Volume 6 Issue 1 (2010): Autoethnography as Research Practice
Ethics and Vulnerability in Autoethnographic Practice

'Do Thyself No Harm': Protecting Ourselves as Autoethnographers

April Chatham-Carpenter
University of Northern Iowa
Published August 12, 2010
  • autoethnography,
  • meta-autoethnography,
  • writing-stories,
  • ethics,
  • anorexia


Autoethnographers have grappled with how to represent others in the stories they tell. However, very few have written about the need to protect themselves in the process of doing autoethnographic writing. In this paper, I explore the ethical challenges faced when writing about a potentially-ongoing disorder, such as anorexia, when the research process triggers previously disengaged unhealthy thinking or behaviors for those involved. In the story-writing process, I felt a strong pull to go back into anorexia, as I immersed myself in my research on this topic. The compulsion to publish became intertwined with the compulsion of my anorexia, illustrated by the need to control both and present a certain "face" as a researcher. Using a meta-autoethnographic format, I walk the reader through the choices I made in an attempt to protect myself as a researcher in the process of publishing an autoethnography about anorexia. I also explain the lessons I learned, which can be applied to persons doing autoethnographies on topics that may affect their own personal well-being. This paper reveals the importance of writing through our pain in an ethical fashion and that the ethics of doing autoethnography is not just about protecting those implicated in our stories, but also ourselves.