Falling into a habit of autoethnography for this subject is probably something I’ll have to get used to. Studying a bachelor of journalism, objectivity has been drilled into me relentlessly. Bias in journalism is frowned upon. The core of journalism is to report on hard facts and deliver the truth to the public. I did one class that focused on narrative journalism, a form of journalism that concentrates on emotive, narrative storytelling of true events. Sometimes the writer will put themselves in the story, reflecting on their own thoughts and experiences to further engage a reader’s understanding. But otherwise, news journalism relies strongly on unedited facts and straight-to-the-point writing structure. I’ve learnt not to write that someone believes something to be true, only to write what they have blatantly stated.
Autoethnography appears to be somewhat more accepting of our own revelations combined with meticulous research to explore a culture.
“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).” – Autoethnography: An Overview (Ellis et al., 2010)
My understanding of autoethnography from Ellis’ account is that its a form of research where the researcher explores their own experiences as a focus of investigation. By sharing the researcher’s personal reflection of a culture they engage the reader. Whilst hardcore journalism may be separate from the autoethnography that Ellis describes I think some of the best journalism uses the process of autoethnography to capture both the factual and emotional aspects of a story, such as documentaries and literary novels. Sometimes the author or narrator places themselves in the storyline, including their thoughts and experiences of what is happening. Often they will have ‘epiphanies’, something which Ellis says are commonplace in autoethnographic research.
An example of this is the documentary series, States of Undress, which follows Hayley Gates as she explores global fashion and beauty standards and their relation to political and social issues such as gender and race. Her personal epiphanies are woven throughout the narrative, creating transformative moments.
Autoethnography allows the researcher to create a link between the reader and the content, further engaging the audience through their own transformative experiences.
Autoethnography can be cleverly used to promote cultural awareness or give voice to an issue or community that previously may not have been heard. However, autoethnohgraphy is often criticised by the social sciences. Ellis writes that, “autoethnography is criticized for either being too artful and not scientific, or too scientific and not sufficiently artful.” As such, many remain skeptical of it. However, as Ellis argues, autoethnography challenges the distinct binary between science and art, believing that research can be both analytical and emotional.
I think autoethnography can be done in keeping with truth, and as such is a powerful form of research that combines emotive storytelling of experiences with analytical examination of a culture. The researcher’s own epiphanies will hopefully cause the audience to reflect on the topic themselves.
Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A., 2010. Autoethnography: An overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [online] 12(1). Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.