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.
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>.