Electronic Theses and Dissertations

A Performative Autoethnography on the Irruption of a Healing Assemblage

Katherine Cameron Brown

Data is provided by the student.


In this ecofeminist poststructural performative autoethnography, I explored my own personal journey through prolonged grief, conceptualized as a grief assemblage, while critically examining the functionality of preexisting thought and practices on loss and self-care. The research questions that guided this dissertation were: (1) Who and what constitutes a grief assemblage? (2) How does a grief assemblagea fluid entity of nonhumans and humans that somehow functions togetherproduce me as a woman, a graduate student, and a counselor? (3) How can a reconceptualization of grief as assemblage expand thinking and practices on loss, grief, and self-care? (4) How can an applicable, customizable tool arise from this work that can further the aim of helping others heal from grief and engage in self-care practices in therapeutic settings?I worked closely with ecofeminist poststructural theory and performative autoethnographic methodology and became enmeshed in a fluid process that interrogated the confines of traditional research studies. This enmeshment also generated interrogations of preconceived notions about binary systems supposedly separating self and other, life and death, and nature and culture, until these separations collapsed into constant movements along infinite lines of flight. As I assembled artifacts related to my experiences of grief, loss, and self-care, the assemblage continued to vibrate with the constant fluctuations at work among a myriad of forces, thereby necessitating that I think and work with data differently. St. Pierres (1997) transgressive data irrupted along these lines of flight as concrete artifacts, dreams, hauntings, memories, emotions, and performative knowledge through living the assemblage with my body. I employed writing as a method of inquiry (St. Pierre & Richardson, 2005) and analysis to assemble a rhizomatic narrative in which I showed the many identity performances I enact as a person who is simultaneously grieving and healing. I used photo-text to illustrate how the grief assemblage is becoming a healing assemblage. Just as the assemblage collapses, folds, vibrates, and performs constant movements, I found myself assembling, dismantling, and re-assembling the data into various configurations which culminated in the alternating pages of photographs and text as I conversed with my mother and all the other forces in the assemblage. I found that I am performing healing as I continue to move with the assemblage.To further the aim of social justice for others who are grieving and trying to heal in a world that is far too often focused on work and achievement at the expense of self-care, I created a healing-gram, which is a practical therapeutic tool mental health professionals can use with their clients. The healing-gram itself is an assemblage of artifacts with which grieving individuals become entangled as they work with their selected artifacts in empowering and creative ways. The healing-gram includes a protocol that serves as a standardized guide for therapists, yet which also honors the unique experiences and identity locations of diverse populations. I created this tool to bridge the gap between counseling-specific theories and practices about loss, grief, and healing, and poststructural thought. I conceptualize this work as an ongoing process that does not provide straightforward answers to questions such as those that guided this study. Instead, more questions continue to irrupt which I hope will lead to future studies and practices on these topics.