Autoethnography in social justice

Research through storytelling – personal experiences, histories, and stories combine with thoughtful collection and research methodology in autoethnography.

Autoethnography is an approach to researching cultures that focuses on personal experience to explore, illustrate, and research cultural phenomena or artifacts. It engages the personal experiences of the researcher and the personal thoughts and experiences of cultural member to provide a human and intimate view of culture, according to Ellis et al (2011).

Autoethnography: An Overview (Ellis et al 2011) is an introduction to help us understand what autoethnography is, why it’s used, and how to do it usefully and respectfully. Frankly, I’m still a little confused – part art, part research, part social science, and wholly difficult for me to visualise at the start of this venture.

As a feminist and self-described liberal, for me, this text brought to mind the writings of prominent social justice activists, particularly as they attempt to discuss issues like disability, race relations, or gender inequality.

When the authors of Autoethnography: An Overview talk about how authors use “personal and interpersonal experience” and stories to discern patterns in cultures and “help facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders,” my mind goes to the fantastic writings that have helped me understand the social issues I care about through the eyes of those experiencing them. Similarly, when trying to discuss feminism with my small-country-town, blue-collar-tradie boyfriend, I’ve learned the best way to get him to understand the reality of the problems facing women is to tell him what I’ve been through.

Autoethnography, as I understand it right now (and this may change as I go along) seeks to make research accessible and help readers empathize by humanising the culture, experience, or issue it’s discussing.

Ellis et al also talk about acknowledging your own bias and experience as a researcher, and recognising how it colours your research, rather than pretending to be totally impartial, cold, and scientific. For example, as a feminist, I will constantly ask “where are the women?” My personality and my history affect the questions I ask and the things that excite me when I do research – Autoethnography says that this is not just OK, but it can be useful.

While I anticipate many more questions and redefinitions of this style of research, Autoethnography has helped me draw a parallel between an academic field and a style of writing that has sparked outrage over so many social issues and causes and motivated me personally.

 

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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2 comments

  1. I really appreciate how personal you’ve made this look into autoethnography. It’s clear that you’re embracing the particularity that the autobiography side of autoethnography involves. By including the personal elements like your feminist beliefs and how you convey them (like to your boyfriend), you’ve given us a look at how your views will shape your later research.

    Like

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