Reflect, Reconsider, Reposition: Finding self in the journey of others in an autoethnographic study

Year: 2012

Author: Mok, Angel

Type of paper: Refereed paper


This paper discusses how the researcher uses her dual identity to explore blurred boundaries between the observer and the observed, insider and outsider.  It also examines how her understanding of own identity is being challenged by the data collected as well as the ongoing reflection during the process of data gathering.

Autoethnography is adopted as the procedure and orientation for this PhD research project. Conducted by a researcher who is a member in the Chinese diaspora in Sydney, this research aims to explore the cultural identity of the Chinese families and its influences on their children's mathematics learning. Case study is used as the method for data collection and a case is defined as a family in this research. Besides the use of questionnaires, journal entries and observations to collect data, participants are provided opportunities in the interviews to recount personal experiences before and after immigration. Researcher's personal experience and narratives are interrogated and discussed with the data gathered from the families. The researcher's personal experience provides a lens to zoom in and out the personal and cultural to further illuminate the culture under study.

The world of the observed has been made visible by the representations of interviews, journals, observations and fieldwork memos to the self in this qualitative research which locates the observer in the world. Researcher's authentic membership of the Chinese diaspora provides her with an insider's insights in understanding the data; on the other hand, it blurs her role of the observer and the observed. The dialogic encounters between the narratives of the researcher and the interviews provide the readers an interpretive space to understand the data.

Data are analysed from an early stage to detect cultural themes, recurring topics as well as omissions. Cases are compared to explore the connection of present with the past, and the relationship between self and others. Initial analysis of interview data reveals that parents indicate that home language is of the most significance in maintaining Chinese culture. However, their understanding of and attachment to 'Chineseness' seems to have many manifestations. Regardless of where their homelands are, Chinese parents have expressed their concern of the 'low' standard of mathematics curriculum in Australia, which become the reason for the extra work they provide for their children, either in the form of institutional or parental tutoring.  This intersection of personal experience and cultural values is a space which needs further investigation.