Understanding Autoethnography

While the term autoethnography is new to me, as I read further into Ellis’ work Autoethnography: An Overview I realised that I have sought out this kind of research subconsciously for a long time to be able to understand cultures that are very different from my own. Autoethnography is a combination of autobiography and ethnography. The combination of the two allow for a culture to be experienced and analysed through personal and interpersonal experiences. Ellis describes how autoethnographers select epiphanies that could only stem from being immersed in a culture and this is what differentiates autoethnography from other methods of research.

Recently I delved into various documentaries and books about North Korea to learn about the country, and more specifically, to try and gain an understanding of how the people of North Korea view the world and their own lives. The most engaging and eye opening of these were the ones that gave first-hand accounts of their experience and expressed their ideas and views about what they were experiencing. Essentially, these epiphanies are what connect us with a culture that others might not be able to experience first-hand. This particular series by Vice is one that engaged with the experience of the North Korean culture to present what they found and how it made them feel from a Westerners point of view.

Autoethnography doesn’t play by a set criteria making it more of a creative process than a scientific one. However, when it comes to understanding cultures a creative understanding allows the audience to connect more with the research. Ellis (2011) states that when using autoethnography the most important questions are –

Who reads our work?

How are they affected by it?

How does it keep a conversation going?

By answering these questions, autoethnographers set their own criteria based on the individual research. While autoethnography can be considered unreliable to some I think in ways it creates more value than traditional research through its emotional connections. Comparing different accounts and different research will help in gaining a holistic view of a culture. I am looking forward to engaging with autoethnography through my own project and allowing myself to let go of the objective method to research that I have become accustom to and explore my personal experiences.

 

Reference

ELLIS, Carolyn; ADAMS, Tony E.; BOCHNER, Arthur P.. Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, nov. 2010. ISSN 1438-5627. Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>

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4 comments

  1. It was great to see engagement with North Korea, and how you connected it as a clear example of the use of epiphanies as a part of research. More could probably be done to express your understanding of autoethnography by explaining the concepts and clarifying their importance to the process e.g. Why does the creative process allow audiences to better connect with the research?

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  2. It seems like you have a really good understanding of autoethnography. I agree that there is often more value in this kind of emotive research, rather than more traditional academic research. Autoethnography allows for the audience to connect and understand a culture better, and also creates a more reflective process. I think a individual’s learning becomes a lot more impactful when there is a personal or emotional connection between the researcher/author/narrator and the topic.

    Great post!

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  3. When exploring new cultures, I believe that it is near impossible to base your knowledge purely off information built upon indices and matrices. Like you said, the North Korean texts that provided first hand experiences and account struck you as a viewer on a deeper level. Because Autoethnography disrupts the relationship between information and researcher – outsiders become insiders. Without this binary between science and art, do you think we would still care about what is inside North Korea?

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  4. North Korea is an amazing example and would be a great autoethnographic study, such a different culture. There is a documentary on Netflix called ‘Into the Inferno’, it starts out as a documentary about volcanoes and then turns into a study of north Korean culture. The volcanologists get invited to collaborate with the North Korean scientists to study Mt Paektu, it is interesting to see how staged even the scientist have to appear to foreigners.

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