Over the course of my time studying Media and Communications, it has been made abundantly clear to me that the power of autoethnographic research is unmatched, and will always result in otherwise unattainable insights. As a methodology, it accesses a range of data that one would not consider in formal methods for the risk that it might bias their results. Ethnography flips this ideology and says yes, your cultural framework will always alter the way you react to a topic, or at the very least shape the way you interpret it.
I think one of my past blog posts summarises this reflexiveness in a way I couldn’t put any better; “I quickly realised that by immersing myself into the experience I felt vulnerable and certainly out of my comfort zone. Whether that be the idea itself as a daunting action, concealing your own identity as another’s for costume play, or whether it be the unfamiliarity with the field site itself, I was acutely aware that I was letting my feelings, thoughts, and vulnerabilities influence the way the project was migrating (Ellis et al. 2011, 14.1.3)”
I found myself incredibly inquisitive about this area of research, and as a result, ended up picking up my old past time of sewing in my spare time. I thought this may have something to do with Ellis’s notion that autoethnography and writing “personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences” (Kiesinger, 2002; Poulos, 2008), highlighting the empowering nature of research that allows you to fully submerge yourself into. A project like this giving “…people a voice that, before writing, they may not have felt they had” (Boylorn, 2006; Jago, 2002). Interacting with cosplay and participating myself allowed me to be much more involved in the area, and in some ways relate to the area of study that I could not by simply reading papers on.
While I did go into the project with an open mind, I found my own understanding of what cosplay is was challenged and morphed as I tried to be reflexive in my process. I discovered that is in fact much broader than previously thought, and I guess that was a poor and incorrect assumption I had gathered in my previous state, and know now that cosplay encompasses a large demographic of people, with different interest and craft levels, who cosplay characters from a mass range of sources and cultures. In reflection, this perhaps would be a good topic to look at transculturally, as it is a much bigger global phenomenon than I had realised – a result of my upbringing with no friends who were ‘into’ cosplay; “Autoethnographers also recognize how what we understand and refer to as “truth” changes as the genre of writing or representing experience changes.” (Ellis et al. 2011, 14.2.25)
I do believe the scope of this project could have been a lot wider, with so many avenues to find yourself down. I often found myself discovering new elements of my field site that I wanted to expand on, and felt limited with the project constraints. Developments for further research would include the flow of the practice globally, partly missed because of my own self-involvement in the project. This perhaps is a limitation of autoethnography, in hindsight, whereby self-obsession on involvement in the project maybe narrows our scope down too much, focusing on hidden insights rather than bigger picture issues that other methodologies uncover.
Contextual Essay References
Boylorn, Robin M. (2006). E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). Qualitative Inquiry, 12(4), 651-680.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 14.1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095
Jago, Barbara J. (2002). Chronicling an academic depression. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 31(6), 729-757.
Kiesinger, Christine E. (2002). My father’s shoes: The therapeutic value of narrative reframing. In Arthur P. Bochner & Carolyn Ellis (Eds.), Ethnographically speaking: Autoethnography, literature, and aesthetics (pp.95-114). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.
Poulos, Christopher N. (2008). Accidental ethnography: An inquiry into family secrecy. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.