Writing the Warrior: Autoethnographies of Education and Development

  • “No one’s story is only a ‘personal narrative’, but also a social and political narrative, through which we are shaped by, and, simultaneously, shape the material-discursive spaces in which we find ourselves” (Jones & Woglam, 2016, p. 3)


About this Project

The following is a study of personal educational histories constructed in a community research project in Chile.  The study is intended to help characterize the  “historical present” of education in this country.  One objective of this project is catharsis . Another is knowledge-making.  Another is community. And another is social and educational change.  We are all interested in changing educational conditions to make them more equitable,  and to change educational practices to make education liberatory (Freire, 1970).  There is not one story, but many stories, that voice what is silenced, and make the familiar idea of school, schooling, and development seem strange. Set in the liminal space of memory, these stories help us to construct the “historical present” of education, and develop ideas of how to transform it en el dia de mañana.

Research questions

  • What important and recurring themes are manifested in the personal histories of people who teach?
  • How do these themes contradict or support global narratives of education and development in Chile?
  • What lessons about conducting action research and autoethnography emerge out of this reasearch?
  • What actions are suggested by these autoethnographies for increasing social justice in education?

Key Terms

    • Historical present – “the entanglement of discourses from the past being reworked in our immediate lives and in the policies and norms that govern the material discursive world of which we are a part” (Jones & Woglam, 2017, p. 23)
    • Autoethnography – “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”(Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011) and in which “the position of the researcher is crossed with his or her position as a social actor” (Fernández Droguett, 2013).
    • Critical approach – The critical approach is concerned with “questions of power, inequality, discrimination, reistance, and struggle…describ[ing] social formations such as class or gender…[and] critiqu[ing] the ways in which such social formations are linked to questions of power and inequality” (Pennycook, 1999, pp. 331-332).
    • Action Research (AR) – “A disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action” (Sagor, 2000)
    • Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) – A type of action research in which “participants are committed to engaging in broad social analysis of their situation (exploring the conditions that prefigure their practices) and a collective self-study of their practices to determine what to do to improve their situation..transform[ing] individually and collectively…to meet the needs of changing times and circumstances” (Taggart, Nixon, & Kemmis, in Rowell, Bruce, Shosh, & Riel, 2017)
    • Acompañamiento – “walking with the Other in ways that promote a deeper bonding and critical dialogue between equal subjects…involving …[a] kind of unity and solidarity [that] implies a deep sense of empathy, where one’s full humanity, dignity, and common personhood are affirmed” (Goizueta, 2001, p. 91-92, in Sepulveda, 2011, p. 558).

Autoethnographic Fusion: Personal Histories of Development and Education in Chile


This project uses a critical participatory action research (CPAR) design and an autoethnographic storytelling method to explore the ways in which “people who teach” in Chile experience and make sense of the “historical present” of education an development. Individual and collective critical analysis of autoethnographiesfrom education professionals and members of alternative-education communityare used to address the research questions: What prominent and recurring constructions of education are manifested in the autoethnographies of people who teach? How do these constructions contradict or support global narratives of education and development in Chile? These autoethnographies are positioned as artifacts of counter-storytelling that problematize dominant mainstream discourses of education and national development, characterize the dissonance between local and global truths, and position the global discourses as the backdrop against which human lives are lived and local problems are solved.


Chile became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2010, signifying recognition of its twenty year post-dictatorship effort to democratize its economy and institutions and its achievement of strong socioeconomic development and signficant reductions in poverty (Gurria, 2009). Global discourses position Chile as a newly-developed country with smart and responsible fiscal policies, and circulate tropes such as the “Chilean miracle” and “the Chilean dream” (COHA, 2011). Meanwhile a series of country-wide initiatives have recently been introduced that seek to further modernize Chilean economy and institutions, including the 50-point agenda, “Chile, a Developed Country: More Opportuntities, Better Jobs” introduced by ex-President Sebastian Piñera, and “Chile’s National English Strategy 2014-2030” (Seebach, 2014) which is an educational, workforce, and economic objective to become a bilingual country (Spanish and English) defined as 50% of high school students achieving an A1 or B2 level of English proficiency, based on Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), by the year 2030.

While these manifestations represent global discourses about education and development, contradictory discourses in the public domain suggest that “behind GDP and other average indicators lies a reality that shows that the majority of Chileans live far from the ‘almost developed’ lives that politicians and the media have been ascribing to them in recent years” (Cociña, 2011, in COHA, 2011). Socioeconomic inequality in Chile is quantitatively substantiated (Jahan et al., 2016). However, what does this mean to people with different positionalies? How do they experience inequality, and is this the name they give to it, or do they call or characterize it as something else? To what do they attribute it, and how do they see their own struggles as relating to inequality? How are their historical presents constructed against the backdrop of these discourses of development and education?

As part of a highly mercantalized, neoliberal educational model, global discourses of education in Chile posit standardized, quantifiable, macro initiatives as the means by which the country can improve education. Seebach (2014) and “Chile, a Developed Country: More Opportuntities, Better Jobs are examples of these top-down, standardized initiatives, and, in global discourse surrounding education, the private school/public school dichotomy is a pivotal element in shaping arguments about “what’s wrong with education”, and therefore, what needs to be fixed. While public and academic discourse address questions of content, training, and funding as the solutions to educational performance, local, individual experiences of the historical present of education and development may problematize such global discourses of development and education. Little research exists on how people experience the “historical present” of education in Chile; which influences are most important in shaping their learning and becoming across the life path, and how people conform to, resist, transform, and make sense of their educational conditions in the Chilean context.

Literature Review

The Critical Paradigm

This study is situated within the Critical Paradigm that emerged out of theoretical work conducted by Habermas and The Frankfurt School. In Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas (1985) presents three central objectives of this theoretical paradigm: “(1) to develop a concept of rationality that is no longer tied to, and limited by, the subjectivistic and individualistic premises of modern philosophy and social theory; (2) to construct a two-level concept of society that integrates the lifeworld and system paradigms; and, finally, (3) to sketch out, against this background, a critical theory of modernity which analyzes and accounts for its pathologies in a way that suggests a redirection rather than an abandonment of the project of enlightenment” (Kindle Locations 78-81).

In contrast to the positivistic paradigm, which “strives to investigate, confirm and predict law-like patterns of behaviour…focus[ing] is on the objectivity of the research process (Creswell, 2008, in Taylor & Medina, 2013), the post-positivistic paradigm, a “milder form of positivism ‘that follows the same principles but allows more interaction between the researcher and his/her research participants (Creswell, 2008, in Taylor & Medina, 2013). and the interpretivist paradigm, which focuses on “understand[ing] other cultures, from the inside….understand[ing] the culturally different ‘other’ by learning to ‘stand in their shoes’, ‘look through their eyes’ and ‘feel their pleasure or pain’” (Cresewell, 2008, in Taylor & Medina, 2013), the critical paradigm embraces the intersubjectivity of the interpretivist paradigm and adds the cosmopolitan objective of solving social problems by“ identifying and transforming socially unjust social structures, policies, beliefs and practices” (Taylor & Medina, 2013). The role of the researcher within the critical paradigm is that of an advocate and transformative leader who leads direct action to transform social conditions (Hawkins, 2014; Taylor & Medina, 2013).

Critical Literacy

Critical literacies are part of the critical tradition situated within the Critical Paradigm. Critical literacies have been defined as “historical works in progress” without any “‘correct’ or universal model” (Luke, 2012, p. 8) and as a term “with distinct meanings ‘in particular places at particular times…informed by…personal and professional histories” (Comber, 2006, p. 3, in Johnson & Vasudevan, 2015, p.35). Despite the absence of a common definition, critical literacy is consistently conceptualized as“a process of naming and renaming the world, seeing its patterns, designs and complexities, and developing the capacity to redesign and reshape it (New London Group, 1996, in Luke, 2012, p. 8).As a conceptual model, critical literacy deals with reflection on the self and social conditions characterized by: “(1) a focus on ideology critique and cultural analysis as a key element of education against cultural exclusion and marginalization; (2) a commitment to the inclusion of working class, cultural and linguistic minorities, indigenous learners, and others marginalised on the basis of gender, sexuality or other forms of difference; (3) an engagement with the significance of text, ideology and discourse in the construction of social and material relations, everyday cultural and political life” (Luke, 2012, p. 4).

Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR):

Action research is a disciplined and systematic process of inquiry carried out by and for those taking the action, with the primary purpose of assisting the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her action (Sagor, 2000). CPAR is a specific approach to action research that aims to understand and transform unequal power relations to become more equitable (Feldman, 2017). A CPAR sequence might include a cycle of rsteps that include 1) understanding of the historical present and the cousequences of our practices, 2) adoping a critical stance towards our practices by asking in community whether or not our practices are “in some way irrational, unsustainable, or unujust” (Feldman, 2017, loc. 1575-1577). 3) accepting that changes to our practices are necessary if the answer to the previous question is affirmative in any way, 4) engaging in “communicative action with others to reach (a) intersubjective agreement about the ways we understand the situation (the language we use), (b) mutual understanding of one another’s situations and points of view, and (c) unforced consensus about what to do” (Feldman, 2017, loc. 1579-1581); and 5) documenting and monitoring what happens to observe if our actions are having the effect that we intended (Feldman, 2017). A salient definition of CPAR is provided by Selener “Participatory research is a process through which members of an oppressed group or community identify a problem, collect and analyse information, and act upon the problem in order to solutions and to promote social and political transformation”, while McTaggart describes the objective as ”The aim of participatory action research is to change practices, social structures, and social media which maintain irrationality, injustice, and unsatisfying forms of existence (McTaggart, in Reason & Bradbury, 2001, p. 1)


The centrality of self-knowledge has long been established in Occidental and Oriental epistemology and social action, originally inscribed in works by such as the classic text The Art of War (n.d.):If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” (chapter 3, stanza 18), and Socrates, to whom modern texts attibute the entreaty that people pursue self-knowledge, which he considered to be the most powerful of all types of knowledge (Hackett, 2015, Kindle Location 679). The self is also centrally located in ancient ideas about social change, for example, in writings attributed to Soctrates in which it was contended, “If a man would move the world, he must first move himself” (Hackett, 2015, Kindle Location 1259). In 1970, Freire (2000) theorized that only by “discover[ing] themselves to be ‘hosts’ of the oppressor can they [the oppressed] contribute to the midwifery of their liberation” (p. 4), and Cruz (2001) argued that “The most profound and liberating politics come from the interrogation of our own social locations, anarrative that works outward from our specific corporealities” (p. 658). The self-reflexive nature of interpretive and critical methods finds operationalization in CPAR and autoethnography, which “create distance for the generation of alternatives in inter alia the culture, language, ways of thinking, stories, and interpretations” ( (Ellis & Ellison, 2008; Zeeman, Poggenpoel, Myburgh, & van der Linde, 2002).

Ontologies of meaning-making: global and local.

Hawkins (2014) theorized how the mediational nature of place operates to produce variations in knowledge construction that result in epistemological distances that must be bridged if “global others” are to achieve mutual understanding, writing:

Discourses of globalization and cosmopolitanism, focusing on the rapid flows of people, resources, and knowledge around the globe and subsequent encounters between global citizens, present a binary between “global” and “local.” At the same time educational theories, perhaps especially in the areas of language and literacy studies, promote a view of learning as occurring through mediated interactions in local, situated practices” (p. 90).

Global narratives are shaped by “status and power relations within communities [that] affect what can be learned and by whom” (Hawkins, 2014, p. 95). In Chile, global narratives of education and development are reflected in the government’s published agendas and mainstream media’s public discourse. Local narratives, in contrast, for example, can function as counter-narratives, and include artifacts such as comments posted to online news articles, social media interactions, art, film, theatre, music and in-person dialogue in homes, coffee shops, classrooms, and other places where people congregate (Solórzono & Yasso, 2002). Local counter-narratives have formed a driving force behind social and political transformations. For example, blogs functioned as counter-narratives during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 through which Egyptians voiced dissent against government repression and against the government´s version of events disseminated through state controlled media (Al-Ani, Mark, Chung, & Jones, 2012).  In Chile, recently, counter-narratives about education and the current neoliberal model of development have consolidated into a student-led movement for educational reform, and this movement has been partially, though not entirely successful (Fernández Droguett, 2013; Webb & Radcliffe, 2013). These large-scale social movements are examples of how widespread and consistent counter-storytelling in the public sphere can bring about transformation in sociopolitical and economic conditions.


Autoethnography as method directly addresses the problem of binaries that Hawkins (2014) troubles in “Ontologies of Place”. Ellis and Ellison (2008) state that “autoethnography makes connections between seemingly polar opposites” (p. 446) and “by definition operates as a bridge, connecting autobiography and ethnography in order to study the intersection of self and others, self and culture” (p. 446). In addition, autoethnography is used to understand the systems of power and privilege that construct the “historical present”, “the entanglement of discourses from the past being reworked in our immediate lives and in the policies and norms that govern the material discursive world of which we are a part” (Jones & Woglam, 2017, p. 23). Freire (2000) defines a critical pedagogy centered in praxis as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Kindle location 646). In autoethnography, internal reflection upon the world of the individual leads to what Bochner (2016) calls “a feeling kind of truth” (04:39). A critical pedagogy fused with autoethnography brings together the “personal, the concrete, and an emphasis on scholarship” (Jones, 2016, p. 1) of autoethnography and the necessary theoretical frameworks for “understanding how such stories help us write into or become the change we seek in the world” (Jones, 2016, p. 1).

In current study, autoethnography is defined as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”(Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011) and in which “the position of the researcher is crossed with his or her position as a social actor” (Fernández Droguett, 2013). The rationale for using autoethnography stems from the conceptualization of knowledge-making and transformation in the critical literacy tradition that positions the oppressed person as the only one who can transform the conditions of his or her oppression into conditions of liberty (Freire, 2000).

Examples of autoethnography

Chávez (2012) uses autoethnographic testimoios to problematize the hegemony of received knowledge in academia about academics. She states, “I am an anomaly in higher education: aworking-class, Chicana, first-generation college student with a Ph.D. This unique situation leaves me to wonder, as an assistant professor, how does an anomaly conduct educational research?” (p. 334). Testimonios, which Chávez defines as “autobiographical educational experiences” (p. 334), are also artifacts of self-affirmation, counterstorytelling and resistance. Chávez (2012) states: “Producing autoethnographic research acknowledges and validates my Chicana presence as well as draws attention to my marginal position inside dominant structures of education” (p. 334). These stories counter:

the constricting normativity in thought and composition, especially in regards to how that creeping normativity is enacted in our schools…[so that] we might reimagine inquiry and education as collaborative, aesthetic activities, meant to grow and change along with the act of teaching, rather than a program that we must normalize and ‘perfect’” (Jones & Woglam, 2017, p. 6).

Fernández Droguett (2013) used autoethnography to capture the “feeling kind of truth” of participating in student protests against the current educational system in Chile, in which he emulates the ebb and flow between macro and micro discourses. For example, he writes:

A lot of people continued marching, while others started to leave, which I also did, due to my tiredness and my interest in getting trapped in the street combats that typically happen [at these events] through wide sectors of the city. In my experience, and in the information transmitted by communication media, the violence of the police repression and the indiscriminate nature of the actions taken by the police force made it hardly advisable to stay in the area. Despite this, I noticed that a significant number of protestors, clearly not associated with the most radical sectors that frequently confront the police, opted to stay in the manifestation, risking being affected by the confrontations (p. 108)

In this description, Fernández Droguett conveys how it felt to be in the protest, e.g. “due to my tiredness”. At the same time, he relates information about a single concept, e.g. “the violence of the police repression” as transmitted across two different information processing systems, the experiential, e.g. “in my experience” and “in the information transmitted by communication media”. Then, he problematizes these two symmetrical “truths” by a new, dissonant experience, e.g. “despite this, I noticed [this time] that a significant number of protestors, clearly not associated with the most radical sectors that frequently confront the police, opted to stay….risking being affected by the confrontations” (p. 108), thereby introducing multiplicity, making possible several distinct, at times convergent and at times dissonant, truths.This conversation between local and global discourses,and the introduction of experiential dissonance, is a quality of autoethnography that potentiates the ability of individuals and communities to “transform… individually and collectively, the conduct and consequences of their practice to meet the needs of changing times and circumstances” (Taggart, Nixon, & Kemmis, 2017, Kindle Locations 1412-1413) through the affordance of multiplicity.

Research Methodology


Two separate groups of people participated in this study. The “teacher group” was comprised of five people either currently working or having worked in the past as teachers in a professional capacity. One of them is a university professor, another is an ex-university professor who had a career change, another is the mother of one of my students, and another is a professional elementary school teacher who used to work in a public school but who quit her job to take care of her young children. Now, her children are teenagers and she works independently tutoring children in their homes. The “community group ” was comprised of a group of eight mothers who are connected by their shared experience of disenfranchisement with the formal schooling system.  All participants gave permission to include their stories, and all participants are identified by pseudonyms in this study.

Data Sources and Methods of Data Collection

Data sources included written autoethnographies constructed by members of the community group, orally narrated autoethnographies constructed by members of the teachers group, and the immediate contextual dialogues within which the construction of these autoethnographies occurred. The written autoethnographies were posted as Whatsapp messages as part of an ongoing conversation thread within the Whatsapp environment pertaining to the closed community group in which eight members were immediately interacting. The oral autoethnographies were conveyed in the format of a presencial, sit-down, unstructured interview that occurred in the living rooms of the participants, and during which ongoing dialogue occurred between the author of the autoethnography and the recorder/interviewer. The oral autoethnographies were audio recorded and then transcribed word-for-word. During the construction of both the written and the orally-narrated autoethnographies, interactive questions and answers that were organically occurring arose between the people engaged in dialogue in the virtual and physical environments, respectively.


A thematic approach to analyze participants’ autethnographies. Each participant´s story was read interatively and coded for themes that emerged as prominent or important to the participant. Next, similarities and differences in the themes threading through each participant’s story were identified and coded. Themes were tied to broader relations of power.

Research Findings and Analysis

This study aimed to answer two questions: “What prominent and recurring constructions of education are manifested in the autoethnographies of people who teach?” and “How do these constructions contradict or support global narratives of education and development in Chile?” The autoethnographies constructed in this study were intended to act as artifacts of counterstorytelling that would highlight areas of dissonance between local and global narratives on education and develolpment, that would suggest areas in need of action, and foment a community of inquiry oriented towards action to bring about positive social and educational change.

Stance of agency and empowerment. Community group members received the idea of the study in a way that suggested that they took a stance of agency and empowerment, that they imagined and considered that they could potentiate positive social change by writing and sharing their stories. Excerpts from group members’ repsonses to the study included “Me encanta el fin” (I love the objective [of the study]); “Creo que sería inspirador para muchas personas…hay tantas historias como las nuestras sin contar!” (I think that [the study] would be inspiring for many people…there are so many stories like ours that haven’t been told!), and “Creo que es una de las cosas que producen cambios reales, significativos” (I think that it [this type of study] is one of the things that produce real change, meaningful change). Their responses suggest that they have already adopted a stance that Freire (2000) believed a necessary though not sufficient condition for achieving liberation, namely that “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform (Kindle Locations 612-614).

In regards to the study itself, teachers group participants expressed an interest in telling their story and in “helping with the project”, but did not express a sense of agency or empowerment. Instead, members of the teacher group expressed a hope that they “could help” with the project and that their stories “would help” The teachers all expressed positive feelings about the project, however they appeared to view their participation in the study as Freire’s (2000) concept of objects, rather than subjects or empowered agents in the context of the study.

A stance of agency and empowerment also manifested within the autoethnographies. Within the autoethnographies, agency and empowerment in relation to school took the form of resistance against school itself or against a power relationship located at school, and this theme was found in all participants’ stories for all participants. Resistance manifested as escape, as avoidance, and as confrontation. Resistance as escape manifested in experiences of physically leaving school. One of the community group participants explained, “Well my story begins when I was 3 years old when I escaped from preschool…I didn´t like it, and I left! I remember perfectly…I looked back quickly because a teacher was running after me but she couldn´t catch me…I got to my house with her behind me). This statement occurred in the context of a dialogue about feeling oppressed at school and resisting conformity.

Agency and empowerment as avoidence manifested as not going to school, but this was also often a form of self-advocacy. For example, a community group member wrote,

Since I lived alone from the age of 12, I simply didn’t get up. What’s more, I let my (female) friends who were ditching school stay at my house…we coordinated with each other the night before so one brought bread, another one brought marmelade, manjar, sugar, and that way we had breakfast).

While this participant framed her school experience in terms of avoidance, she also evidenced how she and her friends improvised a way to meet their needs for sustenance, affiliation, and community by coordinating their breakfast plans carried out in a physically and figuratively liminal space. She engaged in self-advocacy against emotional and physical precarity caused by living without her parents or other family at 12 years old by collectively creating and experiencing a family routine during the time she was not in school. She avoided school in order to exercise her agency to search for acompañamiento.  It is not clear from her story if she found acompañamiento in this liminal space. However, she nevertheless exercised agency by transgressing structural norms in order to advocate for herself and her needs in this way. 

In my own story, I exercised agency by escaping from school as a way of enacting self-adovcacy against having been locked out of my class in Kindergarten. From my story,

I was always falling behind the line, daydreaming. The teachers would tell me to hurry up, but, hearing them, it was as though I was hearing them underwater. Then one day I finally fell far behind the line coming back from the playground, so that when I got to the door of my class, it was locked and all the children were inside. I knocked and knocked on the door and on the window and I shouted, but they did not see me or hear me and were conducting class as usual. They did not notice that I was not inside. Then, I thought,’They are not going to hear me. I can’t stay here in the courtyard. So if they don’t notice me here, I’m going home! And since I lived about two blocks from the school, I waited a few more seconds and left, crossed the playground, went through the interior gate of the Kindergarten courtyard, walked down the outer corridor, between the kindergarten and the other buildings of the school, went out the external gate of the school, down the stairs, and reached the street, and no one noticed. There, I had to cross a main street, which I had crossed with my mother hundreds of times. So, I thought, “I know how to do this,” and looked to the right and left, just as my mother had taught me, and I crossed the street running and reached my street, where my house was a the very end of a cul de sac”

In my case, I exercised agency against precarity because, after realizing that they were not going to let me into the classroom, I made a choice in order to relocate myself to a place in which I felt safer.  I was empowered because I had embodied and habituated knowledge of how to cross the street and arrive home safely.  Escape from school was also an act of resistance against the marginalization that I experienced from not following the line well and a repositioning of myself as an actor/subject in this unfolding experience who was able to exercise agency and self-advocacy, rather than as an object who was acted upon (Freire, 2000). In leaving school and going home after being locked out of my class, I transformed the situation from one of a cold girl standing in the courtyard to one of an empowered girl going to a place of warmth and safety. 

However, my experience was dependent upon contextual factors. There are many contingencies that could have resulted in different opportunities and constraints on my ability to transform the situation. For example, what if I did not associate home with warmth and safety? What if I experienced violence at home, or feared being punished with violence either at home or at school? What if my home was far away from my school, as it is for children who are bussed from their neighborhood to distant districts? What if I didn’t know how to cross the street? Contextual factors which, in my case represent artifacts of various types of privilege,  influenced my ability to transform this situation into one that I experienced to be positive. An insight that I draw from understanding my experience in this way is that children are creative agents, but their ability to exercise their agency is influenced by the contextual environment including the presence and absence of constraints, tools, and opportunities which represent the material they have to work with to be empowered.

Violence. Violence experienced at school enacted by a teacher was a repeated theme across many stories, and was interlinked with poverty and transgressive school behavior, either that of asking too many questions or not mastering expected knowledge in the expected way and time frame.Themes emerging in discussions about violence included precarity, manifested in physical descriptions of the aggressors, described in such a way that one can feel the viewpoint of a small child in relation to the fear of both the perpetrator of violence and the violence itself, self-advocacy, manifested as fighting back and as reading the situation and carrying out survival strategies strategies. One participant from the community group, “Miti”, wrote the following:

in some ways, things have changed, at least for me because nowadays the professors don’t beat the children. They beat me in school. In fact, I have no count of how many times the teacher knocked me around. And the director was a German nun who had a gigantic hand capable of knocking a child down with one smack. I remember more than a few children getting thrown to the ground, myself included. And I remember one teacher who was teaching when I was in fourth grade, telling the teacher that she should correct me (by beating me) because I asked “lots of questions” and I never shut up. [Even if we had spoken to somebody about it]we would not have been able to do anything. I was from the country and poor. Even worse.

In Miti’s story, precarity caused by the power differential between student and teacher converges with precarity caused by marginalizing discourses surrounding poverty and geographical location. Juana also related experiences of violence:

“what happened to me in fourth grade, I repeated fourth grade in fact, what happened is that our profesor was very demanding, and she hit us, like this with this part here, here (making a shape with her hand of a closed fist with the knuckle of the middle finger protruding and knocking it on her forehead) here…she hit us, so, if we didn’t know something or we didn’t respond to a question she would say “but how can you not know this, if you come here to study’ and so to that person pah (makin g the sound and motion of hitting herself in the head with the fist and knuckle the way she had described) and she would hit him/her…So I have that bad experience…she was very demanding and wanted us to know the answers right away, she didn’t give us the chance to like, gosh, give the wrong answer, so she would get mad and say ‘you didn’t understand you, how can you not understand’ and she would hit you and you had to really control yourself and keep studying what she was saying, and give the correct answer, because if you gave her the wrong answer again, she would keep hitting, and she hit, kept hitting, I mean, to hurt”.

Miti and Juana metacognitively make sense of their perceptions of the violence then and now, conveying the voice of the child who experienced it, as remembered and voiced through the analytical capabilities of an adult, and that of the adult, which both responds to and expands upon the child’s perception as well as adding their own restrospective conclusions about what happened and why it happened, which they attribute to their membership in groups that wielded little power: children, those who are small both physically and in terms of social position, those who are poor, and those who hail from rural socio-geographic environments. In making sense of the violence they experienced at school, their stories focus on a sense of precarity, their coping strategies, and their acts of resistance and self-protection. They evidence critical approaches to meaning-making by attributing the reason that the violence was able to continue to the power advantage occupied by the teachers in relation to the children, and attributed this power advantage to physical size and social position. Thus they considered that they were weaker than the teachers both physically and positionally. Their analyses juxtapose the teacher’s “right to speak” and “the power to impose reception” (Norton, 1997, p. 411, referring to Bourdieu, 1977) with their own absence of this power, which they largely attribute to their social positionalities.

Another participant “Edna” from the community group wrote about her sense of rage in the face of injustice, her impulse to defend those who were being attacked, and her subsequent conclusions made in retrospect in which she put the voice of her younger self into conversation with that of her older self. She wrote the following:

I remember some of the teachers would scream at my friends when they made a mistake…Instead of getting scared, I wanted to defend them, although now I think, I was so small What could I have done! In high school, I started to fight with teachers for the same reason, for the lack of respect, and since I was doing well (grades)…they got angry but nothing more happened, they didin’t suspend me or anything…for me it was frustrating, I think I have problems with authority because it is hard to respect people who in no way deserve respect”

In a similar way as Miti and Juana, Edna displays a critical approach to analyzing hereducational story, as she considered the power differential between herself and the teachers to negate any potential effect that her efforts to defend her friends would have had. Similarly to Miti and Juana, Edna attributes this lack of power to her physical and social positionality, both of which are implied by her use of the word “small”, alluding to the relatively little weight given to children’s voices and her awareness now, as an adult, of this fact in retrospect. She also was aware of how her dominance of of academic literacies (“grades”) swayed the systemic response (“they didn’t suspend me or anything”) in her favor, and implied recognition of the likelihood that someone without such dominance would have suffered more severe consequences. She makes sense of why and how she discards the veneer of authority now, in the historical present of her adult life, attributing this to these past experiences in which authority did not earn the respect it claimed to own. She demonstrates critical insight into some of the experiences that currently construct her own historical present, and counters dominant discourses of authority by presenting an alternative discourse of authority. This last point alludes to the themes of legitimateversus illegitimate authority and/or power, wherbey illegitimate authority is imposed due to injustice in social conditions, and legitimate authority is earned through actions that engender respect. As part of her discourse on authority, she indicates that treating others with respect is a precondition of being entitled to legitimate authority and/or respect.

Violence was interlinked with precarity and vulnerability of being small and young, of being poor, of being of a disciminated class (those from the countryside, who are also more often of indigenous background), and with the normalization of violence from experiences at school and at home. As Juana related:

so it was like, ultimately, you were stupid, if you didn’t know something right away that they were teaching, so then it was like, there was that bad experience, and also, that teacher, like just that year I repeated fourth grade. My parents separated, and I was like I was on the moon, so all of that affected me and because of that they had me repeating fourth grade, because they said that I, throughout the whole year it was like I was on the moon, naturally because I had problems, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to [work], so I stayed and repeated, because I never knew all the things, it was too much for me, all the things that happened to me that year, and that’s why. But my mom went once to complain, but no one did anything…because at that time, the parents, it was normal for them to hit their children, it was not abnormal for a child to be assaulted in that way.”

Here Juana describes the dissonance between two different versions of truth: her own along with insight into the causes of her state of mind and academic performance during fourth grade, and the school’s version, which, while recognizing the outward manifestations, prescribed a technocratic response rather than empathy and acompañamiento. Her story also reflects self-advocacy: she told her mother about the beatings at school, and her mother went to complain, but the school did not respond. Juana also atributes the school´s lack of response to broader forces, namely that “at that time, the parents, it was normal for them to hit their children, it was not abnormal for a child to be assaulted in that way”. In this was she describes how the mutually reinforcing systems of violence at home at school normalized violence and silenced both the telling of it and resistance to it. When asked if the children would speak about the violence, she said:

no, they didn’t talk about it, like the children, they viewed it as normal for the teacher to do that because she always did it, if you didn’t respond to something…if you didn’t respond right away, you were stupid, or you didn’t know, or all those things, she would say all the meanest adjectives about you, so, and you would get beaten because she said that that’s how the children were going to learn, beating them, so that’s how the children had to learn…for that reason, they viewed it as normal…but in the end, it was fear that we had towards the teacher…many kids in my class never told, afterwards we would say..ah, like since some children also were abused in their homes, they viewed it as normal for the teacher to hit them, but that teacher, that was the saddest part about having studied there and having been beaten…because they saw it as normal”.

Here again, Juana alludes to the ““right to speak” and “the power to impose reception” (Norton, 1997, p. 411, referring to Bourdieu, 1977) and the way that the teacher, and in some cases the parents, as authority figures with the “right to speak…[and] the power to impose reception” (Norton, 1997, p. 411, referring to Bourdieu, 1977), were able to define what was normal for the children, and in that way were able to normalize the violence that they enacted against the children as well as reduce the likelihood of resistance, because the normalization of it silenced rebellion against it. This silencing effect happened in conjunction with other forms of silencing that were imposed by social, economic, and geographical marginalization and discrimination.

Juana’s authoethography further characterizes how she constructs the figured worlds of school and home differently (Holland, 2001, in Nygreen, 2013). She constructs teacher-perpetrated violence as worse, and as less legitimate, than that carried out by parents,, writing:

In the long run it stays with you like a fear, like a fear and something ugly that happened to you at school, you know. Something that shouldn’t have happened because you assume you are going to study, you’re not going for them to beat you, because the teachers are not your parents, they are simply teachers who are supposed to teach you and to be amenable with you…not hit you…but back then, that happened”.

She makes a distinction between the actions and behaviors that are legitimate for teachers compared to parents. She says “[being beaten at school] should not have happened…because the teachers are not your parents, they are simply profesores who have to teach you and to be amenable with you…not hit you” [emphasis mine].

She further elaborates on her view and understanding of the intergenerational transmission of violence in the school and in the home in relation to her own parents. She said:

It was like that…and years before when my parents were studying, they did that to them, in fact they would make them kneel on beans on the floor, in a corner…yes normally many many years ago they did that, for not answering or not knowing how to respond to a question, or for performing poorly on a test or for talking back, or for all those reasons a person would receive that type of abuse”.My parents at least, they both were raised very harshly in life, my dad was raised by my grandparents, my two grandparents, but even so they taught him good values. And one thing abou tmy dad is that, with all that they taught him and all the things they taught him, they also gave him affection. So one thing about my dad, he can sometimes be harsh in the way he says things, but he also says them with love, so that the day of tomorrow you know how to be. And my mom too, my mom was raised very harshly, she was beaten a lot when she was little, I think that that’s why my mom is the way she is, hard, because they beat her, everything, they made her work, to wash and do all the chores [they had to do] in the country, because she had to do them, but because of that my mom tried, with me, possibly to do the same but without, without going around beating me but still being demanding, still saying things like “to be a good child you have to do this, you also have to help, to take care of little details, to not be lazy… so because of that…but I always have that, from my parents, because my parents never left me, never told me “you have to lie” or, my mom “you have to say this to your dad” no, because my mom sometimes would beat me but my mom…she never said to me “don’t tell your dad”, no, I would tell…my mom used to punish me because I didn’t do my work, but I always trusted that no one, never, ever told me not to tell, and so those values have stuck with me….”

In Juana’s distinction between more and less legitimate authority, she suggests that the imposition of silence by someone in the position of authority reduces the legitimacy of that person’s claim on authority. She constructs two figured worlds, one of which is that of the parent, family and home, where the explanations for such behavior tapped into attributions of intergenerational transmission of violence and the perception that the parents were motivated by a desire to teach their children survival skills, so that they would know “how to be” in the day of tomorrow, even though these lessons were imparted harshly. This attribution suggested that, while Juana viewed the behavior of physical punishment as wrong, she did not view it as illegitimate when it was carried out by her parents or her grandparents. On the other hand, physical punishment was not a legitimate part of the figured world of the school to her. For this reason, she constructed the physical punishments enacted at school and the authority and “power to impose” behind them as illegitimate and also as more damaging.

Juanas  parents´ historical presents affected juana´s experience of violence during childhood and her own historical present. However, Juana has transformed this intergenerational transmission of violence and precarity in her own life for her own children.  She says:

It´s influenced me a little bit in terms of the fear that you have now to send your children to school and you don´t know how they are treating them, and I always have that fear and I always ask my daughter, every day, how [school] is going, what they did [that day],  and if she tells me something that they did to her I complain, because I don’t…I feel that now the things that happened to you before affect you, you stay with, like with dread, with fear, that they are going to do the same thing to your child that they did to you years ago so that is damaging, it’s damaging in the long run because you stay with that fear that they’ll do the same to them, and I, even to my littlest son I ask him “what did you do [today]?” Or if they tell me, “they did this or that to me” but……it’s scary that it could happen to them too, but no, it hasn’t yet happened to my children.

Juana transitions fluidly several times in this dialogue between referring to how these experiences affected her personally by speaking in terms of the first person (me, I), and an extention of how these experiences have affected people in general who experienced similar things.  She thus moves from personal experience to reflections on group experience, e.g. “in terms of the fear you have now to send your children to school….and I always have that fear” and it’s damaging…because you stay with that fear that they’ll do the same to them, and I, even to my littlest son I ask him ‘what did you do [today]?”thereby representing person-culture bidirectional flows of learning and experience. Asking her children every day in detail about their experiences and activities in school, she is using the insights into her own of her own historical present to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of violence and transform the historical present of her children.  Additionally, she exercises agency to interrupt and transforms the silencing of violence that she and her parents experienced by providing her children with opportunities for voice.  She recognizes how her parents were “hosts of their oppressors” (Freire, 2000) in their replication of the violence they experienced as children into the historical presents of their children.  However, recognizing this, she draws from this insight to become empowered to engage in advocacy for her own children, through which she exercises agency.

Knowledge construction as advocacy, counterstorytelling, and legacy. The discourse about the project in the community group suggested the importance of the theme of knowledge-construction, which manifested as advocacy, counterstorytelling, and legacy. Advocacy took the forms of self and other-directed advocacy, and also involved legacy. Discourse manifesting knowledge-construction emphasized creating a body of knowledge that would be converted into a consumable artifact that could be publicly shared to wider audiences. Several group members suggested that we compile everything into a book and sell it on Amazon and one group member stated that “de acá saldra un libro…y despues…la pelicula….ya imaginé hasta las escenas…” (we could write a book…and afterwards…the movie…I’ve already even imagined the scenes) followed by three “laughing with tears” emojjis. Discourse manifesting knowledge construction as advocacy and legacy emphasized creating a body of knowledge out of the autoethnographies that would then help the coming generations, for example, one participant stated: “pienso que debemos dejar algo que ayude a las generaciones que vienen, que tengan de nosotras la ayuda que nos hubiese gustado tener” (I think that we should leave something to help the coming generations, so that they have the help from us that we wish we had had). This statement also expresses Freire{{s (2000) concept that for the individual “to say his or her own word, to name the world. (Freire, 2000, Kindle Locations 401-402), and “to speak a true word is to transform the world” (Kindle Locations 1244-1245).  This construction indicated that group members perceived that by speaking, through writing,  their own, true words, through which they would name the world, which, when disseminated in the public sphere as legacy, they could transform the world.

Group members viewed the idea of writing their stories, compiling them, and putting them in the public domain as social transformation through knowledge construction in the form of counterstorytelling. One community group member expressed that

creo que sería inspirador para muchas personas….hay tantas historias como las nuestras sin contar! (I believe that this will be inspiring to many people…there are so many stories like ours that have never been told!)

Another community group member expressed expressed that the project, in the form of a book, would be an opportunity to counter or complement academic and institutional narratives with the lived experiences of real people, saying

porque que yo sepa, no hay nada asi como desde la perspectiva de la supervivencia en primera persona…solo profesionales que miran desde afuera” (because as far as I am aware, there is no such thing from the first-person perspective of surivival…only professionals who observe from a distance)

The desire to know each others stories was also expressed by one group member, who said “yo tb quiero conocer sus historias, podriamos hacer un libro” (I also want to know your stories, we could make a book) followed by two “laughing with tears” emojiis. One group member expressed her idea that the project would be cathartic. Without any sort of academic prompting or previous reading, the group members’ responses reflected many of the theoretical presupositions behind critical literacy theory and autoethnography.


Participants in the teachers group came from diverse backgrounds and, while some already were acquainted with each other, they did not collectively function as a group or community at the time this study took place. While in initial conceptualizations of this study, it was intended that the teachers group solidify into a collective, the process confronted the question of how to make sharing safe, as some of the diverse members of this group hailed from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, and, though no personal animosity existed, the socio-economic groups with which they were affiliated experience mutual prejudice and animosity. For this reason, members in the teachers group constructed their autoethnographies in the interviews, but did not share them until later in the study, through the shared Google Drive folder which functioned as a virtual meeting space. The transcribed audiorecorded autoethnographies were uploaded to this folder after they each indicated that they would like to upload and share their individual autoethnographies.

In contrast to the teachers group, the community group of alternative-schooling mothers predated this study by about a year and already functioned as a virtual counterpublic. Within this group, many personal stories had already been shared over a periond of time, giving this group the characteristic of the solidarity and security to make sharing safe. Introducing the project to the group in collective form was the most natural as it is a democratic group with no leadership structure.

Both written and oral autoethnographies had an element of co-construction as, in both cases, they were constructed in the context of an ongoing, interactive, and dynamic dialogue with at least one other person. During the construction of both the written and the orally-narrated autoethnographies, interactive questions and answers that were organically occurring arose between the people engaged in dialogue in the virtual and physical environments, respectively. This fluid, ongoing, interactive dialogue resulted in the autoethnographic products being reflective not only of the authors’ independently arising thoughts and memories, but also of the collective memories and interests of the respective groups.

This element of co-construction and collective memory appeared to be an important factor in the community group members´ feelings of catharsis, motivation, and impulse to engage in the study. Members in both the teachers and the community group all expressed moderate to strong interest in participating in the study, and several expressed hope that the study would lead to change. For the community group, the concept of the shared Google Drive folder was introduced after several members had already shared their stories, and it was introduced by a member of the group. Thus it was possible to observe the initial interest and engagement with the study through the dialogue and stories that were shared prior to the suggestion to compile the autoethnographies in a shared folder. This suggestion itself was in response to the desire expressed by several members to construct a coauthored body of work that could be disseminated in the public domain as a legacy of our shared knowledge. However, although it was initially well-received, the as soon as this idea was informally discussed and accepted, the energy flow immediately began to dissipate and the momentum was reduced, and group members changed to discussion of other topics. The suggestion to move the location of sharing to the Google Drive folder appeared to interrupt the emotional engagement, immediacy, catharsis, and empathetic fusion achieved in the knowledge co-construction and more dynamic environment of the Whatsapp interface. Removing the storytelling process from its immediate social context appeared to convert what had been an emotional and much more compelling motivation to participate into a more distant, intellectual motivation to participate, and while participants shared their stories fluidly and rapidly in the Whatsapp group medium and in the in-person interviews, members expressed the desire to take time to craft their autoethnographies in order to upload them to the folder. The presure of conforming to what might be perceived as academic literacies, as well as the more formal, static nature of compositional writing, was off-putting to people It may be fruitful to explore the importance of immediacy, catharsis, empathetic fusion, and collective memory in collective knowledge construction processes as part of this same ongoing study and in other studies.

The group that most actively embraced the idea of autoethnography as a literary act geared towards social change was the community group of alternative-schooling mothers. These group members are by and large people who experience comfort and pleasure in using the types of literacies involved in academic writing and in the emotional act of self-reflection and self-discovery. Additionally, they collectively and individually possess substantial experience with critiquing, analyzing and resisting conforming forces in schooling, and they are all mothers of children who are high academic achievers who have not thrived emotionally in the school system. They already possess the habitus of analysing social insitutions, a critical stance towards this analysis, and familiarity with the practice of resistance. The group is formulated around a discourse of resistance and self and social transformation. Because of this preexisting discourse of group membership, the community group members had the preexisting desire, as conceptualized by Norton (1997), to practice these literacies which they connect to affiliation, security, and safety in their lives and regarding the lives of their children, as well as the investment in doing so, as these practices were already a part of their existing identities. Therefore it was not a far leap to suggest to them that we create autoethnographies, and it was one of these mothers, not myself, who suggested that we form a g.drive folder and upload all of our stories there.

The revelations of school violence were unexpected in this study, as was the centrality of this violence in participants´ ethnographies. The prompt for autoethnographic sharing was intentionally very broad and based on the assumption that, by leaving this very broad, the participants would gravitate towards sharing experiences that were the most meaningful to them and that had impacted them the most. The voicing of these stories of violence appeared in many cases to be the voicing of silenced experiences that the participants were able to release in the context of the empathetic space made by the group, and that were then encouraged through the feedback loops emerging out of collective memory. These findings suggests the importance of this factor in configuring the historical present of education and development for the participants individually as well as as a group. A call to action suggested by this finding is to continue to actively search for spaces, both figurative, virtual, physical, interpersonal, in which people can access individual and collective memories of violence and other suffering and give voice to them in a way that is empowering. This appears to happen when collective memories are activated.

The theme of acompañamiento – both its presence and the lack of it – was a strong and repeated theme throughout the studies. Sepulveda (2011) quotes R.S. Goizueta in stating, “To be abandoned is to be nobody; to be accompanied is to be honored, a person. The people’s accompaniment symbolizes a new honored status as a full human being” (p. 557). Participants who engaged in agency as escapism and avoidance did so in search of acompañamiento that they were not encountering at school, as well as in order to position themselves against precarity. Those who felt empowered to self advocate in school referred to receiving acompañamiento from one or more people as key in their trajectory. Those who experienced a lack of acompañamiento expressed that they if they had had someone to acompañar them, they believed it would have made a difference in their educational and life trajectories. This suggests that a key element missing from the global educational agendas is attention to need for accompaniment along the educational path, especially for students who have experienced major life interruptions in any facet of life, educational or otherwise. The call to action suggested by this finding is that teacher education, continuing education and professional development courses and groups should incorporate acompañamiento into their curriculum in order to increase understanding among teachers and policy makers of the importance of accompaniment as well as how to practice it. This finding also suggests the importance of creating transversal community groups that include teachers, in which themes like  accompañamiento and empathetic fusion can become part of public discourse and practice.


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