Autoethnography: A term that I have not encountered before today. As I sit in front of the computer and try to decode this intimidating and foreign new word, whilst simultaneously resisting the urge to Google it, I notice the familiar term ‘ethnography’ jumps out at me. Ethnography: the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures. It’s starting to make a bit of sense, but what does the prefix ‘auto’ mean? Auto: self. Does Autoethnography mean the scientific description of myself and my culture? I’m not convinced, better look it up.
Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. This approach challenges canonical ways of doing research and representing others and treats research as a political, socially-just and socially-conscious act. A researcher uses tenets of autobiography and ethnography to do and write autoethnography. Thus, as a method, autoethnography is both process and product (Ellis, et. al., 2011).
I was wrong… sort of. After completing some introductory reading on Autoethnography I have formed a basic understanding of the concept. Autoethnography is a (relatively new) research method in which the practitioner analyses and describes a personal experience in order to form an understanding of cultural experience. The word and the research method are essentially an integration of the terms autobiography and ethnography.
My first experience practicing autoethnography came as I watched the 1954 Japanese film Gojira (Godzilla). I am unfamiliar with Japanese film so this experience was totally new to me. The first thing I noticed was the antiquated cinematographic techniques. The music, special effects, acting methods, and plot all seemed amateur compared to the standards that I have become accustomed to as a twenty-first-century media consumer.
My second key observation was the apparent Japanese nuclear paranoia exhibited throughout the film. I found the repeated references to nuclear energy surprising given the film was produced less than a decade after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during world war two, in 1945. Godzilla’s thematic preoccupation with nuclear energy shows that the filmmakers still harbored anxieties and curiosities about nuclear energy, and the popularity of the film amongst a Japanese audience tells me that the county’s media consumers could relate to the concept. I initially found it surprising that a Japanese film would toy with the idea of nuclear energy so soon after the nuclear tragedy that essentially ended world war two. As I briefly pondered my surprise at the idea of films portraying themes related to recent tragedies I began to think about 9/11 in the United states. Remember me, Zero Dark Thirty, and Fahrenheit 9/11, are all films released to a U.S. within the decade proceeding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These three films employ themes related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks- the largest attack on U.S soil. This tells me that audiences are apparently content with watching films that portray recent tragedies. Perhaps my surprise that Godzilla would employ nuclear themes is misguided? It is understandable that Japan would still have been experiencing nuclear paranoia at the time when Godzilla was released, and given the scale of the nuclear attacks, it seems reasonable that a large portion of the Japanese could relate to the films nuclear themes.
As I watched Godzilla my preoccupation with Japanese nuclear paranoia taught me that perhaps film audiences accept, and even embrace themes related to national tragedies. I have also learned what ‘autoethnography’ means.