"That's just the breaks": the ethics and representation in non-fiction writing

Wolfe, Maria
Major Professor
Margaret Baker Graham
Dan Douglas
Charles Kostelnick
Committee Member
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The dissertation shares the results of an ethnographic research that investigated the production of a memoir written by a former Peace Corps volunteer, who spent two years teaching in a small town in eastern Russia. In her memoir, the author used private information (including real names) gathered from the participants---native and non-native speakers---and published a book for a general public, predominantly English-speaking readers in the United States. The book is being successfully sold online and adds to the long list of published Peace Corps memoirs.;The purpose of the project was to examine the ethical issues involved in the production and reception of this non-fiction narrative that had transferred real events and people into the public area of communication, through the processes of writing and publishing the memoir. Subjects of the research included the author of the book, the Russian participants, and the researcher herself, since she had lived and worked in the place described in the book during the time of the author's visit, knows the Russian participants, and participated in most of the events in the book. The research was guided by feminist methodology that included unstructured conversations with the participants, collaboration through the participants' reviews of the research drafts, and inclusion of multiple voices through non-traditional discourses (auto-ethnography, parallel story-telling, and a rhetorically constructed conversation).;The study was conducted under the influence of the cultural and professional communication ethnographic research, and poststructuralist and post-colonial criticism. The research investigated issues of intellectual capitalist production and the problem of the Other in contemporary qualitative research. It challenged the ethos of the Peace Corps by establishing links between the genre of a Peace Corps memoir and exploitation of the Other, capitalist production, and exercise in Western power. Given the "business" tools and vocabulary that the genre of Peace Corps memoirs has been using (online resources for successful publishing, workshops, sales and profits, etc.), the researcher argues that Peace Corps writing is an example of entrepreneurship and a highly rhetorical enterprise.