Autobiography

Autoethnographic Photography

After some deliberation on my previous blog posts, This Cambodian Life, and Ellis, Epiphanies and Photography, I decided to complete a personal autoenthographic photo series.

As a result of the Pol Pot regime, where all photographs were destroyed, modern Cambodian photographers have had to re-establish collections of photographs. Here, photographs of day to day life has immense value.

Inspired by Cambodian photographers, specifically, Vandy Rattana, Neak Sophal, Vuth Luyno and Pete Pinh (their works can be viewed here and here) – I photographed my final day of classes at uni.

At first, I thought the task would be simple – it was not. Photographing my life, with the sole purpose being to capture the moment, instead of focusing on making it look aesthetically appealing, required a shift in perspective; I was not looking for a good angle, but to snap it how I see it. The purpose of this task is to collect memories of my every day life. However, when I now look back on the pictures, I do see the beauty in every day actions, especially my morning beach yoga views and mediation incense burnings.

The photo series below consist of 57 individual images. It is not necessarily each individual picture, but the collective impression portrayed when scrolling through that captures the sounds and sights of my day.

“You can hear something a thousand times and not know it; yet if you see it with your eyes just once, you know.” — Khmer proverb.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

 

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Autoethnography

As a university student, we are often told that in order to obtain quality qualitative or quantitive data, we must remain externally observant and completely uninvolved with the subject. Autoethnography challenges this concept.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno),” – Ellis, Adams and Bocher 2010

As a process it is a method that employs both autobiography and ethnography. As an autobiographical practice, the method identifies epiphanies as points of understanding. As an ethnographic practice, the method studies cultural practices. Together, the findings portray a personal and emotive analysis. The product means the work is presented in a story like manner. This narrative structure does focus on communicating the truth. There are characters, scenes, events and plot progressions. The research presented aims to captivate the audience and share personal and interpersonal experiences.

Autoethnography’s use of such immersive methods has lead to academic debates. Potential criticism argue that it is not possible to understand a situation when one is a part of the setting, one is personally invested and therefore personal motives will interfere with research. Furthermore, there is a moral debate for relational ethics, specifically in regards to ensuring there is a healthy dynamic between all parties involved and matters of subject confidentiality.

Autoethnography argues that this personal expereince is exactly what enhances the research method. It is only through self reflection, self awareness and emersion into a setting that one can truly empathise, and in turn understand a subject. No two people will view or remember an experience, even a shared experience, in the same manner. The feelings and backgrounds of a subject are fundamental to understanding data. In the same way, the feelings and backgrounds of the researcher are just as influential. Autoethnography acknowledges this, but embraces that the individuals socio-cultural behaviours within a society shape perceptions, and reveal the essence of a subject – the researcher will only know this when close to or a part of the same subject.

Personally I value autoethnography for certain kinds of research, specifically when conducting qualitative cultural research. Sometimes being human means that sharing an experience is the only way to communicate.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Wait, you want MY opinion? The research methodology of autoethnography

 

 

Biggest-bias

(Bastian 2016)

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). ­­

empathy.jpg

(Hayen 2014)

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.

yes-yesplease-keep-talking-about-yourself-i-always-yawn-when-i-am-enthralled-0ad18

Don’t be that person – analysis of your personal experiences and bias is critical (Julie2233212 2014)

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.

 

Reference List

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&gt;

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/&gt;

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/&gt;