1 Introduction

How do we know what we know, and how is that knowledge valued? Why is some knowledge deemed more valuable or valid than others? What if a person has multiple degrees, or even a university education? Is their knowledge more valuable? What if a person has not been formally trained on research methodologies? Do the person’s personal lived experiences still have value in their own academic research?

These were questions that arose in class discussions among undergraduates and a graduate student instructor in the context of learning about international justice mechanisms and the admissibility of evidence in international court proceedings, where we discussed hierarchies of truth and knowledge. We were wrestling with questions about the possibility of an objective truth, reliability of eyewitness and survivor testimony, and what justice means and to whom.

Out of these discussions, we realized how limited conventional citation guidelines were in recognizing and validating the full range of knowledge and experience students wanted and needed to bring to their research papers for the class. While academia has a strong tradition of in-depth interviews with “research subjects” in ethnographic research and autoethnography as an autobiographical form of writing and research, we wanted to acknowledge and address the power imbalance in these accepted forms of research. Ethnographic (or qualitative), interpretivist research is often seen as less objective or “valid” in disciplinary debates, whereas quantitative, positivist work is often seen as more objective and “pure.”[1] This hierarchy of knowledge production reinforces colonial practices, and western, white epistemologies.

We wanted to raise up the value and validity of personal interviews which we define as more informal conversations with friends, family, and neighbors, for example: the story that has been told around your dinner table for generations, or stories neighbors and family friends have shared for as long as you can remember. This type of “interview” is really more of a conversation and can be rich with context and cultural meaning, and deeply personal. These interviews are closely aligned with lived experience. The “interviewer” is in a unique position to be able to speak to this rich context in ways that more traditional ethnographic interviews by outsiders are not able to.

Similarly, we wanted to uplift and validate personal experiences beyond the traditional uses in autoethnographic research. This was motivated by Emily’s experience as a teaching assistant. She was grading a student’s paper about Latin America and the student failed to provide a citation for a historical event that was described in the paper. According to the grading rubric and conventional expectations, the student was supposed to lose points on the assignment. However, after speaking with the student, Emily learned that the student had lived through the event themselves. The expectation was that the student find a secondary or other primary source to cite, other than their own lived experience or those of their community. There was no convention for them to cite their own personal knowledge even though they lived through it. External sources were valued higher than the student’s own lived, embodied knowledge.

In order to address these concerns, we the authors created a set of guidelines for students to cite their own personal experience and personal interviews in academic research papers that allows for the inclusions of more diverse forms of knowledge production. While there are still arguably some concerns with the convention of citations in general, we wanted to give students and educators practical tools to adapting existing academic practices and expectations to include these traditionally less-valued forms of knowledge production and acknowledge the value of the lived experiences of students and their communities. We wanted to give students the opportunity to center their own knowledge and experience, as well as that of their community.

The first set of guidelines were used in 2018, created in direct response to student’s needs to cite personal experience and family interviews in their research papers. After the course,  Emily, the instructor, interviewed several of the students who used the citation guidelines for feedback and recruited 2 students (Emma and Jake) who had an interest in continuing to develop the guidelines, forming the team that continued to work for the next 4 years to create additional iterations of the guidelines, conduct interviews with students and professors, and search for additional research on development of citation guidelines. Through encouragement of several professors and research librarians, we decided to create this e-book to share the guidelines open source, providing an important tool for students, as well as a starting point for others to continue building, improving, and drawing from our work through a Creative Commons license. More traditional publishing platforms proved to be too limited, closed, and inflexible to meet our needs.

Our hope is that this guide to citing personal experience and interviews meets our goal of supporting students to produce their own knowledge, as well as honoring the academic value of their lived experience and the experiences of their families and communities. Through the use of a set of guidelines we created for students to cite personal experience and interviews, we found students self-reported increase in engagement and success in academic assignments. We propose this set of guidelines as an important practical tool for critical, feminist, and anti-racist pedagogy, as well as a method for teaching ethical research.

Scholars across disciplines are moving toward challenging the status quo in classrooms, and in research. In recent years, the movement to engage in anti-racist pedagogy has strengthened as the United States wrestles with legacies of colonization and racism which continue to permeate our ways of life in this country. Kyoko Kishimoto writes of the need for the practical application of critical race theory, not simply about what is taught in the classroom, but how it is taught. Kishimoto argues that anti-racist, feminist, and critical pedagogy “critique positivist assumptions of knowledge, of an objective universal truth which fails to acknowledge embedded Eurocentrism and male privilege.”[2]

Alongside the movement for anti-racist pedagogy, Indigenous ways of knowing have always challenged these ideas. It is inherent in Indigenous cultural practices like oral and embodied histories. The Indigenous Studies discipline challenges the traditional, rigid separation of “the researcher” and “research subjects.” Instead of the strict boundaries in research, scholars call for collaborative research that values diverse forms of knowledge production, and partnership. Kimberly TallBear writes about this approach as “standing with.” As TallBear argues, “standing with” seeks to build relationship based out of mutual care and concern.[3]

Broader discussion of citations guidelines for scholars has been actively developing. There are more tools now in 2022 than when we originally started this project back in 2018. Most disciplines encourage and value boundaries and distance between the researcher and the researched.[4] Further, researchers are discouraged from studying issues related to their own community.[5] However, there is a movement within Indigenous Studies and critical theory that values diverse forms of knowledge production.[6] There is a movement in various disciplines to value connections between researchers and communities, and collaborative projects.[7] There is an extensive body of literature that argues for a breakdown of this barrier as a way to decolonize research.[8] Some scholars write about the politics of citation, encouraging more inclusive and diverse conversations in the academe.[9] Scholars in education studies and critical pedagogy write about rethinking-knowledge production and citations as a way to address equity and racism.[10]

These guidelines explain and provide examples of how to cite personal experience, the proper structure of the citation, adapted from Chicago, APA, and MLA citation formats, and additional reading suggestions. This guide also provides information about how to cite personal interviews and conversations, including the importance of obtaining consent from the person you are interviewing. These guidelines are proposed in an effort to move toward decolonizing the classroom in a practical way by making space for diverse forms of knowledge production by people who have lived experiences in the contexts we study, but also to make space for the forms of knowledge production that students–along with their communities and families–create as valuable parts of their research.

Through a collaborative process of implementation and evaluation of the use of the guidelines, four outcomes emerged: students consider their own relationship to their research whether or not they use the guidelines; students think critically about all sources, not just those they cite; students bring their own passion and knowledge into the classroom; and students report increased engagement and success in class. As a result, we hope that the use of these guidelines, which foster student knowledge production and deep engagement with course material, can be an important way to decolonize the classroom, bring a diversity of voices into the classroom, and serve as an important tool for critical, feminist, and anti-racist pedagogy.

In the following sections, we will explain how we developed the guidelines and evaluated their impact on students’ academic research and assignments. We will also discuss our suggestions for using the guidelines based on student feedback, as well as areas for further research.

  1. Willard, Emily, doctoral dissertation program, class discussions, conversations with professors and classmates. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2015-2020.
  2. Kishimoto (2018), p. 541
  3. TallBear (2014)
  4. Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (1995); Gerring (2012)
  5. Willard, Emily, doctoral dissertation program, class discussions, conversations with professors and classmates. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2015-2020
  6. Kovach (2009); Tuhiwai-Smith (2012); Stoler (2006); Thomas (2015); Strega and Brown (2015)
  7. Bishop (1998); Moses et al (1984); Baumann (2019).
  8. Audra Simpson (2007), Stuart Hall (1996)
  9. Mott and Cockyane (2017); Tuck, Yang, and Gaztambide-Fernández (2015)
  10. Kindon and Ellwood (2009); Kishimoto (2018); Trott, McMeeking, and Weinberg (2019); Cammarota and Romero (2009)

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