Autoethnography

As a university student, we are often told that in order to obtain quality qualitative or quantitive data, we must remain externally observant and completely uninvolved with the subject. Autoethnography challenges this concept.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno),” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2010

As a process it is a method that employs both autobiography and ethnography. As an autobiographical practice, the method identifies epiphanies as points of understanding. As an ethnographic practice, the method studies cultural practices. Together, the findings portray a personal and emotive analysis. The product means the work is presented in a story like manner. This narrative structure does focus on communicating the truth. There are characters, scenes, events and plot progressions. The research presented aims to captivate the audience and share personal and interpersonal experiences.

Autoethnography’s use of such immersive methods has lead to academic debates. Potential criticism argue that it is not possible to understand a situation when one is a part of the setting, one is personally invested and therefore personal motives will interfere with research. Furthermore, there is a moral debate for relational ethics, specifically in regards to ensuring there is a healthy dynamic between all parties involved and matters of subject confidentiality.

Autoethnography argues that this personal expereince is exactly what enhances the research method. It is only through self reflection, self awareness and emersion into a setting that one can truly empathise, and in turn understand a subject. No two people will view or remember an experience, even a shared experience, in the same manner. The feelings and backgrounds of a subject are fundamental to understanding data. In the same way, the feelings and backgrounds of the researcher are just as influential. Autoethnography acknowledges this, but embraces that the individuals socio-cultural behaviours within a society shape perceptions, and reveal the essence of a subject – the researcher will only know this when close to or a part of the same subject.

Personally I value autoethnography for certain kinds of research, specifically when conducting qualitative cultural research. Sometimes being human means that sharing an experience is the only way to communicate.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

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5 comments

  1. This is a great understanding of the merits of autoethnography and I agree wholeheartedly with your closing sentiment sharing is the key to understanding and you just can’t get that with strictly empirical data I look forward to seeing how you apply Autoethnography to your research project 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was explained amazingly, so easy to follow and understand! I also appreciate that you included your own view on the topic.

    When it comes to more traditional research I think that having to remain impartial effects the information in a way that definitely can limit our understanding of certain events. While stating facts, it’s important to remain impartial but in the context of, say, history – history is there for us to learn from. I think autoethnography could deepen our understanding of history since it would enable us to have a more personal understanding of events and thus learn more from it.

    This post has definitely helped me understand the topic further, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The study of History from an ethnographic perspective is interesting – so much of history is emotional and often told from the view of ‘winners’. It is definitely a research area where ethnography is important!

      Like

  3. “the method identifies epiphanies as points of understanding.” I love this! It’s great to see how well you understand the eutoethnographic practice. You do a wonderful job of explaining how it is that we still get good data from using the autoethnographic method. And that last point of sharing experiences being a part of being human is just so well put.

    Liked by 1 person

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