Transnational Autoethnography in Higher Education: The (Im)Possibility of Finding Home in Academia

Transnational Autoethnography in Higher Education: The (Im)Possibility of Finding Home in Academia

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Marginalization of diverse bodies in the U.S. academia has been articulated by several scholars and issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and even sexual orientation have already been increasingly addressed, to a certain degree (Cole & Hassel, 2017; hooks 1994; Miller & Rodriguez 2016; Tierney 1997). Similarly, the body of literature, both in qualitative and quantitative methods, is already established on international students and their challenges in higher education in the U.S. However, thus far, not much have written about the experiences of transnational scholars, their experiences or challenges in higher education (Bhattacharya, 2012; Moreira, 2009). Hence, the goal of this issue is to provide a scholarly space, created through critical autoethnographic writing, for transnational scholars to narrate, name, and claim their experiences about institutional power structures, immigrant experiences in academia, living in borderlands, displacement, negotiating issues of disciplinary and interdisciplinary voice, and their persistent search for finding home in academia. Transnational, in this context, refers to people who are connected to multiple nation states as they understand and author themselves, and are often in movement between multiple subject positions produced by the nation states with which they are connected (Bhattacharya, 2009).

This special issue builds on Bhattacharya’s (2012) previous work and Atay and Chawla’s special issue on decolonizing authoethnography (Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, 2017). In their essay, Introduction: Decolonizing Autoethnography, Chawla and Atay call for decolonization of autoethnography to allow historically marginalized bodies/scholars, even within autoethnographic circles, to embody decolonizing autoethnographic writing practices to destabilize colonizing understanding of autoethnography. In the same issue, both Atay (2017) and Bhattacharya (2017) wrote about their experiences as transnational scholars, being a faculty in U.S. higher education, trying to belong to an institutional culture, and their yearning for finding homes (physical, ideological, intellectual, and emotional). This proposed special issue recognizes that transnational scholars who are using qualitative methods, specifically performative methods, narratives, autoethnographic writing, and arts-based research methods, are also marginalized within these critical, cultural, and performative method circles due to the domination of a particular form of English usage, differences in storytelling techniques, and varied ways of performing (both in theatrical and everyday performance sense).

The purpose of this special issue is to propose de/colonizing (Bhattacharya, 2009) autoethnography as a way of legitmizing marginalized transnational voices in higher education and creating frameworks to make sense of transnational experiences in academia. Autoethnography as a method of inquiry emerged in the 1990s due to the critical turn in ethnographic studies and as a reaction to scientific research and the dominance of white/western voices within this paradigm. Like Chawla and Rodriguez (2008), Holman Jones, Adams, and Ellis (2014), articulated, autoethnography is a narrative or story about the self, “told through the lens of culture” (Holman Jones, Adams, & Ellis, 2014, p. 1). Further, according to Adams, Holman Jones, and Ellis’ (2014) definition, “Autoethnographic stories are artistic and analytic


demonstrations of how we come to know, name, and interpret personal and cultural experiences” (p. 1). Therefore, autoethnography is a research method that highlights the reciprocal relationship between self, self in relation to other, and self and culture.

Thus, in this special issue, we use transnational autoethnography as an umbrella term to refer to autoethnographies written by scholars who belong to more than one nation-state, possibly speak more than one language, and move between, among, and outside national and cultural borders, practices, and ontoepistemologies.

Goals and Rationales

This special issue has several interrelated goals:

1. Even though autoethnographies written by transnational scholars have been featured in various journals, including Qualitative Inquiry and Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, they have been rare. With some exceptions (Chawla, 2011; Moreira, 2009), more autoethnographies are needed that address global issues in academic contexts or challenge the existing power structures. Hence, this special issue highlights the importance of transnational autoethnographies that aim to decolonize the method and challenge the larger academic and institutional structures.

2. As scholars have (Atay, 2017; Bhattacharya, 2017; Chawla & Atay, 2017; Chawla & Rodriguez, 2008; Holman Jones, Adams, & Ellis, 2014; Pathak, 2014) suggested, autoethnography has the potential to challenge and change power structures through storytelling. Therefore, in this special issue we would invite authors who challenge dominant structures through using multiple languages, ontoepistemologies, and border crossings as necessary to narrate and juxtapose their narratives within local, national, and global terrains.

3. In this special issue, we go beyond the traditional discourses of racialized experiences limited to a Black and white binary structure. Transnational experiences blur these simplistic boundaries and highlight the complexities of how power structures play out in lived experiences, within academic contexts, which is a microcosm of the broader culture within which they are situated. These experiences include, but are not limited to, experiences of liminality, hybridity, polyphony, academic homelessness, academic silencing and marginalization and the constant flux between multiple nation-based and other subject positions.

4. In this special issue, we aim to theorize the notion of home (physical, academic, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual) for transnational academics whose experiences are always shifting, their voices are always marked and questioned, their bodies and identity performances are critiqued or pushed aside, and their stories are often silenced, dismissed, scrutinized, caricatured, or co-opted. Hence, this special issue aims to create dialogic spaces to highlight the challenges of belonging in academia and creating the im/possibilities of finding home.

5. Finally, we offer transnational autoethnography as a home space where transnational scholars write themselves in existence and use the legitimizing space offered within this journal to situate this scholarly work as tenure and promotion worthy while they negotiate the academic terrain. 

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