Autoethnography

Last night we explored the first of a series of research methodologies that are commonly used in the field of Writing Studies. Autoethnography is a research method that uses personal experience (the “auto”) to describe and interpret (the “graphy”) stories/cultural texts, experiences, beliefs, and practices (the “ethno”). Autoethnographic methods include journaling, looking at archival records – whether institutional or personal, interviewing one’s own self, and using writing to generate self-cultural understandings. The key thing to do if pursuing the autoethnographic method is to find common threads in your research, identify your main themes, and use the information you have gathered, combined with your own narrative understanding or experience, to create a complex self-reflective narrative. Many of your fellow MA in Writing Studies peers have applied this methodology to the their thesis work effectively. Examples of autoethnographic research within our own program include extended studies of: -intergenerational cultural assimilation, -fan fiction studies, -gaming culture and learning, -effects of the pandemic on teachers, and -digital literacies in early childhood. There are many more examples over the years (this list is just off the top of my head). The autoethnographic research method is no doubt a rich terrain for thoughtful and self-reflective writers.

I am glad to have taken a moment to consider the basis for this methodology – the practice of ethnography (…remember my example of observing “skater” or skate boarding culture in Central Park?) With ethnography – this would involve a researcher writing about this group of people (someone from the outside looking in). In autoethnography, the “group” (the researcher) writes about itself. Either approach (both ethnography or autoethnography) share the ‘graph’ root: they seek to ‘write’ some human experience, to represent it to an audience. For most practitioners, such ‘graphing’ does not imagine it is producing a scientific, objective understanding; rather it accepts that representations are necessarily subjective and involve complex relations between representer and represented. But that terrain, in and of itself, is worth “a deep and careful self-reflexivity” that might yield a new production of meaning/knowledge. To sum it up another way, autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.

The readings offered us some powerful examples of the work. Thanks to both Valerie and Fran for walking us through two different articles. These two readings made the process of autoethnographic research more evident (in different ways). In addition to these two references, some of you have been exposed to this research methodology in previous academic readings (covered in ENG 5020). And I am sure you might have read other texts (in other contexts) that have applied an autoethnographic approach. I enjoyed our discussion of the ways this methodology might work (or not work) depending on context and execution. I also thought the consideration of the reader’s empathy (in the reception of such research) was an interesting reflection to close the evening on. The autoethnographic method most certainly requires vulnerability as it fosters empathy and creativity…all while honoring subjectivity and eliminating boundaries.

Our class slides:

Your to-do list:

Reading for next class: 

Guo, Y.-H. Understanding the genre features of qualitative research: A case study           

Please write Blog 5 due by 2/29. This blog should be a reflection on this “Case Study” article for discussion. Brittney will lead our discussion of the work in class next week. 

See you on campus (in our regular classroom) next week!

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