My understanding of autoethnography

Falling into a habit of autoethnography for this subject is probably something I’ll have to get used to. Studying a bachelor of journalism, objectivity has been drilled into me relentlessly. Bias in journalism is frowned upon. The core of journalism is to report on hard facts and deliver the truth to the public. I did one class that focused on narrative journalism, a form of journalism that concentrates on emotive, narrative storytelling of true events. Sometimes the writer will put themselves in the story, reflecting on their own thoughts and experiences to further engage a reader’s understanding. But otherwise, news journalism relies strongly on unedited facts and straight-to-the-point writing structure. I’ve learnt not to write that someone believes something to be true, only to write what they have blatantly stated.

Autoethnography appears to be somewhat more accepting of our own revelations combined with meticulous research to explore a culture.

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” – Autoethnography: An Overview (Ellis et al., 2010)

My understanding of autoethnography from Ellis’ account is that its a form of research where the researcher explores their own experiences as a focus of investigation. By sharing the researcher’s personal reflection of a culture they engage the reader. Whilst hardcore journalism may be separate from the autoethnography that Ellis describes I think some of the best journalism uses the process of autoethnography to capture both the factual and emotional aspects of a story, such as documentaries and literary novels. Sometimes the author or narrator places themselves in the storyline, including their thoughts and experiences of what is happening. Often they will have ‘epiphanies’, something which Ellis says are commonplace in autoethnographic research.

An example of this is the documentary series, States of Undress, which follows Hayley Gates as she explores global fashion and beauty standards and their relation to political and social issues such as gender and race. Her personal epiphanies are woven throughout the narrative, creating transformative moments.

Autoethnography allows the researcher to create a link between the reader and the content, further engaging the audience through their own transformative experiences.

Autoethnography can be cleverly used to promote cultural awareness or give voice to an issue or community that previously may not have been heard. However, autoethnohgraphy is often criticised by the social sciences. Ellis writes that, “autoethnography is criticized for either being too artful and not scientific, or too scientific and not sufficiently artful.” As such, many remain skeptical of it. However, as Ellis argues, autoethnography challenges the distinct binary between science and art, believing that research can be both analytical and emotional.

I think autoethnography can be done in keeping with truth, and as such is a powerful form of research that combines emotive storytelling of experiences with analytical examination of a culture. The researcher’s own epiphanies will hopefully cause the audience to reflect on the topic themselves.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A., 2010. Autoethnography: An overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [online] 12(1). Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095&gt;.

via My understanding of autoethnography —

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6 comments

  1. I find that your blog is very interesting when you draw on how to write in journalism and how to do/ write autoethnography. You stated Ellis’s sentence as a topic sentence and provide some prove or your own points of view. You did discussed about why autoethnography is criticised but I dont agree that autoethnography can be a powerful tool. Sharing the same ‘bias’ as the criticised, I think that it is very difficult to know if the writing is based on a true story or has been exaggerated to support the view of the writer. Moreover, in order to make an analytical examination of cultures, I think it will be more convincing if you have data or based on what has been researched on. I am sorry if my comment might sound offensive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not offensive at all! That’s a valid point. My understanding of autoethnography is that personal experiences/stories enhance analytical research and vice versa. Personal stories on their own would be impossible to be classified as unbiased, however when combined with appropriate academic research it gives personal experience credibility and becomes a powerful tool in engaging audiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve made a solid point about a habit of writing and researching very constructively without bias, and breaking against it with ethnographic practice. You’ve drawn connections between personal narrative ethnography and States of Undress, which tie together the points you’ve raised about the narrator placing themselves in the storyline.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jarrah,
    I love how you’ve contrasted the stoic objectivity of journalism with the artful practice of ethnography. I myself have only completed one journalism subject and I struggled immensely in maintaining an objective lens, so much so that I ended up changing majors! I’m really looking forward to following your research to see how you make sense of autoethnography with such a strong journalism background.
    You wrote “I think autoethnography can be done in keeping with truth”. I’d like to add to this; the truth in storytelling is exceedingly complex. What defines the truth when we write subjectively? There are a variety of criteria which determine truth for a person, including their biases and experiences. It’s also interesting that oftentimes two people with a shared experience will recount them very differently. I wonder if you’ve come across this before in your journalism interviewing? How did you combat this? This webpage discusses the philosophy of truth further if you’re interested (https://philosophynow.org/issues/86/What_Is_Truth).
    Great read!
    Claire 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I agree that deciding what the truth is can be complex. Perhaps by presenting multiple accounts from various people – even if their views contradict one another – in combination with facts it allows the audience to decide what they believe to be the truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow that documentary looks amazing, I think you’ve picked a really powerful example! When we’re talking about epiphanies in auto-ethnography, I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on how closely this is mirrored in documentaries. Documentaries like this follow the process of auto-ethnography to a T! They still somehow follow a strict guideline, objective and unbiased as they show the situation (like our traditional journalism viewpoint) whilst revolving around one persons journey of understanding. In a way, its a perfect balance, and life story documentaries have a power to make us be in their position as well. I remember watching one about a lion sanctuary, and the story of this small group of people trying to save a lion and build a sanctuary for him and more, and the lives of the people who had committed everything to one lion. It must have worked because i still damn well think about that cute lion and all the people that cared for him.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed your piece here, it was very well put together with a great example!

    Like

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