This past fall, Saybrook’s Jürgen Kremer and Robert Jackson-Paton developed and piloted a textbook for use at Sonoma State University (SSU), based on their work in ethnoautobiography . The book contains a glossary, practical activities, and case studies to help students understand ethnoautobiography and use it as an effective research tool.
Following the success of the pilot version, the book will be submitted for publication next summer and used in additional upcoming courses – both at SSU and the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). The book is titled
Stories of Decolonization, Autobiography, Ethnicity: Unlearning Whiteness and Reclaiming Participatory Senses of Place and Society – An Ethnoautobiographical Workbook
Expanding on a manuscript that was published by Prof. Kremer in 2003, the book considers ethnoautobiography to be a practice of radical presence. A helpful glossary is included, describing central terms used in this book. Rather than call it a glossary, however, Kremer and Jackson-Paton prefer the term “conversation pieces” because these are “reflections intended to stimulate conversation” rather than inflexible and finalized definitions.
Table of Contents and Summary
Chapter 1: Who Am I?
The origins and varieties of ethnoautobiography are described, with three ethnoautobiographical stories as examples. Ethnoautobiography is the telling of a decolonizing story which takes an Indigenous sense of “ethno,” including ancestry, history, place (ecology), seasons, and so on.
Activity to begin cultural self-reflection.
Chapter 2: Ethnoautobiography – Why not Autobiography?
This chapter provides more detailed explanations of ethnoautobiography. In so doing, examples from published authors—including Gerald Vizenor, Gloria Anzaldua, Paula Gunn Allen, Leslie Marmon Silko, Helene Cixous, and bell hooks—model elements of ethnoautobiographical narratives.
Activities to research ancestry and to expand on our autobiographies.
Chapter 3: Indigenous or Participatory Senses of Self and Society
We provide an overview of the ethnoautobiographical approach and list the necessary ingredients for research or inquiry using this format. The central dimensions of ethnoautobiography include genealogy or ancestry, creation stories or stories of origin, time cycles, place and history of place, and shadow or denied aspects of self and culture.
Activity to visualize forgotten, or denied, aspects of self and society.
Chapter 4: The Self That is Not Modern
Responses to “Who am I?” vary both in terms of content and process of self-understanding. This chapter illustrates the benefits of ethnoautobiography in responding to the modern sense of self. The example of Indigenous stories encourages inheritors of colonialism to resist and decolonize from the centers of dominance. Ethnoautobiography is designed to decolonize the modern well-boundaried self and promises to tell stories in community extending place, history, and spirits into the self.
Activity to create a visual representation of your ancestry.
Chapter 5: Ethnoautobiography Defined
This chapter addresses multiculturalism, encouraging personal and cultural self-exploration, and honors multiple stories. It emphasizes the narrative nature of people and the deconstruction of essentialist notions to increase awareness of hybridity. Ethnoautobiographical ingredients (history, myth, place, identity, etc.) inevitably inquire into and critique the definitions of the dominant society. As a decolonization practice, ethnoautobiography integrates the dilemmas created by our simultaneous presence in the local and the global.
Activity to share a story related to a family artifact.
Chapter 6: Memory and Imagination
Examples are given of memoirs that exemplify ethnoautobiographical writing. These stories represent creative expressions that include memory, and critical responses to romanticism. Ethnoautobiographical writing encourages an imaginative and playful approach to modernist individualism. Such narratives balance the complexity of critical self-reflection and mythological roots.
Activity to research and summarize a mythological story from your ancestral origins.
Chapter 7: To Tell a Story…
This chapter describes some additional qualities of ethnoautobiography. By integrating critical reflection and multiple (hi)stories, we address culturally denied or shadow material. Developing a sense of self within an indigenous paradigm helps to hold the dark aspects of human history and to renew a sense of self grounding in place, time, and community. Remembering shadow material effects cultural healing.
Activity to perform your ethnoautobiography.
Chapter 8: Murderous Romanticism
The chapter explains how ethnoautobiography invites critical reflection about identity issues, especially the manner in which they are abused in the face of various current crises. Ethnoautobiography encourages narratives of identity that are integrated rather than disconnected from an embodied sense of self. The chapter ultimately points to the possibility of recovery of indigenous roots as the outcome of ethnoautobiographical narratives of decolonization. A table locates ethnoautobiographical inquiry within modern, postmodern, indigenous and recovered indigenous worldviews.
Activity to research about a place to make a pilgrimage.
Chapter 9: Healing Ourselves – Healing Others
In this final chapter, ethnoautobiography is connected to spiritual inquiry and precise creative writing. By doing so, the choice for people of a Eurocentered mind becomes one of imagination, recollection, critique, and decolonization. Such ethnoautobiographical stories become compassionate and emancipatory deconstructions told—both humbly and ferociously—in the cracks of our hybrid identities.
Activity to visualize an ancestor speaking to the current state of affairs in our society.
Appendices: Suggested Readings; References; Suggested Activities