Heightened Performative Autoethnography

Resisting Oppressive Spaces within Paradigms

by William M. Sughrua (Author)
©2016 Textbook XI, 239 Pages
Series: Higher Ed, Volume 25


This book argues for – and carries out – what the author terms Heightened Performative Autoethnography (HPA). The common theme throughout the volume involves resisting oppressive and hegemonic spaces within paradigms, and hence seeking epistemological liberation. The text methodologically and conceptually situates this newly proposed variant of autoethnography, while contextualizing and justifying its «performed or enacted» theme involving resistance against the oppressiveness of paradigms. The book concludes with an analysis and commentary, demonstrating how this particular theme, and HPA as a research and writing repertoire, are able to meaningfully respond to the eighth moment of contemporary qualitative research, which calls for a critical and social justice agenda directed at empowerment, equity, liberation, and related issues. Heightened Performative Autoethnography could be used in upper-level undergraduate classes and graduate courses within the social sciences, humanities, and education, for courses on critical theory, contemporary research methodology, performative studies, narrative writing, and related subjects.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword by Norman K. Denzin
  • Part I: Constructing the Stage for the Performance
  • Chapter 1: An Overview
  • Chapter 2: On the Road to Heightened Performative Autoethnography: Halfway There: From Ethnography to Narrative Ethnography
  • Chapter 3: The Last Half of the Trip: From Autoethnography to Heightened Performative Autoethnography
  • Chapter 4: Paradigm Resistance Leading to Epistemological Liberation
  • Part II: The Performance
  • Chapter 5: The Pretender: A Challenge to Academic Writing
  • Chapter 6: Part One: West Town: An Inquiry into Space
  • Chapter 7: Part Two: West Town: An Inquiry into Space
  • Chapter 8: The Las Vegas Thesis
  • Chapter 9: Can I Have a Voice in the Nation’s Classroom?
  • Part III: Bidding Farewell from the Stage
  • Chapter 10: Coda: To Look Ahead
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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I express my deep gratitude to Norman K. Denzin for supporting this book project from its beginning to end. As well, I am very grateful to Christopher S. Myers, former Managing Director of Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., for all his support. I am equally grateful to Dr. Farideh Koohi-Kamali, Senior Vice President of Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. I also thank Bernadette Shade, Sophie Appel, and Stephen Mazur of Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Further, for facilitating an invigorating academic environment in which to teach and research, I acknowledge the PRODEP program of the Secretary of Public Education of Mexico, the CONACYT Department of the federal Mexican government, the central administration of Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO), the administration of the Language Department of the UABJO, and the Critical Applied Linguistics Research Group (CALAC) of UABJO, to which I belong. With regard to the last, my thanks go to my colleagues Mario E. López Gopar (head of CALAC), Vilma Huerta Cordova (member of CALAC), and María de los Ángeles Clemente Olmos (former head of CALAC). Those whom I have studied under and/or researched with and who in different ways have positively influenced my work and/or academic attitude, as reflected in these pages, warrant special mention: Adrian Holliday, John Kullman, Richard Smith, Shane Blackman, ← vii | viii → Christopher Anderson, Michael J. Higgins, Stephanie Vandrick, and Vance Bourjaily.

On a more personal level, I thank Aída Jacinta del Carmen Martínez, William Ismael Sughrua-Martínez, and Ximena María Sughrua-Martínez. I am also grateful to Thomas P. Sughrua for reading and commenting on a near-final version of the book manuscript.

In different form, Chapters 5, 8, and 9 were previously published as papers of my authorship. Chapter 5 appeared in Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 2011, 11(5): 483–497, Thousand Oaks, CA, SAGE Publications; Chapter 8 appeared in Qualitative Inquiry, 2010, 16(10): 819–836, Thousand Oaks, CA, SAGE Publications; and Chapter 9, in Qualitative Inquiry, 2013, 19(2): 131–143, Thousand Oaks, CA, SAGE Publications as well as (in slightly different form) in MEXTESOL Journal, 2006, 30(2), Mexico, D. F. Also, several parts of Chapters 6 and 7 previously appeared, in different form, within my individual contribution (footnotes) to a coauthored chapter included in Shaping Ethnography in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts (S. Marshall, A. Clemente, & M. Higgins, Eds.), Chapter 10, 2014, London, Ontario, Canada, Western University, The Althouse Press. Accordingly, grateful acknowledgment is made to SAGE Publications, MEXTESOL Journal, and Western University/The Althouse Press for permission to reprint this material in the present book.

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Norman K. Denzin

William M. Sughrua’s important new book, Heightened Performative Autoethnography, “is directed to ‘critically engaged’ researchers and scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and education” (Chapter 1, p. 1). It offers a social advocacy agenda for those who feel a “responsibility to address processes of unfairness or injustice within a particular lived domain” (Madison, 2012, p. 5; italics in original). This is a type of autoethnography in which the author-researcher “is a protagonist, character, witness narrator, or some such integral player within the evolving story to the extent that she/he becomes deeply engrained within the dramatic dimension of the paper, apparently more so than in other types of autoethnography” (Chapter 1, p. 6).

A decade ago the field of autoethnography was just gaining a foothold and had yet to be linked with the performance turn in anthropology and communication studies. Critical pedagogy was a literature onto itself, a branch of critical theory, with links to the Frankfurt School, Habermas, Gramsci, Paulo Freire, and Agusto Boal.1

Influenced by a call to rhetorical reflexivity that questions the writer’s so-called objective place in the text, a new autoethnographic turn has been taken. This has produced a proliferation of new writing forms, variations on performance writing, from fiction, to poetry, to sociopoetics, to ethnodramas. ← ix | x → Multiple forms of ethnography and autoethnography compete for attention—narrative, critical, collaborative, queer, global, grounded, situational, performative, feminist, decolonizing, meta, co-constructed. This is the space William M. Sughrua’s book fills.

All of these turns and writing forms place traditional concepts of performance, ethnography, narrative, meaning, voice, presence, and representation under erasure. Together they politicize the “interpretive, affective turn.” They open spaces for a focus on the body, trauma, memory, the emotions, the tyrannies of language, the economies of space, the post-technological body cut loose, in free-fall in a post-cyber universe.

In this space, theory turns back on itself, rereading itself through the biographical, the historical, and the ideological. A reborn critical theory is imagined. Strategies and tactics of resistance against a global geopolitical system of control are called for. The affective turn resists the war machine, untangling and re-doing nested relations of power, bodies, life, death, and desire. In this new political economy any person is at risk of arrest, of becoming a victim, a prisoner, at best collateral damage in a global space where performance principles and technological rationality regulate daily life.

We inhabit a performance-based, dramaturgical culture. Heightened performance autoethnography enters a racialized and gendered culture with nearly invisible boundaries separating everyday from theatrical, staged performances. Performance is always situated in complex systems of discourse, where traditional, everyday, and avant-garde meanings of theatre, film, video, ethnography, cinema, performance, text, and audience circulate and inform one another. Digital technologies, the new social media, and the endlessly multiplying forms of screen culture further erode the division between real and virtual realities.

These technologies have the potential of turning persons into zombie-like consumers of postmodern culture. It works both ways. With desire, money, technology, and minimal skills, persons can have an on-line presence, transforming themselves into objects of consumption and desire. Pick your site: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, My Space, Flickr, Word Press, Second Life.2 The meanings of lived experience are inscribed and made visible (“selfies”) in these performance sites where video and performance writing prevail. Virtual selves with their life stories and video performances are everywhere present.3 These cultural apparatuses constitute powerful forms of public pedagogy.

Heightened performance autoethnography is anchored in these performance sites. It begins with an ethical responsibility to address unfairness and ← x | xi → injustice. There is a desire to simultaneously create and enact moral texts that move from the personal to the political, the local to the historical and the cultural. These dialogical works create spaces for give and take, doing more than turning the other into the object of a voyeuristic, fetishistic, custodial, or paternalistic gaze.

We owe William M. Sughrua a huge debt for charting our way into this new space with his model of autoethnography. There is no turning back.

Norman K. Denzin


1. See Darder, Baltodanao, & Torres, 2003; Giroux, 2001, 2007; McLaren & Kincheloe, 2007; Sandlin, Schultz, & Burdick, 2010.

2. The technologies also include video and audio recordings made on smartphones, SKYPE encounters, discussions in on-line recovery groups, Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, and LinkedIn exchanges. These technologies allow persons in virtual communities to share information about themselves, their biographies, and their intimate experiences. Virtual selves have material presences in these electronic spaces.

3. Bypassing contemporary critics who challenge terms like voice and presence, indigenous persons in colonized spaces turn to oral history, myth, and performance narratives to make sense of their lives, themselves, and their collective histories (see Kovach, 2009; Smith, 2012).

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Permit me, first of all, to apologize. I realize the title of this book may seem dense and convoluted, weighed down by adjectives. For that, I beg your (the reader’s) pardon; and I also ask for your patience as I gradually unpack and explain concepts in this and the next three chapters comprising the first part of the book, “Constructing the Stage for the Performance.” This book is directed to “critically engaged” researchers and scholars in social sciences, humanities, and education, as well as related communities such as those of teachers, administrators, policy makers, and indeed the general public inclined to the issues raised herein. The adjective “critically engaged” refers to feeling “a responsibility to address processes of unfairness or injustice within a particular lived domain” so as “to make a contribution toward changing those conditions toward greater freedom and equity” (Madison, 2012, p. 5). When one acts upon, or desires to act upon, this felt responsibility by way of her/his academic work as a researcher, she/he takes on “issues of inequity and injustice in particular social moments and places” and thus embarks upon “a social justice agenda” (Denzin, 2014, p. x). For such “social justice-oriented” readers, this book hopes to inspire advocacy.


XI, 239
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
revolution Activism Post-colonialism Paradigms Hegemonic spaces
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XI, 239 pp.

Biographical notes

William M. Sughrua (Author)

William M. Sughrua (PhD, Applied Linguistics, Canterbury Christ Church University at the University of Kent, United Kingdom) is Profesor-Investigador Titular at the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, Mexico. He has published numerous articles on topics such as alternative academic writing, critical pedagogy, and qualitative research methodology.


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