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Dr Daniel Doherty
Department of Leadership, Work and Organisation.
Word count: 5960 D.email@example.com Title: Crossing the bridge – an exercise in autoethnography Crossing(the(Bridge:(an(exercise(in(autoethnography(((((((((((((((( Abstract This paper seeks to chart the role of autoethnography in memory recall and the role of synchronicity in guiding the inquirer towards theories that might enlighten such phenomenon. In the course of this emergent recollection points at which theories to explain the emergent are documented. This paper then proceeds to reflect upon the seduction of theories and their sources and also upon the dangers of seeking synthetic theoretical synthesis. This tendency to be seduced by theory would seem to be particularly prevalent where synchronicity seems to guide theoretical discovery.
Crossing(the(Bridge:(an(exercise(in(autoethnography(((((((((((((((( Crossing the bridge – an exercise in autoethnography Crossing the bridge In the beginning there was no bridge. Instead there was a ford that later gave way to a simple bridge after which the town was named – Brigstowe - later to be corrupted to Bristol. Since the erection of this early primitive structure the citizens of this city have witnessed major numerous rebuilds of this bridge. In addition to these major reconstructions labourers have effected the unseen millions of tiny fills, repairs and renovations that constitute the day to day survival of such a structure. In medieval times this principal thoroughfare between the north and the south of the Bristol housed teetering dwellings and thronging shops. It spilled over with brimming life as friars and pilgrims trudged from Wells to Gloucester then back again, resting on the bridge awhile to unload their burdens; pausing only to recount their many tales collected along the unkempt way. This latest structural incarnation that I now stand on appears on the surface to be a characterless functional bridge that boasts no great architectural virtues beyond affording the same timeless view over the board sweep of the diverted river Avon as it bends its sluggish way through Brunel’s floating harbour. The principal difference that the returning mediaeval time traveller might observe would be the poison of choking traffic clogged in the roadway and the morning tsunami of scurrying commuters in transit from their trains to their workplace, caught up in a cocoon of self-absorbed urgency that precludes the recognition of fellow scurriers, let alone finding time for the telling of any tales of their travels.
I push through this throng towards the blond, yet dreadlocked young woman who each day gives away the free Metro free newspaper. I am awed by the automatic skills of these sleepwalking commuters as they simultaneously manage to field a phone call, smoke a cigarette, swinging a bag awkwardly on their shoulder yet maintaining balance enough to reach out for the free tabloid. I wave away the proffered paper with my usual smile of declination. She looks at me pityingly, witheringly with a shake of her crusted dreadlocks, for very few refuse her the freely given news and views of an advert laden tabloid to kick start their conversational day. Now across the bridge I walk past a blackened medieval building on Welsh Back where two solitary souls stand in silence outside their office smoking a cigarette, as if it were their last before the firing squad. I pause from this vantage point to look back under the bridge and regard the piers that prop up this edifice. I notice the many layers of modified stones and backfilled stonework that support my fellow travellers, impressed that these ancient sedimentary layers are up to the task of bearing this sheer density of vehicular and pedestrian weight. Closer inspection of the extent of the re-work causes me to ask if this could this be the same bridge as the original.
Is there enough of the original foundations in place to lay claim to continuity through time, to assure the same contiguous identity? Or must we say that what we look up on is a quite new structure that shares only a name with its original predecessor?
I reflect on the human stories that these stones have been witness to, stories as compressed over the years as the stonework itself. Some of these stories - such as the sagas of the Bristol riots - are burnished Crossing(the(Bridge:(an(exercise(in(autoethnography(((((((((((((((( from frequent re-telling in classrooms as well as pubs, while others have been completely excised and discarded. The familiar dramatic stories are those of commotion and of interruption; but there are the echoes and the silences amid the cracks. And then there is my story, my own small slab of well-worn narrative mortar that nests among the cracks, hardened and flaking over time as it finds its place amidst its fellows. This is the tale of the incorporation of my story.
June 26 th 2005.
I look at the date on this journal entry with a degree of disbelief, pleased none the less to have tracked down the original version of this text that has since found its own robust life out there in the academic world and beyond. At one level the reading of this introduction triggers a memory of writing this piece that feels as fresh as paint, set as it is in some form of loose linguistic aspic. I vividly recall not only taking the walk that inspired this writing but also the agonising process of committing the walk to paper in the days that followed. Equally it seems such a time since I finished my narrative doctorate that was inspired by this journal that I need to count on my fingers to remind myself that it was, in fact, only three years ago.
I reflect as I gaze abstractly beyond my screen that the extended exercise in memorisation that eventually resulted in the production of this completed journal was blessed – and also cursed - with the luxury of time; cursed in the sense that there were so many points when the difficulties posed by accurate and honest memorisation were so great that I was often tempted to abandon the entire project as a noble idea but ultimately a lost cause. The substance of the journal comprised a reflection upon my experience of inhabiting a reflective writing space for over four continuous months while I was seeking to discover the bridge between my life in Bristol in 1969 and my life in Bristol in 2005 - mediated though the lens of this city and all that was provoked by its memories, sights, sounds and olfactory perturbations. The inquiry was conducted through a randomised sequence of walks through the streets of Bristol with note book, camera and tape recorder in hand. It was a process of aimless intentionality; inviting surrender to the sensory, embodied world as impressions bridged seamlessly between my inner and the outer worlds, between my history and the here and now.
As I struggle to remember why it was that I was engaged in this improbable task at all, I am reminded that the creation of this narrative was part of a wider inquiry into my thirty year career as an independent management consultant and all of the influences that might have shaped my practice. (Bellman 2001; Hopfl & Linstead 1997; Huczynski 1996;
MeLean 1984; Page 1996; Shaw 2002; Simms 2005; Torbert & Fisher 1992). This inquiry was to nest within the context of a wider critical inquiry into the role of consultants. (Aleveson & Willmott 1996; Barely & Kundura 2004; Clark & Salaman 1998; Clark & Fincham 2002; Craig 2005; Greatbatch & Clark 2005; Khin 2005; O’Shea & Madigan 1997; Storr 1997;Wilmott 1984, 1993) I realised early on in this endeavour that I could not avoid my own experiences in the course of this study; nor could I avoid encountering the complex issues inherent in unpacking the memorisation process, as I struggled to inquire into the ways in which memories become sedimented, rationalised and generally edited over time. My wish was to climb inside of this process of memory selection, fully aware that it might confront me with unpalatable truths. I was also fascinated by the way in which memories and the stimuli that trigger memories Crossing(the(Bridge:(an(exercise(in(autoethnography(((((((((((((((( seemed to nest together, where one sensation could trigger a memory that in turn would stimulate a further apparently disassociated memory. Further I was to discover that memories could stimulate or even manifest metaphors or events that would dramatically crystallise dilemmas that I was currently facing.
To maximise my chances of triggering such memories Bristol was an easy choice of location – or ‘memory cite’ as I was to grow to know it - as this city neatly bookended this thirty five year passage between my first coming to Bristol University and then after years of worldwide travel to return here again to study for a doctorate that endeavoured to make sense of that same passage of time.
This particular fragment of my journaling relating to ‘crossing the bridge’ did not make the final doctoral cut. It was deemed of insufficient strength to support the academic bridge. However when it came to choosing an example from this extended journaling exercise for post doctorate consideration it was to this discarded episode that I turned rather than to one of its more feted cousins. And it is to this episode that I turn to again as I pursue my current inquiry; which is to ask ‘what happens when you take a memory for a walk? When you commit memory to paper then take it on a journey over time – what happens to that memory – and what happens to the memory of the memory?’ It also asks as to the impact of theorisation upon the memory process, when theories are picked up on the way to explain the phenomenon under investigation. How does theory shape memory? Does it embed theory? Does it edit theory, discarding inconvenient memories that do not fit theory?
These questions have been aroused in the course of my presenting this memoire across a number of distinctly different academic institutions. I recall that I most recently took the latest incarnation of this memoire to a conference on Qualitative Inquiry in Illinois organssiaed by the luminary Norman Denzin (Denzin & Lincoln 1998, 2005) where it was allocated to an inquiry group entitled ‘Memory’. I inwardly resisted this classification at first, protesting to myself that this piece had more to say about categories such as autoethnography or psychogeography or performance than it had to inform this catch-all bucket called memory. However, I trusted the wisdom of the allocation process to discover that viewing this piece through the lens of memory has precipitated the growing realisation that the process of remembering and forgetting are inseparable from any consideration of narrative inquiry or of its many variants and offshoots. Futhermore it helped me understand that memory work hass a long and substantial heritage of theory behind it. Prior to Illinois this memoire had been on tour to Amsterdam for a conference on organisation story telling led by Yiannis Gabriel (2003), where the story of constructing this memoire proved to have resonance for the that audience. It was in Amsterdam that the story first moved off the written page to acquire a series of visual prompts that were used without any accompanying PowerPoint text or written text to allow me to extemporise my ‘storytelling’ in a fashion that would be congruent with the premise of the conference.
This slide show of somewhat randomised images were to receive a significant impetus when a presentation by Damien O’Doherty on his experiences of conducting a ‘psychogeography’ was to inspire me to re-interpret my solitary rambles around Bristol in similar form, as I detected many parallels between the two approaches. I was next to trial this psychogeographic rendition of the memoire at the Standing Crossing(the(Bridge:(an(exercise(in(autoethnography(((((((((((((((( Conference on Organisation Symbolism 2009 conference in Copenhagen where I was sufficiently encouraged by the feedback to develop this psychogeographic theme further.
From thence I took the piece to the more conventionally framed British Academy of Management for their 2009 Brighton conference, where I expected a more critical reception but was, in fact, afforded an appreciative space where participants were encouraged to engage in writing their own touching memoires. This time around I marketed the session as a workshop where my piece would serve as an example of ‘reflective practice’ and of ‘writing as inquiry’ (Richardson & St Pierre 2005; Richardson 1997), a positioning which seemed to hit the spot for this particular audience. I was also afforded the space to reflect on the role that ‘synchronicity’ (Jaworski 1996; Johnson 1998; Jung 1963, 1972; Markova 1992; OShrey 1996; Sheldrake 1984, 1988) and the concomitant notion of ‘flow’ (Csikzlemthalyi 1992) plays in the construction of discovery writing, a theme that has been playing strongly since my discovery of that phenomenon during my doctoral research.