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Being betwixt and between strangeness: an autoethnographic exploration of transition

McNulty, Joanne (2017) Being betwixt and between strangeness: an autoethnographic exploration of transition. Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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In general terms, transition is considered to be linear movement across periods of change. This thesis aims to question and challenge such conceptualisations, offering a reconsideration of what transition means and how it might be experienced. The research explores a Senior Lecturer’s personal experiences of moving to a new place of work, entangled with the experiences of undergraduate students as they move to university. Competing perspectives of transition as passage through an onwards and upwards trajectory to blurred and disjointed happenings are pursued in order to make gestures towards new representations of transition as a complex notion, which can disorientate and make the familiar strange. Using a postmodern analytic autoethnographic methodology, the research works with data from a research journal, focus groups and interviews, to engage and grapple with the concepts of identity, self and other. It is a grappling, which has the capacity to unsettle conventional, totalising interpretations of what might seem to be the ‘reality’ of transition. The methodology is put to work in pursuit of alternative and fractured stories of transition, through the entwining of multiple and mutual selves. Psychoanalysis provides the theoretical framework, working, in particular, with Kristeva’s notions of subjectivity and rejection of other, alongside Lacan’s mirror stage and graph of desire in an attempt to further understand transition and the impact it has on identity. This includes reference to a personal reconceptualisation of the abject as ‘worksickness’ and how this is manifested as a proactive endeavour to make the strange familiar. The data analysis is structured around ‘illusions’ rather than themes that allow for the interrogation of shadowy ‘figures’ emerging from the data: ‘tour and detour’, ‘betwixt and between’ and ‘pollution’. Through the use of a number of mirror metaphors, the analysis shatters the data into fragments to create multiple diversions that maintain the entanglement of identities, rather than an essentialist rendering of a ‘self/other’ dichotomy. This study represents transition as an incomplete and paradoxical experience, which can both threaten and create barriers to, as well as strengthening aspects of identity, offering ways to reconfigure new and competing representations of self. It concludes that if transition is never achieved, since we are always in movement, then the strategies that are often used to ‘smooth’ transition require reconsideration.

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