisions in the public-private systems (Mohanram 38).
These divisions further shape the relationship between class and race, making them more pronounced and perceivable. Through expressing self-experiences in a complex set up, she is not just trying to tell about herself in feminine nature, but rather, she is trying to bring out realities (sense-making). These realities in essence can provide knowledge and understanding that can lead to social transformations.
Throughout her presentation, the main aim is to show how institutions’ operations have been standardized through medicalization of given patterns in habit and given affects of stress, while there is alternate knowledge regarding embodied qualitative experiences that have been wrongly absorbed and twisted by OCD discourse (Tam 3). In this study, she is able to decry the fact that a lot of useful knowledge that has not been institutionally tested is always discarded or treated as of less significance in treatment of OCD patients.
Her experience reveals that some of the downplayed aspects in evaluations and treatment of OCD patients are as important as the standard procedures and observations. Hence, the OCD discourse is quite biased by the institutional coordination practices that specify how the OCD victims should be evaluated, monitored and their treatment programs.
Further, her research aims to unearth the fact that most of main stakeholders of the body that is charged with responsibility of determining and modifying OCD discourse lack some of relevant experience. This is vividly highlighted in the following argument “that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is articulated by a body of knowledge-makers who are not themselves located as having lived experiences with the phenomena described exposes the disembodied (“I”-less) nature of such a text” (Tam 3).
By involving sense-making in this situation, she is trying to logically challenge the doctored gaps between OCD discourse and real-life situations that if appropriately used can aid in psychiatric evaluations and OCD discourse. In addition, she reveals that, through a lack of experience, many professional helpers are unable to understand the OCD discourse in a cultural context.
Thus, her presentation in summation shows that there is need of institutions and professional helpers to adopt and understand self-embodied communication practices in handling of the OCD patients rather than following the OCD discourse only as guided by their institutional practices.
Brooks, Catherine F. “Social Performance and Secret Ritual: Battling Against Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” Qualitative Health Research, Vol. 21 Issue 2, pp.249-261, 2011. Web.
Denzin, Norman K. “Analytic Autoethnography, or Déjà Vu all Over Again.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 2006 Vol 35 Number 4, pp 419-428.
Mohanram, Radhika. Imperial white: race, diaspora, and the British Empire. Minnesota: U of Minnesota Press. 2007.
Tam, Louise. Class aspiration, Diaspora, and Disease with the ‘Neurasthenic’ condition: Feminist sense-making through an institutional Autoethnography of OCD discourse. Conference Proceedings, 2010. Web.