Quaran-Teens 2020: Reflections on Teaching Auto-Ethnography to Quaran-Teens 2020

Quaran-Teens 2020: Reflections on Teaching Auto-Ethnography to Quaran-Teens 2020

By Dr. Rebecca Hodges

An empty classroom.
Photo by the author of her classroom in March 2020, emptied by coronavirus quarantine.

When the coronavirus epidemic response made us close campus, we switched to virtual school for the rest of the year. After their final International Baccalaureate exams were cancelled, my high school seniors taking IB Social and Cultural Anthropology decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and wrote anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict). I’m impressed and proud that they wanted to apply their anthropological knowledge and skills to the situation unfolding around them and provide data and interpretation that would be impossible to gather otherwise. They understood that in a context of nearly global quarantine, the only way to get ethnographic data on life in quarantine would be for anthropologists to collect it from their own experiences through auto-ethnography.

Assignment

Step 1: Write a 200-word narrative about your transition into quarantine, including specific details of who did or said what, when, where, and how exactly.

Step 2: Collect detailed data for three weeks, including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections. Document how you get oral or written consent to use someone else’s words or image (of family and friends for example) or document how the data is presumed public (social media memes for example).

Step 3: Write an analysis of your data using anthropological concepts or theory to explain the bigger picture of what the data means in the human experience.

Step 4: Based on the quality of Step 3, I will organize students into blog teams and designate a team leader to coordinate a coherent theme for the blog. Everyone should ensure their section of the blog is proofread, has a visual, and has maintained the confidentiality of their participants.

Screenshot of student collaboration on the Quaran-Teens blog series on Microsoft Teams. Image taken and anonymized by the author.

As an anthropologist, I found a few things particularly interesting from my students’ data. Methodologically, I was challenged to reflect on the ethics of informed consent from such a personal data collection method as auto-ethnography and was proud that so many students realized the issues involved. Even when students asked for and received permission to record what they saw and heard, who can really give ‘informed consent’ to share subjective experience and perceptions? Even when students are collecting content on intentionally-shared and even public media, there is always the possibility the author wouldn’t want it shared beyond their intended audience. As a discipline, anthropology increasingly confronts such issues with the rising presence of digital social media in our lives. In my students’ data collection, all mentioned social media and I was challenged to reconsider the (lack of?) distinction between physical and virtual life, especially in the context of physical social distancing. Online workouts and online gaming, Facetime family events and online classes, Netflix parties and grocery store Snaps, consuming and sharing memes, listening to podcasts while making masks for others, were some of the moments of physical/virtual integration in my students’ lives over the three weeks of our project.

Teaching and learning through auto-ethnography was valuable in many ways. It is a very personal method and enabled students to understand and reflect on their own personal experiences in a way that is both subjective like a memoir but also resonating with universal human concepts. It enabled time-sensitive data collection in an unprecedented time of global pandemic and quarantine, providing rare and valuable insight that connects the local to the global. In conclusion, I strongly encourage anyone who is reading this blog to do an auto-ethnographic project and share it. Auto-ethnography is a particularly effective method, well-suited to the practice of social science in this unique global period, and a good way to help us understand ourselves and others.

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