Autoethnography and Existentialism: The Conceptual Contributions of Viktor Frankl

In: Journal of Phenomenological Psychology
Amber Esping Texas Christian University

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The author introduces the existential psychology of the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (1905‐1997). The article describes several theoretical ideas and perceptual metaphors derived from Frankl’s scholarship that make it useful as a philosophical and historical underpinning for the practice of autoethnography. Frankl asserted that each individual’s disposition (natural talents and limitations), situation (external circumstances), and position (freely chosen attitude toward disposition and situation) work together to create a uniquely valuable and incommutable individual perspective. This incommutability suggests that the value of autoethnographic social science is based on the opportunities derived from the particular, not the general. Frankl’s work also demonstrates that transsubjectivity is best facilitated when several autoethnographers take advantage of their unique combinations of disposition, situation and position rather than when a single autoethnographer tries to move into multiple positions simultaneously. Psychologists who publish autoethnography may find Frankl’s ideas and metaphors useful for conceptualizing and defending their own scholarship.

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