During my time at university I have been meticulous in keeping my personal views, opinions and experiences separate from my research. The second my rear end was planted in my seat in DIGC330, everything changed. Now before you ask, no, the Fire Nation didn’t attack. Rather, I was introduced to the practice of autoethnography, a research method that combines the well-established fields of autobiography and ethnography. The aim of autoethnography is to produce “meaningful, accessible and evocative” research that is grounded in one’s personal experience (Ellis et al. 2011, p. 2). The resulting research product seeks to deepen our ability to empathise with people who are different from us (Ellis et al. ibid).
As interesting as autoethnography sounds, how does one actually go about doing autoethnography? First of all, it is important that one understands the research methods that have been combined to create autoethnography – autobiography and ethnography. Autobiography, at its core, is an account of a person’s life in which the author retroactively and selectively writes about past experiences” (Ellis et al. 2011). On the other hand, ethnography involves a researcher becoming a participant observer in a culture that is different to their own and “studying the culture’s relational practices, common values, beliefs and shared experiences” (ibid).
My understanding of autoethnography, essentially the lovechild of these two practices is that an autoethnographer draws upon their personal epiphanies stemming from their own culture, and telling these experiences whilst simultaneously analysing them. Analysis is an absolutely crucial component of autoethnography because without it, the researcher is basically just recounting their life and experiences without any further examination or introspection. And let’s face it, anyone can give a bland and boring account of their life.
Analysis further authenticates autoethnography as a research method by forcing the researcher to exercise self-reflexivity and introspectively examine the reason why they feel or think the way they do about a culture that is different to their own.
By recounting and critically examining one’s own personal and cultural biases and applying this knowledge to how one understands another cultural group, autoethnography can serve as a therapeutic method of seeking to better understand ourselves and our relationships. Autoethnography can also assist with reduce prejudice and promote cultural change (Ellis et al, ibid). What’s not to love?
I am excited to engage in my own autoethnographic research journey when I complete my major project. I would like to examine how my active participation in cosplay and the subculture in Australia has shaped my understanding of Japanese culture. I also plan to interview my grandparents, who know very little about cosplay, to gain a deeper understanding of how understanding and perceptions of Japanese culture can be shaped through exposure to the cosplay subculture in Australia.
Bastian, H 2016, The biggest bias we have to deal with is our own, image, hildabastian.net, viewed 18 August 2017, <http://hildabastian.net/index.php/33-march-2016>
Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1-12.
Hayen, T 2014, Empathy, image, Hayen Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling, viewed 18 August 2017, <http://www.toddhayentherapy.com/empathy-in-relationship/>
Julie2233212 2014, Yes, yes…please keep taking about yourself. I always yawn when I am enthralled, image, SomeEcards, viewed 18 August 2017, < https://www.someecards.com/usercards/viewcard/yes-yesplease-keep-talking-about-yourself-i-always-yawn-when-i-am-enthralled-0ad18/>