Treading gently between the wor(l)ds: autoethnographically exploring “strange dialogues” within the modern university

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, L10

Topic of the dissertation

Treading gently between the wor(l)ds: autoethnographically exploring “strange dialogues” within the modern university

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts (Education) Magda Karjalainen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Values, Ideologies and Social Contexts of Education

Subject of study



Doctor Jessica Moriarty, University of Brighton


Professor Elina Lehtomäki, University of Oulu

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Autoethnographic writing as an invitation to “strange dialogues” within higher education in times of crises and uncertainty

There is consensus on the key role of dialogue as an educational tool for building just societies, preventing conflicts and solving most pressing problems of the world. It is usually understood as a communicative process leading ideally to some form of mutual understanding. We only need sufficient knowledge and awareness of the cultural and linguistic factors that affect communication. What happens, however, if we question this view of dialogue and its main assumptions? What happens if we stop and ask whether it is at all possible and desirable to understand and know the other, including the non-human other? What happens when we think about dialogue not as a learning tool for managing diversity, but as a form of meeting that has no other objective beyond the meeting itself? What might happen to our educational praxis if we shift our mind-centered obsession with describing and analyzing, towards holistic listening to and being with the world? What might happen to our research practice and writing when we give body-mind-spirit equal voice?

This research engages with these questions through the author’s own professional and personal experiences as an international student, teacher and researcher at a Finnish university. It uses an autoethnographic approach to research and writing. The purpose is to critically explore the nature of the relationships that shape modern higher education, including the author’s relationship with herself. The author’s body-mind-spirit experiences play an essential role in this exploration, and shape the research as a process and product.

The dissertation is the story of dialogue-encounters that the author herself engages in, but it is also an invitation to such dialogue-encounters. The thesis pushes the boundaries of conventional, linear research writing. It experiments creatively with various forms of expression and structure. It employs poetic forms, inner dialogues, short stories, composite student voices in fictionalised meetings, and dance-poetry videos, created in collaboration with the multidisciplinary artist Hanna Ojala.

The main part of the thesis has a seasonal structure around the four seasons of a year in Finland. Each chapter has its own role and focus, but none can exist without the others. The reader can begin the journey at any season and follow the cycle. The dissertation asks the reader to let go of the need for immediate meaning-making and conclusions, and allow their heart, body and soul to be affected. It asks the reader to slow down, listen, wait and see what (if anything) might happen. It is an invitation to an encounter with what is, not necessarily with what should be. Readers can follow the author to the dance workshops, conference rooms, her lectures, or her old home city in Poland. They are taken to unknown places and are asked to find their own way. This may create a sense of uncertainty.

The thesis is messy and complex, but so is life. As such, this is a performative dissertation. It does not only tell but also does. It offers the reader an experience of the experience of a transformative process of coming to, going through and coming out of this inquiry. Autoethnography’s potential for personal and community transformation is one of the most promising paths to explore further. The pedagogical potential of autoethnography lies in its power to transform “self” in ways that may open up more genuine, caring, and, paradoxically, less self-centered ways of meeting and being with the world in times of crises and uncertainty.
Last updated: 23.1.2024