When first glancing at the required reading for autoethnography by Ellis et al. I was a little bit concerned about the length of what I hoped would simply be a definition. However, my concern was unnecessary. While, admittedly, I did have to read quite a few sentences a few times it became a quite interesting read (in no small part due to the division of the text into sub-sections). Slowly but surely, I began to grasp the concept.
“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).” (Ellis et al., 2010). This style of research honestly excited me because it is not the standard statistical analysis or trawling through sources for data, this style of research creates a personal connection between the case and the researcher and encourages the researcher to engage themselves in the context of the study, instead of the standard forms of observation. This particularly excited me because I’ve always enjoyed immersing myself in environments I’m not accustomed to, through living in multiple other cultures or simply going to events where I wouldn’t normally go.
Reading this piece made me realise that I have been mentally doing informal ethnographic studies since my late teens, when I truly embraced backpacking. While I very rarely documented any findings, reading through old diary entries made me realise that some of the major things I commented on were different customs and my want to find out more. I often documented common traits I found in groups from particular areas and always tried to make friends with locals to try and see the true facets of their society and people. When in Romania I lived in a student loft with a girl I met joined her for New Year’s Eve in the Romanian mountains where I learnt about the problems about being gay and female in former Soviet countries. When Laos I went hiking with some local men I made friends with and stayed in their village, gaining a much more in depth understanding of the living conditions in rural South East Asia. I was, unknowingly, conducted minor ethnographic studies in many of the countries I have been.
The fondness of this style for its lack of statistical analysis, however, also adheres to Ellis’ acknowledgement of the criticisms surrounding autoethnography. Ellis notes “autoethnography is criticized for either being too artful and not scientific, or too scientific and not sufficiently artful.” The main point I retain from that criticism is that some scientists see the benefits in completing autoethnography studies and some do not. I can see why studies focusing on the experiences of an individual person can be limited in terms of data but I believe that the personal data gained would be unparalleled.