Week 3

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

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

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

Rewatching A Film I Has Seen

Akira is a 1988 animated futuristic science fiction film. It is also regarded as one of the best animated movies of all time, and one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. It influenced countless other works. For these reasons, I had seen the movie back in 2014, when I kinda begun setting about to become more literate in film.

It holds up, and I can’t really ever imagining this film never holding up. It was awe inspiring the first time I saw it, and just as awesome the second time around. The use of colours in this film is unlike most others. Done with purpose, with meaning, so that audience knows exactly how to feel. And the animation was smooth, even with it being entirely hand-drawn.

My personal experience watching the second allowed me to really kinda see the detail the film used, and the depth of the animation. I felt, unlike usual, I was not bored and was still drawn to the story, the characters and the film overall. The violence was still visceral and actioney, not boring and expected. I admittedly had a dubbed version, but the setting of  Neo-Tokyo is not jarring and the film could very easily be set anywhere, which I think is an aspect that has helped the film age so well. Despite being an Asian film, it very easily fits as a World Film, with appeal globally.

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.

Autoethnography: An Understanding

Autoethnography is one of those words which seem scary and intimidating when you are first exposed to it. But it is not something that we need to be scared of. After reading into it and examining some further readings, I have come to the conclusion that I do understand it more than I thought I would. Ellis (et al. 2011)’s Autoethnography: An Overview is one of those readings that summarises what exactly is autoethnography and how to apply it to our tasks this session.

Autoethnography is the act of consciously taking into account your personal and contextual experiences to create a wider and deeper cultural understanding. It is to use your personal narrative to relate and engage in a text, and analyse it in a way that can create meaning. As Ellis (et. al 2011) explains, it is to ‘systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)’. It is seen as a much more sensible practice as opposed to traditional research methods. That would historically have one remove their feelings and subjectiveness when writing about the culture, which would leave a culture and people that had been explored, exploited and disregarding.

Autoethnography instead is a practice that ‘acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researchers’ influence on research’ (Ellis, et. al 2011) which is way to explore different cultures in a sensitive way. Ethnography can help those outside of a culture and those inside the culture, understand the culture and experiences much better. For example, one who was exploring the culture of skateboarders would engage and immerse themselves in the culture, taking field notes, watching, examining the cultural nuances and signs. As I understand it, if one was to show the end research of an ethnographic research project on skateboarders, there would be a narrative type way of conveying the content. A story with characters who are acknowledged to be real people, and the real experiences being shown in a personal and culturally sensitive way.

Leading towards the final project needed for this subject of Digital Asia, I am still stuck on how I am to be ethnographically involved in researching an asian culture/topic. Would it be engaging in something like Kpop, or anime? This is something that I will have to explore more as the session progresses.

 

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>.

Auto|Ethno|Graphy: Me|Myself|(and) I

Being accelerated in English in high school, it was constantly drilled into me to critically reflect on material without divulging too much into my own personal, cultural and social persona; that is, without using the terms ‘me’, ‘myself’, and ‘I’. And now to be studying a subject that encourages self-reflexivity through autoethnography, I was initially feeling overwhelmed to go against everything I had been taught in school.

Autoethnography, according to Ellis et al, is a non-traditional approach to research and writing that ‘seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)’. Essentially, it is to consciously regard your personal and social experiences in order to create a deeper cultural understanding. This creates more meaningful research and production, and as Ellis et al notes, ‘acknowledges subjectivity and emotionality’.

It is arguable that most people already use their own narratives to find familiarities in texts, with their subconscious conducting methods of autoethnography. For example, when watching Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 Japanese anime, Akira, this week, I often found myself looking to the cultural dynamics of the girls in the film; namely, their depiction, treatment, and relationships. From my own social and personal understanding and values, I felt like these young girls were in deeply toxic environments and this portrayal went unquestioned within the film’s universe. I was then able to reflect on and critique aspects of this treatment in our modern society. By making these connections and analysing them, we are able to further question the subject matter that we consume and create.

giphy1

((Terrible!!))

This hybridity of autobiography and ethnography further breaks the limitations of traditional research as a method of overcoming adversity and giving a voice to the experiences of those who may not usually share a mainstream research platform. This is because by opening up our research pools, we are able to draw in multiple insights; a multitude of researchers, values, beliefs, experiences, traditions and backgrounds.

All autoethnographic research, however, stems from personal epiphanies. Analysing these epiphanies brings the researcher closer to creating content for others so they may experience similar epiphanies. For example, one of my own personal epiphanies flourished when I was seventeen years old. Being half-Filipina, half-Irish, I struggled all my life to find a culture to completely fit into, with elements of both cultures not being completely accepting of mixed-race individuals. During one of my trips to the Philippines I met other half-Filipino people and watched the content that they created on social media, and this encouraged my own self-acceptance and desire to create a platform that embraced the intersectionality of both Western and Asian cultures; thus creating my Youtube channel, Tagalog Tuesdays.

I look forward to delving deeper into this new research approach, and treating the narcissist in me, whilst also finding the capability to allow others to consider their own experiences.

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>.

Alsop, Christiane K. (2002) Home and Away: Self ReflexiveAuto-/Ethnography’, Forum Qualitative Social Research 3:3. <http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kmacd/IDSC10/Readings/Positionality/auto-eth.pdf>.