Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies (JCACS)
Volume 15, Number 1, 2017
Challenging the Status Quo:
The Evolution of the Supervisor-Student
Relationship in the Process of Potentially
Stigmatizing and Emotionally Complex
Susan Maureen Docherty-Skippen
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
Writing and reliving autoethnographic research is a complex process, both emotionally and
intellectually. This is especially true when the focus of the autoethnographer’s research involves
experiences with stigma, discrimination, and marginalization in the presence of mental illness.
Supervising this process, where students may find themselves feeling vulnerable and confused,
presents a unique academic and ethical challenge. How far can a supervisor “push” the student
to unearth personal experiences that draw meaning to the larger socio-cultural context to which
those experiences took place? How do students confront emotionally painful issues to describe
and systematically analyze as part of the academic process? By engaging in a duoethnographic
process that pushed beyond surface learning to exploring depths of unconscious biases and
hidden assumptions, this paper unveils how the academic relationship between a supervisor and
student evolved in terms of understanding, influence, and inspiration, as part of the student’s
autoethnographic research. It serves to guide others in the academic supervisor-student
relationship when students find themselves confronting emotionally painful issues in their
learning. Specifically, the dialogic process of duoethnographic research, where sensitive lived
experiences are brought to light and examined, has the potential for students and supervisors to
reconceptualize their ways of knowing and being in relation to one another. If successful, this
pedagogical framework may be used to support students in their scholarly growth.
: emotionally sensitive research; supervisor-student relationship; autoethnography;
duoethnography; identity; aesthetic inquiry
Challenging the Status Quo !
e live in a world of storied lives. Our lives are intertwined to and through one another in
a dialogue of embodied performance (Frank, 1995; Spry, 2011). Story, according to
Connelly and Clandinin (as cited in Clandinin, Pushor & Orr, 2007), “is a portal through
which a person enters the world and by which their experience of the world is interpreted and made
personally meaningful” (p. 22). Through stories, we seek to make sense of our past, present, and
future experiences. Experiences in the context of social, cultural, and political surroundings, stories,
like streams, carve the topography from which meaning is made and new meaning flows.
Autoethnography, as a critically reflective method of storytelling, is a process that “seeks to
describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”
(Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2011, p. 1). Our lived experiences—felt—remembered—and chronicled, are
“where the past is recreated as a series of emotional moments and from the vantage point of the
present” (Grant & Zeeman, 2012, p. 3). This results in what Denzin (cited in Grant & Zeeman, 2012)
refers to as “improvised moral texts that continually revisit the old” (p. 3). As a method of research
inquiry, “autoethnography appeals to the marginalized” (Grant, 2009, p. 112). Its reflexive storytelling
in moral, political, and ethical positions is told from the viewpoint of an “embodied, lived experience,
and in the project of promoting social justice” (Grant & Zeeman, 2012, p. 1). With “vulnerability and
nakedness in writing about the self and others” (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2009, p. 37), the expression
of voice, voice that might otherwise be silenced or overlooked, can resonant and evoke the
sympathetic resonance of humanity. For many, this poses an intricate academic and ethical
challenge, as the autoethnographic researcher becomes the researched—the exposed—a person
who is no longer able to hide behind the anonymity of a faceless, nameless other. Students new to
autoethnography “may feel a pull towards revealing a vulnerable, intimate, autoethnographic self, yet
on the other hand [they] may be pushed away from this because the oral/viva voce examination
process denies the student any anonymity” (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2009, p. 27). Likewise, supervisors
of autoethnographic research may be concerned about the “risk of harm that they [students] may
expose themselves to when revealing the highly personal and vulnerable self” (Doloriert &
Sambrook, 2009, p. 40). For that reason, to understand the successful role of the supervisor and the
student during the conduct of emotionally sensitive autoethnographic research, our duoethnography
Susan, a first-year doctoral student in the Joint PhD Educational Studies Program at Brock
University, had 20 years of adult education experience working in the fields of pharmaceutical quality
systems, clinical research, and patient education, prior to entering her doctoral studies program.
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
Hilary, an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education Program, had 27 years of educational
experience. Prior to her tenure at Brock University, Hilary taught an integrated curriculum program
for adolescent-aged students in the public education system for 16 years. Since that time, she has
been teaching and researching in both the Teacher Education and the Graduate Studies Programs at
Brock University. Hilary was both Susan’s master and doctoral supervisor.
When they found themselves attempting to retrospectively analyze the successful role of the
supervisor-student during the conduct of graduate level autoethnographical research regarding
student experiences with mental illness, the seed took root for Susan and Hilary to conduct
duoethnographic research. At the beginning of her master’s studies, Susan struggled to find her
academic voice. She had experienced a significant personal and professional set-back due to a
relapse of mental illness. Even after Susan had recovered from her illness, her past experiences
concerned her. She felt troubled when trying to make sense of those experiences, and searched to
re-create her academic identity—something she feared had been lost. Hilary, having gone through
the experience of autoethnographic research in her own doctoral studies, suggested it as a method
for Susan to make sense of her experiences and to reclaim her lost academic identity. Hilary shared
her own experiences of not being identified as an intelligent learner. When her authoethnographic
journey began, the theme of Hilary’s wounded child emerged as a way that helped her understand
learning in a different context. Hilary explained, having been through the process herself and
knowing what it felt like to experience a disorienting dilemma, that when she encourages others to
move through the discomfort, she can support them in that process.
Duoethnography, as both process and product, is a collaborative method of research that
traces and places alongside the narrative performance of “two or more researchers of difference . . .
to provide multiple understandings of the world” (Norris, Sawyer & Lund, 2012, p. 9). In a protected
space where meaning may be constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed, individuals engaged in
a duoethnographic process learn about their selves through other(s), in a dynamic interplay of
dialogic reflection (Sawyer & Norris, 2012).
Susan and Hilary wanted to explore the dynamics of their supervisor-student relationship, and
how that relationship successfully evolved in understanding, influence, and inspiration, as part of the
autoethnographic research process. Duoethnography was their methodology of choice since
“duoethnography embraces the belief that meanings can be and often are transformed through the
research act . . . [as] fluid texts where readers witness researchers in the act of narrative exposure and
reconceptualization” (Sawyer & Norris, 2012, p. 9). Using duoethnography as both method and
process to disrupt the status quo at both the supervisor and student level, Susan and Hilary delved
into their living, breathing, and multi-layered curriculum. This allowed them to enter a dialogic third
space where theory and practice had the potential to be reconceptualized. Pinar (2004) refers to this
process as currere, an “autobiographical method [that] asks us to slow down, to remember, even re-
Challenging the Status Quo !
enter the past, and to meditatively imagine the future” (p. 4). This process created a safe, protected
space, where Susan and Hilary could ask questions of themselves and each other. The questions they
deliberated during their duoethnographic inquiry were: 1) How far can a supervisor “push” a student
to unearth personal experiences of stigma, discrimination, and marginalization related to mental
illness, to draw meaning to the larger social-cultural context to which those experiences took place?
2) How does a student living with mental illness, confront emotionally painful issues to narrate and
systematically analyze curriculum inquiry as part of the academic process?
Methodologically, this paper is presented as a duoethnographic dialogic artifact, the
culmination of a three-part narrative performance “that invites readers to ‘breath’ (spire) ‘with’ (con)
parts of the text that resonates with them” (Barone as cited in Sawyer & Norris, 2012, p. 10). First,
preliminary data was generated in the form of a dialogic text, primarily e-mail discussions between
Susan and Hilary (text in italics). Within this text, they recollected and deconceptualized
autobiographical experiences within the cultural and academic institutional frameworks in which
those autobiographical experiences took place. Conversations grew in depth and understanding
about how Susan and Hilary’s beliefs, personalities, and life decisions have been shaped by past
personal and professional experiences. Embodied writing that “drops the external witnessing
perspective customary for conventional, ‘objective’ science … [and] speaks for itself through the
vehicle of words . . . inside the body as it lives” (Anderson, 2001, p. 7) shaped the basis of Susan and
Hilary’s dialogic text. This helped to convey “the living experience of the human body . . . [inviting]
readers to encounter the narrative accounts for themselves and from within their own bodies
through a form of sympathetic resonance” (Anderson, 2001, p. 2). To demonstrate the centrality of
voice within text, in this paper, Susan and Hilary’s personal narratives have been written as layered
accounts merging story within story. A “third space” (Bhabha, 1994) outer story surfaced that
reconceptualized their held beliefs. Questions posed and thoughts considered throughout their
layered account are highlighted in bold to allow for moments of narrative pause and critical
reflection. These bolded questions were posed within the text of Susan and Hilary’s email exchange
and became the catalysts that deepened both their individual understanding of the lived experience
shared and their communal understanding.
After the email exchange was saturated, the deconstruction of Susan and Hilary’s discussions
spiraled back on each other, and themes were repeated. Using open coding, as described in Sawyer
and Norris’ (2012) tenets, Hilary derived a preliminary grouping of overarching themes that emerged
from the dialogic text. Then, stemming from Tuan’s (1989) “Surface Phenomena and Aesthetic
Experience,” Susan used water as a central metaphor and juxtaposed the themes with the living text.
This allowed for a more sophisticated level of analysis, as themes were stratified according to
narrative depth and investigational reformation—representational steps excavated through the
unfamiliar terrain of the duoethnographic process. To create different entry points for analysis into
Susan and Hilary’s evolving dialogic conversations, paired with each theme, Susan selected
photographic images of water as visual representations of their embodied learning moments. All
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
photos were carefully chosen from open-source internet websites, where photos are licensed under
the Creative Common Zero license.
Use of the water metaphor and photographic images helped inform Susan and Hilary’s face-
to-face dialogues, which unveiled a new hybrid text residing within an interactive third space (Norris
& Sawyer, 2012). By creating this third space, Susan and Hilary—as both researchers and
researched—challenged each other “to reflect on their own life in a deeper, more relational, and
authentic manner” (Norris & Sawyer, p. 10). The way in which image and text were used to express
embodied knowing was intended to conjure the conceptualizations of surface to depth as an
aesthetic experience in Susan and Hilary’s learning. Tuan described this aesthetic experience in
a matter of the pleasure of the senses, varyingly informed by the mind. At one extreme, it can
be a shudder of delight that is predominantly physical in character; at the other extreme, it is
a mediated response, cool yet intense, of intellectual appreciation. I have used the words
“surface,” “sensory impression,” and “directly apprehensible,” but these words have come into
existence and have meaning only in relation to “depth," “abstract understanding,” and
“mediated apprehension.” (p. 234)
Reflections surfacing within the third space outer story, which had bridged further insight into
the successful relationship between supervisor and student in both influence and inspiration, have
been captured as embedded text and photographic images.
Duoethnographic Dialogic Artifact
Living on the Surface
“When I first started my autoethnographic voyage, I felt like I had
been submerged back in time . . . to a space and a place where surface
and depth were entities of distinction.”
Challenging the Status Quo !
Figure 1. Hugo Kerr (n.d.). Unnamed. Digital photograph. This photo represents “surface living” where dialogue takes
the form of information exchange.
The surface (refer to Figure 1) is calm, crisp and clean—no waves to disrupt—no depth to
distract. On the surface, dialogue takes the form of politeness—information exchange—learning and
sharing of “facts” about self and other.
Susan: When I first started my autoethnographic passage, I felt like I had been submerged
back in time. I was submerged to a space and a place where surface and depth were entities of
distinction. I remember being a child of about seven or eight years of age growing up in a strict
Presbyterian family. My father was the church minister, and my mother was an elementary school
teacher. I was never encouraged to use my body—or view my body—in the way that I would now
describe as an articulating body, “a body that knows what language constructs,” (Spry, 2011, p. 107).
I was dressed in clothes that were conservative, restrictive, and body modest—heavy wool kilts, wool
tights, blouses that buttoned up to my neck, with either a wool cardigan or vest over top. My hair
was pulled back in a pony-tail or it was held in place with two tiny braids pulled from the side of my
face and pinned in the back. I hated getting my hair done. I had to stand still in front of the
bathroom mirror while my mom teased a comb through my tangled curls. Sometimes I would cry. At
church, I sat on the hard-wooden pews while the wool from my tights, kilt, and cardigan itched me
like crazy. Standing on the surface of my knowing—how I viewed myself and the world around me—
question myself and my ability to take the plunge—to go beneath the surface.
Hilary: Certainly, the juxtaposition of our respective upbringings is quite stark. I was not
compelled to adhere to any kind of “bodily” code—certainly not in the way you have described in
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
your experience. I was not expected to wear certain attire—in fact I did not wear a dress from
probably grade four onwards except for the school choir when it was mandatory to wear a skirt for
the Christmas concert performance. I hated wearing that skirt so I can fully appreciate your weekly
Sunday routine. My hair was never “done” or talked about. Make-up was never discussed except for
the fact my older sister was told that she wore too much. Suffice to say I was not a girly girl! When
you write about your church experience there seems to be a silencing of Susan there. You could not
fidget, you could not express discomfort, you had to wear certain clothing, you had to have your hair
done a certain way and so forth.
What did that upbringing teach you?
Susan: Growing up, I feared making a mistake—of getting into
trouble and disappointing someone. I wanted to stay above the surface
where everything was neat and tidy—where everything was safe—where I
wouldn’t come undone. Being “undone” was something that only
happened to me when I was sick. During those times, I hid. I stayed away
from others—as much as I could. I poured myself into school—
schoolwork, reading, writing, and math—to escape. As I grew through my
teenage years into a woman, sometimes still those feelings resurface. They
make me feel uncomfortable—I don’t like being "undone".
Testing the Waters
Figure 2. Tim Marshall (n.d.). Unnamed. Digital photograph. This photo represents “testing the waters” where the
teacher goes in first—teaching the student how to feel safe while going beyond surface considerations.
“I wanted to stay
above the surface
where everything was
neat and tidy—where
everything was safe—
where I wouldn’t
Challenging the Status Quo !
To illustrate the human experience of aesthetic appeal, sensory impressions, and intellectual
understanding, Tuan (1989) used the relational metaphor of surface and depth. In his example, “that
which lies beyond or behind it [the surface], between appearance and underlying reality [the ‘truth’]”
(p. 233), the over-arching human desire to unearth that which is covered is paramount. To
unearthing treasure, uncover secrets, and discover the “truth” when delving underneath, one must be
willing to acknowledge depth beyond the appearance of surface superficiality—of shallowness. Tuan
styled surface considerations as nearly always being comprised of triviality, “as in the politeness of
good manners” (p. 237). Tuan wrote that
although a beautiful physical environment can promote happiness, good human relations are
usually considered even more important. They too are built almost entirely on surface cues.
Civility is public—a matter of observable manners, but even in some of our deepest relations
with other another, appearance is almost all. (p. 235)
Before taking the plunge to go beneath the surface, the waters must be tested (refer to Figure 2). In
this example, the teacher goes in first, teaching the student how to feel safe while going beyond
surface considerations and superficiality. Questions, both in their framing and answering, become the
impetus for sharing and for the development of trust.
Susan: In class, you shared with us a story about what it was like for you to grow up with two
mothers—Mom and Mary. What was that like?
Did you ever feel “judged”—especially by those who
had influence over you—your teachers and friends?
Hilary: I am fully aware, now, that Mom living with Mary was against the
Catholic doctrines. At that time, mid 60’s, gay and lesbian terminology was
not in the mainstream. When my Mom told us we would not be going to
church anymore, she did not mention her relationship with Mary as the
reason. Likewise, when Mary started living with us, I was told that Mary was
my Godmother, and should anything ever happen to my mom, Mary would
be there to take care of me. As a child, I felt comforted by this truth—yet at
the same time there was more to it than that. I guess the surface can be
skimmed and pierced but maybe the true depth not explored to its fullest--
until the time is right. When I was growing up I never felt judged since there
was no label for my family unit at that time.
Knowing and feeling that I
wouldn’t judge you, did you feel safe when you decided to go beneath?
What did that feel like?
Susan: At first—the thought of going beneath the surface made me nervous. I wondered if I
would get lost—if I would drown—or get tangled in the ugliness. I was scared that I might not
resurface. I wondered if I had the resilience to swim to what lies beyond and within. As my
supervisor, you helped me through this process—leading by example. I saw it, heard it, and felt it in
the way that you taught and listened. You revealed yourself as a person of strong conviction and
“I guess the
surface can be
pierced but maybe
the true depth not
explored to its
time is right.”
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
integrity. It helped me feel safe.
From an invitational learning perspective, you created the space for
which I could engage myself in deep learning. Did you do that intentionally?
Hilary: When someone close to me shares her/his vulnerability, I do not pass judgment.
Instead, I lead my thinking with an open heart. Perhaps this is what people feel when they’re around
me and share their lives with me—even trust me. You asked if I am intentional in my actions—I am
not. This is genuinely who I am and what I believe. I think this is why I am a good fit to supervise
autoethnographic research. Over the years, many focused topics have emerged from my students’
writing. I am open to their experiences and do not put my values on them but rather I encourage
them to let go of their preconceived societal notions about what is “right” and what is “wrong”—so
that they may free to let their stories emerge.
Letting Go and Delving Beneath
Figure 3. Jeremy Bishop. (n.d.). Unnamed.
This photo represents “letting go and delving beneath”—safe to feel, safe to be real.
Letting go and delving beneath is both frightening and exciting. Black and Loch (2014) have
written about the academic potential of unveiling "hidden" identities in that “we each have our own
reasons for wanting to unveil hiddens to bring greater visibility to our lives/work/identities” (p. 61).
Letting go and delving beneath is the rising action to the climax of discovering hidden beauty. To
truly delve beneath, both Susan and Hilary had to have the trust and humility to let go. Letting go of
one’s self, through the subjective experiences of emotions, as perceived through the self in relation
to others and others’ perceptions of that self, was critical. Cooley (2009/1902) stated that “the thing
that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed
sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind” (p. 184). By letting go, Susan
Challenging the Status Quo !
“It was almost as
though I had to get
uncertainty. I had to
learn how to ‘let go’ of
and images of myself
as someone who was a
and Hilary were able to experience different phases of identity deconstruction and reconstruction.
Susan: “Letting go” had a huge impact on my ability to go beneath the
surface and unearth emotionally sensitive subject matter—to write about my
experiences with mental illness, stigma and discrimination. “Letting go”
helped me to reach a level of academic maturity that I don’t think would
have been possible without your support and encouragement. I remember
sitting at the coffee shop for our initial meeting. I showed you some of the
photos that I wanted to incorporate into my paper, photos that some might
perceive as evocative or haunting, alongside the words that I wrote. At first, I
was nervous to share my “Bloodline” poems with you and the photo of what I
interpreted as a woman—naked and bleeding—floating dead—underwater. I
was worried that you might think I was morbid, or that my thinking was too
“messy.” Once I felt that I had your “permission”—your understanding to let
go of my previous way of thinking, I could explore myself as academic in a
totally different light. It was almost as though I had to get “naked”—in
solitude, darkness, and uncertainty. I had to learn how to “let go” of
preconceived ideas and images of myself as someone who was both weak
and strong. To understand what it means to be a huntress, I had to let go,
dive beneath, and allow myself to be vulnerable (refer to Figure 3).
Hilary: Going beneath the surface is not easy. It requires a huge level of trust and a shred of
courage, too. When I was encouraging you to explore the direction you wanted to pursue
(photographs and poetry) it was first because I saw you as an academic. Second, I saw this embodied
creative knower in you, and last, I knew you could bridge the two both emotionally and academically
to find your way. What I did not know was how much you needed to do it for yourself. That came out
Did you find the process therapeutic?
Susan: For me, the autoethnographic process was restorative. It allowed me an opportunity to
find my voice and
express it in a way that made meaning to me in the larger context of the world
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
Getting Past the Ugliness—Discovering Hidden Beauty
Figure 4. Jakobs Owes (n.d.). Unnamed.
This photo represents “getting past the ugliness and discovering hidden beauty.”
Just as surface can hide, it can also reveal—the “true” nature of character. With surface comes
depth and with depth comes what lies beneath—both the ugliness and the beauty of the unseen. In
this regard, Tuan (1989) explained that
often, humans have the desire to uncover that which has been concealed—to expose the
hidden underside of life and to offer ego-deflating explanations of aesthetic surfaces is
justified. . . . Humans are naturally inclined to bury unflattering aspects of themselves, and it
may be that these should be brought out into the open in the name of comprehensive truth.
Attractive surfaces can sometimes be deceptive in that they can hide the ugliness of thoughts,
memories, and emotions, yet they can also mask reflections and desires of even greater attraction.
The ugliness that lies beneath and the beauty of the unforeseen are parts of the same
autoethnographic lens for which experience of depth wave in and out. To delve beneath the surface,
one must be ready to untangle the weeds and debris from body and mind before swimming freely to
discover the perfect tranquility and unforeseen beauty of what lies beneath (refer to Figure 4).
Hilary: I could see so clearly why the images of water—with head above or submerged beneath
the surface, floating, and sinking are used in both the telling and sharing of your story. The freedom
to explore this metaphor in your writing was a highlight for me. Time and time again, I have
observed academic supervisors who want to control their students’ research direction—I don’t. I
want my students to explore and find a way that makes meaning for them. You did just that.
Challenging the Status Quo !
“Letting go is a huge
theme in my
personal life and my
teaching life. Guiding
students to let go of
challenging at best.”
Susan: When I was nervous to “go beneath the surface” and look at myself in a different light,
you shared what it was like for you when you did your PhD and how you once viewed yourself as an
“unintelligent learner.” I remember you used those exact words. You described how some of your
teachers had categorized you as a “jock,” as a sports person who would be a good at physical
education, but not someone who could be an academic. You shared how you saw yourself differently
than you do now and how it was necessary for you to journey into a new way of understanding what
intelligence is. You told me that being an academic means being able to be rigorous and to “force”
yourself to go through a process that was both pre-defined and coveted by “gatekeepers.” You
shared what it was like to go through that process—what it was like to struggle within the academic
regime—what it was like to stand up alongside your peers and defend your research and to prove
yourself as the intelligent learner you are. You shared with us that the hardest part of this was
learning to see yourself differently.
Hilary: Susan, my eyes are welling as I read through your memories of
how I shared my story. Letting go is a huge theme in my personal life
and my teaching life. Guiding students to let go of preconceived
knowledge though an embodied process is challenging at best. I
think letting go provides the space to reconceptualize our previous
beliefs and to make room for new ones to emerge. I did let go of the
unintelligent learner label after coming to understand that there are
other modes of teaching, assessing and evaluating that are in direct
competition with traditional teaching. I adopted a teaching style that
suited my learning needs. I know what it feels like to personally
experience a disorienting dilemma, so when I encourage others to
move through this same type of discomfort, I understand what they
are experiencing. When I “pushed” you into those what I call
“autoethnographic spaces” I did not know at the time that I was
pushing you per se. I would never have asked you to do anything I
would not do myself. Perhaps you sensed that when I invited you to
delve into those areas I was doing so with love, care, integrity, and
honesty. I was there beside you every step of the way, ready to catch
you if you needed and ready to encourage you to swim a bit further if
you needed that. When supervising students undergoing this type of
work, I feel it is my responsibility to be there in mind, body, and spirit
but most certainly never just in mind. Does that make me unique? I’m
not sure. But what I do know, that is the center from where I feel the
need to operate from.
Susan: Hilary, I so appreciate the confidence you had in me. You just didn’t allow me to find a
place and space to explore my ideas, you also kept me focused, and you continually challenged me.
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
“I see myself
simply as the
catalyst in that
moment in their
experiences, I felt
the teacher and
pivoted back and
You made me self-reflect and you pointed me in directions that encouraged me to uncover artifacts,
through narrative, that led me to appreciate academic differences. Hilary, I know how very deeply
you care about your students and how you truly strive to help them throughout their learning
How do you “let go” of situations when student learning outcomes may not seem positive?
When students seem disengaged or disheartened...or even disgruntled?
Hilary: As a teacher, I try to guide students to find the mode that works best
for him or her, in that given situation. Nothing is set in stone—everything is
fluid. I see myself simply as the catalyst in that moment in their lives. It is
quite a responsibility. Letting go of situations when student learning
outcomes may not seem positive? Earlier on in my career I found that
difficult, but not anymore. I have come to realize that some people never get
to the point of letting go and going beneath the surface, and that’s okay.
What I say to myself is simply, “Well now this individual has had a different
opportunity to learn, and that in and of itself is perhaps what they needed,
nothing more than that.” And that seems to get me through it. I can honestly
say that there have been more positive experiences than negative, so that
also guides my practice.
Susan: I am so glad I was ready for the call to take a chance and
traverse a territory of unfamiliarity. When I chose to discuss and write
about my sensitive experiences, I always felt there was a “safe” emotional
distance that kept me from losing sight of the academic rigour in my
research. I felt that our relationship as teacher and learner was
reciprocated. When I shared with you stories surrounding my experiences
with mental illness and stigma, you reached out to me and shared your
own experiences with stigma. Connecting through those experiences, I felt
our roles as teacher and learner pivoted back and forth. Both academically
and emotionally, having gone through the autoethnographic process, I
feel I am in a safe place and ready to continue to move forward into my
Reflections—Surface to Depth
In Susan and Hilary’s duoethnography, metaphoric stages of narrative have been paralleled
thematically according to the experience and depth of delving beneath the surface in narrative
reconceptualization. Surface represents what is in plain sight to the naked eye, whereas depth
explores the unconscious biases and hidden assumptions that we hold. Although presented linearly
for ease of reference, it is important to consider the metaphor of narrative stages as being dynamic
and interactive—living, breathing, and constantly evolving. One can delve beneath the surface
without ever testing the water, and likewise one may be unwilling or unable to plunge into the
Challenging the Status Quo !
darkness, past the ugliness, to discover hidden beauty. Others may be content to live on the surface
only to quickly bob beneath and resurface again.
According to Sawyer and Norris (2012), there are eight tenets that make the duoethnographic
process “distinct and strong” (p. 24). These eight tenets were present in Susan and Hilary’s
duoethnography and served as their guiding principles they endeavoured to adhere to in their
research. Susan and Hilary’s initial email exchange drew upon the first tenet, Pinar’s (1975) notion of
currere, where the duoethnographer’s life embodies a living, breathing curriculum and where life
stories become the site of the research. Within their personal scholarship, Susan and Hilary
connected with their selves through each other, as they questioned their past in light of their
present, and with a desire to transform their future. Next, Susan and Hilary’s duoethnography was
polyvocal and dialogic, where the multiplicity of voice was made prominent during the research
process. This led to the third tenet of duoethnography, disrupting the metanarrative. The
juxtaposition of Susan and Hilary’s two distinct histories unveiled an inherent duoethnoraphic “third
space” (Bhabha, 1994), where their stories could be re-storied. Re-storying in this third space
occurred because the differences between Susan and Hilary’s distinct stories gave them the
opportunity to question “meanings held about the past and [to] invite reconceptualization” (Sawyer
& Norris, p. 24), the element of the fifth tenet. The sixth and seventh tenets were present in the
notion that reconceptualization was quintessential as “universal truths [were] not sought” (Sawyer &
Norris, p. 24) and that Susan and Hilary’s reconceptualization was a “form of praxis where theory and
practice converse” (Sawyer & Norris, p. 24). The final tenet reflected the conciliated space one enters
when undergoing a duoethnography along with an ethical posture that requires participants to be
In the academic supervision of students engaged in emotionally sensitive autoethnographic
research, the process that Susan and Hilary describe could be adapted by another supervisor-student
pairing. At first, both the supervisor and student must start on the surface, a place and a space where
both the student and supervisor position themselves. The surface may be difficult to penetrate at
first. Once the waters are tested however, and the supervisor goes in first, by sharing her/his story,
the platform is created for which deep learning may occur. In turn, just like learning to swim, this
allows the student to develop confidence and to feel encouraged to share her/his story. Both
participants must ask questions, be open and invite reciprocal sharing with a feeling of safety—not
judgement. Using story, while simultaneously considering the probing questions, the student and
supervisor are then positioned to delve beneath the surface to discover what lies beneath. For Susan
and Hilary, this involved becoming vulnerable, developing trust, letting go, and taking on
responsibility. At that point, fully immersed over-head, the ugliness of the unseen maybe be
traversed. Here, hidden deep within the ugliness, there may be feelings of anger, shame, or fear. Fear
in confronting the truth of one’s past, fear of seeing the past reflected in the present, and fear of an
uncertain future. For Susan, although she understood the social, cultural, and political constructs of
identity theory as it related to persons who experience mental illness, she struggled to personally
Docherty-Skippen & Brown
apply those theories in order to make sense of her experiences. As an academic, Susan needed to
confront her own fears and self-stigma about mental illness, to propel her studies further. Hilary
taught Susan how to get beneath the surface by sharing stories of her own struggles to understand
the “unintelligent learner” identity by which she had been labeled. Down below, past the ugliness,
there is an invitation for the student and supervisor to swim closer towards the hidden beauty of
truth, of critical reflection, and, ultimately, of transformation. Here, in the safety of tranquility and
perfect calmness, a potential shift in identity may be explored. As new knowledge is considered, both
the student and supervisor continue to ask questions, for clarification and critical probing, while at
the same time being open to the shared response.
Implications for Future Teaching and Learning
Duoethnography has the potential to move the supervisor-student partnership beyond a
superficial role of supervisor as mentor and student as mentee, towards one of teacher as learner
and learner as teacher. In doing so, duoethnography becomes emblematic of what it means to look
internally into all that matters in a teacher-student relationship. It has the potential to break down
the power differential and create a more open and caring relationship. Noddings (2010) describes
this act of caring as one in which those “who know that they will serve as models . . . have a special
responsibility. They show what it means to care by caring, by demonstrating caring. . . . We do not
‘care’ in order to model caring; we model care by caring” (p. 147).
The duoethnographic example provided in this paper, clearly demonstrates how the
development of trust, openness, and caring between supervisor and student respectfully encourages
students to look at academic challenges differently, in order to get past obstacles impeding students’
academic growth. This assists students to overcome difficulties, such as writer’s block for example,
that often hold students back from making timely progress during their independent work phases.
When academic challenges are uncovered, discussed, and collaboratively worked through, a
student’s academic identity may be formed in a more positive and dynamic manner. This identity is
one not formed individually, but rather it is formed dialogically and requires careful consideration
and response to the ethical dimensions of the caring relationship itself. Noddings (2010) explained
care ethics demands a well-developed capacity for reasoning because it does not depend on
axiomatic rules and principles. Carers must think well in order to assess and to respond
appropriately to the expressed needs of the immediate cared-for while considering the likely
effects of their decisions on the wider web of care and on the caring relation itself. Both
reflective and instrumental reasoning are required. But feeling motivates our action and moral
reasoning at every step. (p. 148)
By privileging listening over talking, by caring, and by building on what each other shares
during the dialogic process, both the supervisor and student then create the space to delve beneath
the surface and move towards a deeper understanding of each other’s past and how one’s living,
Challenging the Status Quo !
breathing curriculum influences what is researched in the present. Hence, learning how to listen
through dialogic engagement becomes a key characteristic of how to approach this complex and, at
times, tenuous relationship. If the student has a good experience within the supervisor-student
relationship, as this paper has demonstrated, we suggest that more caring supervisors will enter the
academic workplace and more egalitarian academic partnerships will emerge as the student will be
partial to using this teaching strategy when s/he takes on the supervisor-teacher role. In conclusion,
when students find themselves confronting emotionally painful issues in their learning, if
duoethnography is properly applied in the supervisor-student relationship, it may be used as a
pedagogical framework to support and further encourage students in their scholarly growth.
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