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Ethical issues – auto/biography

An issue I have been tussling with for some time in my mind concerns confidentiality in auto/biography. Merrill and West discuss some the extent to which it is possible to disguise the identities of people, especially where sensitive material is being shared and recognise that although a number of identifying factors can be changed, it is not possible to hide identity completely from those who know the participant well.

Chrissie Rogers draws attention to a further issue in discussing her daughter: “there were some occasions where anonymity was impossible: those involving my daughter. I have talked to her about this research and her inclusion (which she agreed to), and I do not apologise for the lack of anonymity here because unlike children in general, many of whom become ‘able’ adults, she, like many of the participants’ children, will never be able to ‘tell’ her story via this particular medium.”

Liz Stanley describes the interaction between constructing one’s own autobiography and constructing the biographies of others. My story is made up of other people’s stories, just as my story is incorporated in the stories of others. The moment I declare myself as the mother of a son with Asperger’s syndrome, our stories interconnect. As I talk about experiences throughout his childhood, he becomes more of a person and more recognisable and identifiable. Unlike Chrissie’s daughter, my son is in the process of becoming an ‘able’ adult.

What are my options?

I can seek his permission for what I am doing? But how free is he to refuse – and if he does, where does that leave me?

I can consider whether I can tell my story in any meaningful way while airbrushing him out.

I can focus on the stories of others and seek to silence myself.

I can disguise my identity so as to disguise his – but how can I do this effectively?

Is even writing this blog post, and no doubt some of my previous ones, already going too far? Indeed, have I already gone too far in the many forum postings I have made over the years?

Merrill, B., & West, L. (2009). Using Biographical Methods in Social Research. London: Sage.
Rogers, C. (2007). Parenting and Inclusive Education: Discovering Difference, Experiencing Difficulty. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Stanley, L. (1992). The Auto/Biographical I. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

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