Self-analysis – meta autoethnography

Self-analysis is never particularly easy. Being asked to analyse my own writing, my own autoethnographic account of Sita Sings the Blues in my last post, leaves me confused an very aware of myself in this endeavour. I am both my own greatest critic and blind to my flaws – I lack a fresh set of eyes with which to give constructive criticism, but the right set to compare myself to my imagined desired self.

Ellis et al. describes doing autoethnography as reflecting on past experiences, using instruments such as a field journal to accompany hindsight. In my autoethnographic process, specifically in experiencing Sita, Twitter acted as my field journal. Live tweeting my reaction to the film allowed me to retroactively track my feelings, thoughts, and reactions chronologically, recall which reactions were to which scenes, and importantly, interact with other students during the process. Embedding my tweets in my blog also allows me to directly address my feelings and examine them in-depth, and follow up on research questions that I asked during the viewing.

Ellis et al. says “When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.” While watching and while writing about Sita, my background as a strongly-minded feminist really framed some of my questions, particularly about the value of women across cultures. It led to the epiphany that the construct of women’s value being based on their virginity or modesty is not really rooted in religion – it’s not unique to Abrahamic religions if it’s found in Hindusim too, is it? My still-standing question of the origin/basis of the universality of this value system is still at large, and is indeed too large for this particular research task.

In writing my blog I was able to reflect on my feelings and questions, and attempt to find some guidance. I also did further research into the film-maker’s motivations, feelings, and processes while authoring the text. Her view, as expressed on the film’s website, that an honest and respectful approach to other cultures was important when considering your own feelings towards cultural texts really affected my own feelings and concerns about my writing and questions.

Autoethnography: An overview consistently refers to autoethnographic writing as evocative, as powerful storytelling, of blending research and personal experience. I don’t know if my own writing can meet that very high benchmark. I believe my account of Sita is self-reflective, but evocative, powerful? Possibly with more practice. However, I would heap all of those adjectives and praise on Paley and her text. As I attempt to analyse my own autoethnography, I’m realising that’s exactly what Sita Sings the Blues is – an autoethnographic work that blends cultural research with personal experience. Hopefully this epiphany will guide me in my own autoethnographic project.

In my project I plan to conduct interviews with international students from different parts of Asia to learn about foods that are important to their culture and that are culturally important to them.

I lived in southeast Asia when I was in primary school, some 12 years ago now. Some memories are growing fuzzier as I grow older, and eating the foods from my time there is so important to me to reconnect with those roots of mine. Similarly, I left South Africa, the country where I was born, very young. I don’t speak Afrikaans, and only visit every few years. The uniquely South African foods that fed my childhood (and motivate my trips to my mom’s house now) are my strongest connection to a South African identity.

Through my research I hope to collect some of the stories and personal experiences of food as culture. Then I’ll attempt to recreate those recipes for a YouTube series in a bid to experience some part of that culture. Through this multi-faceted project I hope to blend Ellis et al.’s decription of interactive interviews and personal narrative to provide a meaningful autoethnographic account and build upon what I’ve learned and developed so far.

References

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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