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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

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.

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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

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

Gojira

After going through the lecture slides, I downloaded Gojira and watched it on a Sydney to Wollongong train trip. In some ways, watching a black and white Japanese foreign film while on an Australian train provided great juxtaposition for cultural awareness. I was sitting in a carriage with fellow Australians, some in suits, some in jeans and converse, some very drunkenly slurring Aussie slang while others shielded their children’s post day care ears from such colourful language. And here I sat watching a film where even the monsters were treated with respect.

As a first generation migrant, to whom English is technically a second language, I have grown up loving foreign films. I grew up in house where children did not often watch TV. If we were watching TV it was a SBS (SBS before 8.30pm ehm ehm) family movie night – popcorn, home made Bengali and Arab sweets, world music soundtracks and subtitles. As a child I had the joy of watching and reading artsy, indie and documentarian Bengali films. As I got a little older, we would go to foreign film festivals. I moved out of home at 17 but like many familial attributes, the love for foreign film moved with me.

Growing up as a person of brown colouring in a multicultural, yet very white part of Sydney, my exposure to Western film was channelled through friends birthday parties and movies watched in school – limited to essentially The Goonies and The Rabbit Proof Fence. It wasn’t until I was in my later years of high school that I turned to Western Film for entertainment – cue The Godfather, Fight Club and Batman (I have two older brothers). Whether I was watching a eastern or western film, I was raised to question what it is the content is telling us to value, what it wants us to question and in turn, what really was the purpose of making it.

For these reasons, when I noted that Gojira the film was produced in 1954, I understood that it was a comment to the Atomic Age. I have always valued the simplicity and creativity of old film techniques. In one of the scenes in Gojira, we hear the singing of children as the camera pans the destruction of the city after Gojira’s first attack. The slow camera movement creates an emotional allusion to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  At first the footsteps of the monster seem to be an expected film sound effect, but upon closer reflection, (as someone who has been trapped in a war zone) each step sounds like a bomb – a sound that unfortunately, would be familiar the films post WW2 audience.

How I make sense of the film is framed by by cultural, social and educational conscious and subconscious knowledge. For me the content was telling us to value peace, it wants us to question political tensions and the abuse of power. The purpose of any film is to some extent entertain, but Gojira is a reminder of what has happened and what can reoccur if we do not learn from our historical mistakes.

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

Akira (1988)

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Watching the 1988 Japanese film, Akira, was actually my very first time watching a full-length anime movie. It was also the first time I had heard about the film. Prior to this screening my only experience with anime has been watching the television shows Pokémon and One Piece, as a child. This limited experience with Asian culture has a lot to do with my Australian up-bringing where my perspective is majority western.
However, my views have been expanded in the past through my 2010 trip to Japan where I was given a sense of Japanese food, fashion, street life and traditions. In saying this, my trip was a while back and only brief, so my experience with Asia is still very lacking.

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Akira was a perfect introduction to a popular side of Asian culture I have never before experienced. Instantly I found details that differed to the movies I’ve grown up with. One of the biggest things that stuck out was the use of multiple themes and genres. It included romance, violence, comedy, war, politics, fantasy, supernatural, death, nudity, education, street racing. Akira had something for everyone and I believe that’s something rarely found in one film. It brought up so many topics within such a short amount of time and I think that comes down to the genius creativity and imagination involved in the making of the movie. It’s why I believe the film, and anime itself, is so successful across so many different cultures. There is a quote I found online from a long-term anime lover taken from her response regarding the popularity of anime:

“Anime has something for just about everyone. It’s full of cute things, scary things, and pretty things. It pulls you into the story and sometimes makes you sleep with the light on, or will put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day. But it is also full of humor and fun. That extreme change in thought can happen all in a single series.”
– Celia Mitchell

Her reaction as a long term watcher is similar to the one I received just from my first taste of anime films. Akira was a great introduction to a side of Asian culture that I have never experienced before.

88 shades of red

Akira is a cyber punk animation set in a Japanese future called ‘Neo Tokyo’. It hinges on a dystopian WWIII future in 2019, where the city is experiencing the aftermath of the atomic bomb and there are chaos and corruption everywhere.

After the past 3 weeks of watching Asian films, I was expecting a slow-paced animation with dated special effects. I don’t think I could’ve been more wrong. Within the first 3 minutes, I was hooked! It was fast paced, I could keep up with the narrative even with subtitles (I started watching the film in Japanese at home…), the music was captivating and there were graphic scenes you just couldn’t turn away from. What struck me the most was the use of colour in the film. It used 327 different colours, which is a record for animated films. 50 of those colours were exclusively created for the film. From the neon lights and futuristic stylised city, the animation is cinematically captivating.

Power and control are reoccurring themes within Akira and the ongoing battle between uprising rebel groups such as the bikie gang and the clowns and the corrupt government controlling the city. The colour red is also critical to the film, as I can find clear associations between the properties of the colour and power, destruction, violence colour. Healy (2017) states on the Odyssey online that the colour red is also associated with a few key characters e.g. Keneda He wears the colour red because of his influence on his gang and performance as the gang leader, The colour red had more obvious connotations, as there were multiple graphic scenes of blood loss, fire, red smoke and red light tints over the whole screen. I also saw a lot of the colour green and made connections between a technological age being green. With the colour being produced in a lot of the experimental scenes.

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The catastrophic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with 214,000 deaths in total, is the force behind the narrative. I didn’t know much about the bombings, so I researched and came across the website http://hiroshima.australiandoctor.com.au/ It had personal accounts of victims (see images below), I got shivers just reading it.

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Emotions of grief, devastation, psychological and mental struggles are not culturally isolated. It is part of the human condition and that’s what director Katsuhiro Otomo communicates so well through the animation. This is why Akira is such a classic animation as it explores universal human pain that anyone can resonate with and themes that are cross cultural.

Another aspect of the film I wanted to delve into was the legacy of the sci-fi dystopian genre it created and inspired with other films we regard as the western pop culture. The Themes we see in Akira all stem from this aftermath of tragedy from the bombing. The devastating after-effects – orphaned kids, radiation sickness, a loss of national independence, the destruction of nature – would also influence the genre, giving rise to a unique (and arguably incomparable) form of comics and animated film. It turned into its own genre and left a legacy of incredible films. I noticed elements that The Matrix took (capsule, NEO!?), Hunger Games, Stranger things? Stronger: Kanye West (medical pod being examined), same as Passenger! Blade runner (flickering of lights), Tron: The bikes from Akira, the list goes on… Learning point: there is no ‘originality’ in any cinema, film, or art. There are always borrowed ideas. It is just a matter of re-interpretation. Or how you can remix it in a novel way. 

Perceiving Cultures

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Autoethnography is a form of qualitative research where the researcher explores their own experience as a focus within the investigation and examination of cultures. It acknowledges the power of the researcher to explore more closely than others are able, and it connects the personal story to the participatory cultures.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.” (Ellis, Adams and Bochner 2011: np).

Before even being introduced to the notion of Autoethnography I had spent a considerable amount of time overseas and also having looked into the study of communication across cultures – where I mainly focused on addressing the issues involved in communication among people of different linguistic and “cultural” backgrounds.

In saying this, one Scholar comes to mind…  (more…)

Autoethnography and My Diary.

I use my diary as often as I possibly can to jot down moments in time that have made a major impact on me in some shape or form, known as epiphanies (Ellis et al, 2011). From the birth of my nephew to a tough day at work, I describe and reflect on interactions with others and the world around me.

I often think of my diary as a time capsule that in which, I can read in the future and understand what once was for myself. It will enable others to explore the way in which I used language to show emotion and thoughts in the written form.

My epiphanies are uniques to myself and you may have some of your own. Ellis et al makes point that people view the world around them differently and I couldn’t agree more.  Ellis states that autoethnography was developed due to scientist wanting focus on developing research based in personal experience, stating “research would sensitise readers to the issues of identity politics, to experiences shrouded in silence and to representation that deepen our capacity to empathise with people who are differently from us” (2011).

In the future, someone or myself could look back at my diary or any diary in general, at the experiences written about to influence the way in which they understand different views of the world then their own.

Checkout this audio piece for a little more of my understanding.

 

Lauren.

 

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