Autoethnography

Autoethnography and Me

“…Scholars began recognizing that different kinds of people possess different assumptions about the world” (Ellis et al, 2011).
I believe that this is, at it’s core, what autoethnography aims to reveal.

When I first heard the word autoethnography I was excited. I’m a fan of etymology (the study of words and their roots) and as such I like to take apart words. I know auto refers to ones self or the ability to do things on their own, such as in autobiography and automobile. I also knew that ethnos refers to nations of groups of people, and that the –ography suffix is about the study of such things. So putting that together, autoethnography is about the study of the self, combined with/in the context of a group of people, or something like that.

Chris told us that it’s also a portmanteau of autobiography and ethnography, meaning we’ll be looking heavily at ourselves and using qualitative data to do our research. I find this particularly interesting as I’ve always been taught that “facts don’t care about your feelings”. While I like that phrase, I’m not sure I’ve ever fully believed it, as it’s pretty noticeable in the world that the world is full of assumptions and “rules” based upon how people react to certain elements.

I believe that autoethnography is about finding that personal reaction to another culture. It’s about studying the culture, not from afar with a telescope, or up close under a microscope, but by using your own eyes to really feel the culture.
I think autoethnographic research is going to be a welcome breathe of fresh air for me. Having hated Math in high school because it was too “there is only one answer”, yet also not enjoyed English because I had to pander to how the teacher wanted me to write, I think I’m going to enjoy expressing my own views and experiences, regardless of what is “right” or “wrong”.

eSports on the world stage

This month Valve hosted its annual Dota 2 International, hosting qualifiers and then the main event over 2 weekends, with a total prize pool of over $24 million. I know all of this because my boyfriend went missing in the middle of the night for 2 weekends in a row (but more than made up for his absence later). I already knew that professional gaming or ‘eSports’ was a big industry, with a whole world of spin-off industries like streaming or ‘casting’. What I didn’t know was that it’s an industry worth almost $900 million annually (and growing), or how seriously the gamers at the top take their careers.

State of Play follows the life and career of Starcraft megastar Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong, shining a light into the intensity of life as a professional gamer in South Korea. The documentary catches the drama and emotion of the players in a way that makes them accessible and human, despite their elite status and unorthodox careers. As we watched, I was blown away by the dedication these guys (even today, eSports is male-dominated) put in – leaving home young to move into corporate-sponsored team houses, training 12 hours a day.

only 12

intense training

But these players know that’s what it takes to get to the top – Jaedong was widely considered one of the best players in Starcraft before his retirement in 2016.

I grew up in south-east Asia, so the intensity and commitment shown by the players in this doco, as well as the blow to their pride and loss of face from failure, is something I understand. This documentary got me wondering why esports is perceived as a uniquely Asian phenomenon? Who are the top players? Who are the most avid viewers? Who are the biggest fans? State of Play shone a spotlight on the fangirls who flocked to gaming superstars – their love, their gift-giving, and their loyalty really tugged on my heartstrings.

Ji Sun

 

Well, 190 million people tune in to follow their favourite eSports every year, most often to watch League of Legends or DOTA 2. Those viewers come from all around the world (and wake up across all time zones to tune in). In LoL, Asian teams still dominate, but 3 of the top 10 teams come from the USA or Europe. In DOTA 2, which has larger prize pools, 6 of the top 10 teams come from Europe or the USA. In both games, commentators, or casters, come from all over the world to accommodate a global viewership in multiple languages.

While the popularity of gaming as eSports spawned in Asia, technology and passion have converged to make it a massive worldwide industry.

Autoethnography: great in theory, confusing in reality

By the end of this weeks class I think it is safe to say that most people left more confused than when they arrived.

I for one most certainly was.

In theory, I (think) understand autoethnography.  Autoethnography aims to take note of personal experiences of a culture other than your own. By reflecting on ones own socialisation, an autoethnographer seeks to better understand the culture of another.

When Chris talks through the theory and after reading the Ellis reading I thought to myself “yeah okay, no worries. I can do this”.

For sure I can think about my own socialisation and how that has affected my worldview. Sure after acknowledging my cultural framework I can proceed to experience a culture quite unlike my own with absolute no judgement or other-ing thoughts.

However… when the class began to discuss this notion and what it practically meant, my confidence was shot.

A class member brought up an article about a Japanese man and his sex doll. I had recently read a similar article myself as I have been contemplating studying something around Japanese dolls. As I listened to Chris and this class member discuss the problematic tendency to judge and then to understand where that judgement comes from, I realised the very real challenges of this kind of research.

By nature I can be an extremely judgemental person and often the thoughts come without thinking about why. This lead me to thinking about how judgement or experiencing the unknown can lead to a sense of ‘other-ness’ for the new cultural experience.

I feel that this will be my most significant issue when undertaking my autoethnographic research. As discussed in class, research does not exist in a vaccum and comparisons from what I believe I know or feel will undoubtedly effect the research that I undertake and I am curious to what degree I will be able to identify that.

 

Autoethnography

Autoethnography is undeniably a big word. Which is why initially I was pretty intimidated by it. However, breaking it down with the help of the 2011 text ‘Autoethnography: an overview’ by Carolyn Ellis, Tony Adams & Arthur Bochner and class discussions essentially helped me achieve a good understanding of the term. Simply put, autoethnography is where an individual uses their own personal experiences in order to comprehend cultural understandings.

After establishing this understanding I then applied the term to my own life and realised something pretty extraordinary. Without even knowing it I have been an active autoethnographer for the three years I have download-1.jpgbeen at University. By starting my personal WordPress blog I have been using my own experiences to understand other cultures. However, the biggest struggle I have found with autoethnography is achieving an equal balance between self-perspective and research or in other words the equal balance between artful and scientific. This balance comes from within the word itself. Autoethonography derives from two separate words- autobiography and ethnography. Autobiography can make a text artful by using various authorial points of view. Ethnography brings scientific descriptions into a text and can rely on other people’s research and experiences.
Personally, I have always preferred relying on research to back my argument. But what I have recently come to understand is that you need your own experiences in order to generate epiphanies. From these we can then apply research and methodology to analyse these experiences.

According to Ellis’ text “Autoethnographers must not only use their methodological tools and research literature to analyze experience, but also must consider ways others may experience similar epiphanies; they must use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders. To accomplish this might require comparing and contrasting personal experience against existing research.” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, p.g. 2)

I hope to try and apply this understanding in my future research and attempt to achieve this balance.

Reference:

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

Authenticity in Autoethnography?

When Chris Moore dropped the ‘A-bomb’ in class a couple of weeks ago my face remained deadpan and expressionless. It was due to my naivety and unfamiliarity to the word that left me more or less indifferent to it’s meaning. However, within the coming weeks I would understand that  ‘Autoethnography’ is a useful tool in my research.

‘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, Adams & Bochner, 2010

Exploring the ‘unknown’ is both new as it is exciting. Traditional researchers often observe without any real engagement, this leads to limited understanding of cultural context. Misunderstandings between the ‘researcher’ and ‘researched’ through cross-cultural communication can be prevented by autoethnography.

Autoethnography challenges the preconceived assumptions one makes about what is ‘authentic’. During this week’s screening of Akira (1988) there was an ongoing debate about the use of dubbing. Many saying that accommodating for a Western audience almost limits the experience. As authenticity is concerned with the truthfulness of origins, attributes, commitments, and intentions. When it is applied to a culture, anything that doesn’t register as ‘authentic’, is dismissed as ‘fake’ or unreliable. This perpetuating generalisations and limiting room for growth.

Language transfers knowledge. In my own experience, the use of subtitles has opened up a world of understanding. So giving them an English voice, enables a wider audience to experience, observe and question the text.

Being self-reflective is crucial as an autoethnographer. When I was learning Japanese back in first year, I found it super helpful to have peers to study with. This ensured we were engaged but also allowed us to share travel stories, anime we had been watching or food during our breaks. The more time invested in immersing ourselves in these practices, led to a better understanding of the culture. One of the highlights during this period was picking up on passing conversations. ‘Eavesdropping’ on a conversations about a ‘delicious hamburgers’ and trying to contain my excitement because I could understand the context. However, when I lost enthusiasm for the language, these experiences were less consistent.

There is a real fear of cross-cultural ‘contamination’ that comes with the practice of autoethnography. As personal experience influences this research process, it is regarded as detrimental to epistemics. Subjectivity is unavoidable, and as Chris put it, Asia is already in Australia and Australia is already in Asia (2017).

ELLIS, C. ADAMS, T.E. BOCHNER, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1,
http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

MOORE, C (2017) “Global Flow.” Digital Asia. University of Wollongong, Wollongong. Prezi.

REED-DANAHAY, D (1997). Introduction. In D. Reed-Danahay (Ed.), Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social. (pp. 1–17). Oxford: Berg.

WIKIPEDIA (2017). Carolyn Ellis. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolyn_Ellis

Take a Look at Yourself

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The first step in autoethnographic research is taking a look at yourself, and understanding that everything that has happened to you makes you who you are, and impacts how you see the world around you. The second step is accepting that you can’t do anything to change that.

I’m sure the majority of people that read this, (my fellow DIGC330 students) are probably a little tired of reading the definition of autoethnography given in the Ellis reading (for everyone else, click the link in my references, it presents a vastly superior explanation of what auto ethnography is), so instead I’ll give my best go at a definition. Autoethnography is an approach to the research of human cultures, in which the researcher immerses themselves in that culture, and uses self-reflection to explore their own personal experience, while linking that with other qualitative research.

My first experience with autoethnography was last year in another one of my classes, Research Practices in Media and Communication. It was love at first sight. It just made so much sense to me, as much as anyone tries to be perfectly unbiased and analytical in qualitative research, it is an impossible task as a human being. Knowing that, isn’t it better to be open in showing where your potential biases are, and more importantly challenge your own thinking.

As I was thinking about autoethnography this week, I remembered doing modern history in year 11, and my teacher consistently writing on my assignments, “You need to include blah.” (Obviously she didn’t actually say blah) I had assumed that I didn’t need to include certain information because I figured it was common knowledge. This was the first time I really thought about how people had different backgrounds, and how that impacts a person.

I’m super keen to conduct my own piece of autoethnographic research on Japanese stand-up. I absolutely love stand-up comedy. I probably watch at least three new specials a week. If I had to go on mastermind stand-up would be my specialist subject. In saying all of this though, the comedians I’ve watched are mostly from America, the UK, and Australia, so I’m curious to expand my horizons through my research on stand-up in Japan. How is it different to what I’ve already seen? What are the topics/themes? What style of comedy is predominant? How popular is it? These are all things I hope to figure out in my research.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

Autoethnography: My Understanding

The concept of autoethnography makes me challenge almost every ideal I’ve been taught during my school years. As a journalism student, we are taught to avoid bias and remain as impartial to the research and ideas explored in every article we write. We have to, to the best of our ability, provide both sides of every story for audiences to make up their own mind. Autoethnography allows me to challenge that notion and explore how I perceive particular experiences and instances. As mentioned in Ellis’ Autoethnography: An Overview, authors often find it therapeutic to write personal stories as it helps to make sense of ourselves and our experiences (Ellis et al, 2011). By taking an auto ethnographic approach, authors are also able to question themselves to improve and understand relationships and promote change (Ellis et al, 2011).

The first time I saw the term autoethnographic, I was beyond confused. A quick Google search told me that it was a form of qualitative research used to explore personal experiences, while connecting to a wider meaning. Without any context to what we would be exploring in DIGC330, I still wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant. Ellis et al (2011) explained that autoethnography is made up of two research methodologies: autobiography (a history of a person’s life written or told by that person) and ethnography (a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures).

Through this new (for me) form of research, I understand that there will be a fine line between being too personal and not critical enough and being too critical and unattached and not personal enough. One of the main critical responses to autoethnography is that it can be ‘too artful and not scientific, or too scientific and not sufficiently artful.’ (Ellis et al, 2011).

‘We know that memory is fallible, that it is impossible to recall or report on events in language that exactly represents how those events were lived and felt; and we recognize that people who have experienced the “same” event often tell different stories about what happened’ (TULLIS OWEN et al., 2009).

The quote above really caught my eye during the reading as no two people will feel exactly the same about any experience. Thoughts, feelings and backgrounds are just a couple of the factors that impact how each individual sees the world and how they experience anything.

I will be continuing my autoethnographic research by exploring the popularisation of brush lettering, while drawing on the history of calligraphy.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T., & Bochner, A. (2011). ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-12.1.1589

Wait, you want MY opinion? The research methodology of autoethnography

 

 

Biggest-bias

(Bastian 2016)

During my time at university I have been meticulous in keeping my personal views, opinions and experiences separate from my research. The second my rear end was planted in my seat in DIGC330, everything changed. Now before you ask, no, the Fire Nation didn’t attack. Rather, I was introduced to the practice of autoethnography, a research method that combines the well-established fields of autobiography and ethnography. The aim of autoethnography is to produce “meaningful, accessible and evocative” research that is grounded in one’s personal experience (Ellis et al. 2011, p. 2). The resulting research product seeks to deepen our ability to empathise with people who are different from us (Ellis et al. ibid). ­­

empathy.jpg

(Hayen 2014)

As interesting as autoethnography sounds, how does one actually go about doing autoethnography? First of all, it is important that one understands the research methods that have been combined to create autoethnography – autobiography and ethnography. Autobiography, at its core, is an account of a person’s life in which the author retroactively and selectively writes about past experiences” (Ellis et al. 2011). On the other hand, ethnography involves a researcher becoming a participant observer in a culture that is different to their own and “studying the culture’s relational practices, common values, beliefs and shared experiences” (ibid).

My understanding of autoethnography, essentially the lovechild of these two practices is that an autoethnographer draws upon their personal epiphanies stemming from their own culture, and telling these experiences whilst simultaneously analysing them. Analysis is an absolutely crucial component of autoethnography because without it, the researcher is basically just recounting their life and experiences without any further examination or introspection. And let’s face it, anyone can give a bland and boring account of their life.

yes-yesplease-keep-talking-about-yourself-i-always-yawn-when-i-am-enthralled-0ad18

Don’t be that person – analysis of your personal experiences and bias is critical (Julie2233212 2014)

Analysis further authenticates autoethnography as a research method by forcing the researcher to exercise self-reflexivity and introspectively examine the reason why they feel or think the way they do about a culture that is different to their own.

By recounting and critically examining one’s own personal and cultural biases and applying this knowledge to how one understands another cultural group, autoethnography can serve as a therapeutic method of seeking to better understand ourselves and our relationships. Autoethnography can also assist with reduce prejudice and promote cultural change (Ellis et al, ibid). What’s not to love?

I am excited to engage in my own autoethnographic research journey when I complete my major project. I would like to examine how my active participation in cosplay and the subculture in Australia has shaped my understanding of Japanese culture. I also plan to interview my grandparents, who know very little about cosplay, to gain a deeper understanding of how understanding and perceptions of Japanese culture can be shaped through exposure to the cosplay subculture in Australia.

 

Reference List

Bastian, H 2016, The biggest bias we have to deal with is our own, image, hildabastian.net, viewed 18 August 2017, <http://hildabastian.net/index.php/33-march-2016&gt;

Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1-12.

Hayen, T 2014, Empathy, image, Hayen Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling, viewed 18 August 2017, <http://www.toddhayentherapy.com/empathy-in-relationship/&gt;

Julie2233212 2014, Yes, yes…please keep taking about yourself. I always yawn when I am enthralled, image, SomeEcards, viewed 18 August 2017, < https://www.someecards.com/usercards/viewcard/yes-yesplease-keep-talking-about-yourself-i-always-yawn-when-i-am-enthralled-0ad18/&gt;

 

 

Auto-ethnography 101

Auto-ethnography is a bit of a mouthful and a word that’s rarely used in normal conversation so I was a little confused when I first heard about it. Thankfully a reading done by Ellis et al defines it clearly and simply as “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). My understanding of it is that you as the researcher (despite it not being common in traditional research) use your own personal experience as a basis for your research of a culture unfamiliar to you.

Because of the nature of auto-ethnography, it’s often seen as an unprofessional form of research. The standard form of research requires objectivity and facts, both of these factors are used in auto-ethnography to some extent but there is much less focus on it. In traditional research, you distant your personal self/experiences from your research while in auto-ethnography, you embrace it.

Despite having never heard of auto-ethnography before, after reading the Ellis reading, I realize that I’ve already participated in auto-ethnographic research (although not formally). During primary school, my older brother gave me the first volume of Naruto as a birthday gift. It was the first time I ever saw a book that read right to left. It was my first exposure to foreign media. From there, I learned about Japanese manga and the culture surrounding anime/manga. One thing lead to another and I eventually learned about the customs and differences of Japanese culture. Now, instead of questioning and/or being surprised about something from Japanese culture I’ve learned to understand it.

This all came from my interest and personal experience growing up both in Australia and Philippines. Having both western and Asian perspectives while learning about a different culture helped me understand it much faster.

-Diosdado Lacap

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.12, no.1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.

Less Red M&M’s, More Empathy

Every time anyone suggests I give my account on a reading or academic terminology I’m usually pretty critical. Stuff like “this was almost as relevant as the argument for more red m&m’s“. “I’ve seen more interesting things come from the arse of a rabbit”, or my personal favourite; “The human centipede has produced less shit from their mouth”.

Despite my above and clearly grotesque criticisms, I felt that Ellis et al spoke to me in a way that was relevant to my life and my future learnings. Most of the theories that we learn in communications, especially heavy communications theory like “stacks” are so irrelevant to our future learnings and the only time we actually reference them is in essays or assignments that we desire to get very good marks in. Autoethnography occurred to me due to its reflective nature, something integral that requires empathy. Things that require the acknowledgement of another human being’s life and culture also involve the alteration of a specific state of mind; the state of mind being ego to altruism or cosmopolitanism. Ellis et al states that autoethnographers seek to “sensitize readers to issues of identity politics, to experiences shrouded in silence, and to forms of representation that deepen our capacity to empathize with people who are different from us”. You know when your teachers used to say to you in primary school “jump in someone else’s boots”? this is exactly what they’re talking about.

Because auto ethnography requires empathy, most researchers agree that the assumption of neutrality is not tenable (Ellis. C et al, 2011). Ethnography isn’t only utilised to empathise with others but rather inform outsiders of beliefs, practices and experiences; and that’s exactly what the modern dissemination of Confucianism does. Confucianism, often characterised “as a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than a religion.” (AsiaSociety.com) Is a system built on benevolence and transcendent ideology and is arguably the catalyst on which Buddhism was established.

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I myself understand Confucianism to be a philosophy of life, embodied within every human being and not only those who practice Tibetan and Burmese traditions. The world is global and so is ideology; an intangible thought process or standpoint about yourself and the energy around you. These energies and thoughts can be processed anyway the human being likes. As an ethnographer practicing Confucian traditions such as benevolence doesn’t make me any different and I feel as though that’s not everyone’s perspective – after all the key is to acknowledge every human being as exactly that, a human and not “the other”. And just because Confucianism originated in China, doesn’t mean I have to be Chinese to understand it, especially in the modern world. If auto ethnographers are “participant observers” in a culture, spirituality is the perfect observational avenue for this.