Unaware Autoethnographer

 

laos

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.

 

 

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7 comments

  1. This was so easy to read as you related your own experiences against traditional autoethnographic methodology, something we’ve all probably done before without realizing! You can see clearly where you’ve drawn parallels between personal diary entries formed via opinion, against autoethnography’s lack of statistical analysis. This is what makes autoethnographic accounts so interesting though – it’s going against all the norms of traditional concise research.

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  2. I think such rich experiences are perfect to create auto-ethnographic product. However being able to recall and combine anecdotes; in such a way which is not only ethical, but coherent and intriguing is where the value lies. It would be interesting for a project idea for you to build on your diary of Laos and delve deep into understanding the context of your experiences. A good read.

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  3. Dude, this is great. Personal autoethnographic reflections are always very interesting, especially when you didn’t even realise you were making these judgements. South East Asia is a gorgeous place, rich with culture and liveliness. And when you’re able to empathise with other human beings, no matter where they live, you’re effectively being an ethnographer.

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  4. It’s funny in a way that you initially felt distant to the concept of autoethnography, and yet you were quite literally mentally undergoing it. It’s interesting that your interactions in Romania and Laos are the first stories that jump out at you, as in many ways these are the “epiphanies” that were mentioned in the reading. How did they make you feel? Did the stories change your outlook on the world?

    These are all key autoethnograhic questions, that arise from these initial epiphanies. Would be fascinating to see you go deeper into this backpacking experience in further blog posts, discussing what you took from it!

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  5. I really enjoyed reading about your unintentional autoethnographic research! Engaging in self-reflexivity and attempting to empathetically understand the lives of others is undoubtedly a critical element of autoethnography. Perhaps these past epiphanies you’ve had during your travels will help guide the research you conduct in DIGC330? Good luck synthesising and balancing your personal experiences with research, I look forward to seeing your major project!

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  6. Without realising it, you have undergone epiphanies– like an insight into the life of being “gay and female in former Soviet countries”–which could have impacted your world view. Drawing on these moments are at the heart of the autoethnographic methodologies. According to Ellis, autoethnographers take their field notes (i.e your diary) and then describe its characteristics “using storytelling techniques” to help others understand.

    You raised the concerns of this methodology as being not scientific enough due to the limitations of data. I found a blog that analyses this issue further and could be useful to build upon your argument. This blog, (https://decolonizingresearch.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/the-importance-of-autoethnography/) notes the concern as a product of perspective– where different ways of thinking provide different meaning to the field notes–thus altering how the experience is conveyed to others.

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  7. We might all have undergone auto-ethnography in some sort of form. That was what I thought when I wrote my blog post. Not everyone can be an auto-ethnographer, but an auto-ethnographer can be anyone. Bringing auto-ethnography into academics is extremely important as it teaches us how to watch, listen and care, which later leads to understanding. In the end, it creates empathy in the society.

    Though you didn’t document your experience when you were in Asia, you can still use the result of your experience as a base for your project. Eg, if your experience created a conception about Laos, maybe use that conception to look at another culture through the eyes of an Aussie. Overall, nice post!

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