Research Output
Autoethnography, assemblage, and the lived/researched subjectivity of hiking "alone"
  This paper examines the complex production of “aloneness” as subjectivity, considering lived experience, multimedia Instagram/Facebook texts, and academic writing. The context is hiking and camping/bothying “alone” and, in particular, hiking alone as a fat, middle-aged, queer woman. Although I go “alone” in a practical sense — self-reliant; mitigating risk, carrying everything with me— the scare quotes speak to the impossibility of extracting myself from relations of exteriority whose components are irreducible to functionality. That is, we are all, always, part of assemblages comprising human and nonhuman agency, meaning, and affect. This problematizes the lone self at the heart of autoethnography. Erin Manning (2013:26) explores how non-human agency permeates one’s “own” experiences: Take the example of a snake in the context of a phobia. Wandering through the desert, everything is felt as the force of snakeness. There is no rustling that does not elicit fear. But this is fear even before it can be defined. It is in the edginess of pace, the tenseness of posture. It alters how each step is taken. Every quick movement —lizard, wind, fly—activates a certain bodying that attends, intensively, to an environment in the making. If ‘snake phobia’ is replaced with ‘awareness’ and ‘politics’ and ‘(non-)representation’, this excerpt describes the markedness of the subjectivity that is produced when I hike “alone”. Further, within the assemblage of my putative “aloneness” there are deer ticks, peat bogs, hi/storied bothies, body-normative hikers (and their sometimes odd looks; their comments), online and other discourses of hiking and the outdoors, and a world of contested meanings. You never really do walk alone. The paper operates on two levels. First, it is an exemplar of critical autoethnography, written narratively and aimed at critiquing the politics of embodiment, gender, and outdoor mobilities. Second, it interrogates a central qualitative methodological problem: the socially and environmentally situated ‘self’ at the heart of autoethnography. Such contestations of the “I” cause Gale and Wyatt (2013) to propose essemblage/ethnography, while Murray (2022: 493) playfully reverses the elements when she coins ethno-autography. This paper adds to this conversation, troubling the stable selfhood assumed by autoethnography. The human subjectivity literature exists as a continuum between existentialism and ever emergence. At the existential end, people have an unchanging essence that transcends context; at the opposite end, Deleuzean subjectivity is “a changeable possibility, continuously arising and folding back” (Tamas, 2013). Between these extremes, Bourdieu (1990) posits that social inculcations produce coherent ‘selves’ within which rule-governed actions are attributable to habitus: evolving dispositional ‘defaults’ that we think of as selfhood. Here, I lean towards Deleuzean ever-emergence while holding onto habitus: the ‘me’ that hikes and camps “alone” brings stable orientations (Ahmed, 2006), running through me like the lettering through a stick of Blackpool rock. Thus my “auto” ethnography walks with the contextual and the co-textual: the “also-me” (non-hiking identities, past and present), the “not-me” (other hikers; non-human parts of trail assemblages), as well as the more obvious “fat-woman-hiking me”.

Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Durham NC & London: Duke University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Gale, K. & Wyatt, J. (2013). Assemblage/Ethnography. In N. P. Short, L. Turner, & A. Grant, A. (Eds) Contemporary British
autoethnography: Studies in professional life and work (pp.139-156). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Manning, E. (2013). Always more than one: Individuation’s dance. Durham NC: Duke University Press.
Murray, F. (2022). Researching the taboo: Reflections on an ethno-autography. In T. E. Adams, S. Holman Jones, & C. Ellis (eds)
Handbook of autoethnography (2nd edition) (pp.493-504). London & New York: Routledge.
Tamas, S. (2013). Who’s there? A week subject. In S. Holman Jones, T. E. Adams, & C. Ellis (Eds) Handbook of autoethnography
(186-208). Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    11 January 2023

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Stanley, P. (2023, January). Autoethnography, assemblage, and the lived/researched subjectivity of hiking "alone". Paper presented at European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, Portsmouth, UK



autoethnography; assemblage; subjectivity; hiking; fat studies

Monthly Views:

Available Documents