Autoethnography

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Autoethnography is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore anecdotal and personal experience and connect this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. Autoethnography is a self-reflective form of writing used across various disciplines such as communication studies, performance studies, education, English literature, anthropology, social work, sociology, history, psychology, religious studies, marketing, business and educational administration, arts education, and physiotherapy. Autoethnography differs from ethnography, a social research method employed by anthropologists and sociologists, in that autoethnography embraces and foregrounds the researcher’s subjectivity rather than attempting to limit it, as in empirical research. What I like about this type of research method is that it embraces personal thoughts, feelings, stories, and observations as a way of understanding the social context they are studying, autoethnographers are also shedding light on their total interaction with that setting by making their every emotion and thought visible to the reader. It resonates with me because it’s not just about charts, graphs and stats. It deals with research methodology in relation to our emotions and feelings and our personal interactions with others and the culture we live in.

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In the first article: Whose Story Is It? An Autoethnography Concerning Narrative Identity, the article begins with Grant stating how a strong shift and change had been developing in research: “Emerging in the latter part of the 20th century, the “narrative turn” in the human sciences has increasingly challenged a single, monolithic conception of what should constitute scholarly work in favor of a developing pluralism. This has resulted in the promotion of multiple forms of representation and research, and a relative shift of focus from master narratives to local stories.” (Grant,1). The wave of change was going against what had been the norm in the past. The aloof researcher, the spectator who was distanced from his work. It was very much impersonal. Now the tide was changing into the researcher position becoming more engaged, aware, emotional and sharing personal antidotes. This is more relatable because like the article states we as human beings on this earth have shared experiences. We all have a unique story to tell. I believe that’s what makes this world so special our connected experiences and the ability to tell it. This is how we connect and learn to empathize. Autoethnographic story telling has important functions. It can be therapeutic for the story teller to work through difficult times, events and issues in their lives. This also helps them build their authentic identities. Specifically, writing personal stories can be therapeutic for individuals as they make better sense of themselves or their experiences. It helps relieve them of their painful pasts and burdens, and determines what kind of lives they should live and want to live. Grant goes on to talk about Riemer who is a proponent of this method of research: “Riemer took researchers in the social sciences to task for too frequently neglecting the first-hand knowledge that they alone possess in the execution of their research ventures. Riemer argued that such researchers, including autoethnographers, are well placed to write about their reflexive biographical engagement with culture, since they are, by definition, experts by experience. Equally, bearing in mind the relational, dialogic basis of stories, readers might be helped to make better sense of their own lives by locating themselves in relation to what they read.” (Reimer, 1977). I agree with this viewpoint. It’s all about making human connections, research should not just be about numbers, stats and graphs. This type of research makes it more relatable, more personal and to me, more believable. However like with all research methodologies autoethnography does have it’s critics who believe it is highly self indulgent and not a concrete or reliable form of qualitative research. Grant disagrees with the criticism and believes that all of us have similar experiences in life that we can make personal connections with and find meaning from. He says quote: “This leaves the self as a sociocultural rather than an autonomous phenomenon.”

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In the remainder of the article we read the short story of Alec Grant and his turbulent childhood. He details to us how his mother was mentally ill and unstable. His father was absent and his older siblings had left the home. He was the youngest and sadly was stuck in the home with his unstable mother. He recounts how numerous teachers ignored him and the situation he was living in. He never felt like he could trust them or confide in them. The one time he did he was ignored and nothing was done to help him. He recounts how he grew up feeling insecure, unworthy and socially inept. In his adulthood he was plagued with alcoholism, anxiety, and manic depression. We also learn his mother ended up taking her own life. I felt very sad and heartbroken for him. Especially for that time period and living in a small town, it must have been extremely isolating and painful. Although my life story is much different then his, I can still relate to his. I feel empathy and also amazement at how far he has come considering the circumstances he was faced with. It was also interesting to read how he requested some old artifacts from his old school and as he was looking through yearbooks and albums, he made note of the fact that everyone looked happy, content and as if they were living their best lives. But is that true? I compared it to today. On social media we are bombarded with pictures of people at their best and most happiest. We don’t see what goes on behind closed doors. Some studies show that having social media can cause worsening depression and anxiety because people compare themselves to others who they assume are living a perfect life. Grant says of his overall experience in writing and sharing the short story quote: “This pattern was to inform the story of who I was down the decades. However, in the space between then and now, in direct response to and in order to compensate for my early life experiences, I have managed to accumulate a range of narrative identity resources. These tell multiple success stories about me, and in my own terms, and can help me re-inscribe my past in sophisticated and, more importantly, self-compassionate and forgiving ways.” This is so powerful! Like he states he is telling his truths, in his own terms about his turbulent past, struggles and ultimately his successful future. This is where real connections can be made with others. The third and final part of the article concludes with a interview between the two authors. Laetitia Zeeman and Alec Grant. They engage in an open, honest dialogue about his short story, her reaction to it and about the research method of autoethnography. She mentions some of the pros and cons and asks him how he interprets it. He also talks about the importance of changing the status quo in research methodology. That’s what makes autoethnography different and important to the growing changes in the field and to the fast changing world around us. It’s pulling away from the rigid academic norms and the outdated conventional uses of the past. It embraces culture and activism and promotes change. And I for one believe that change is a good thing. Especially when autoethnography is helping to bridge the gap between the old and the new and to personalize our human experiences from which empathy and understanding grows. The video below helped to clear up any questions or confusion I had about this method, so I hope it helps you all too! Xo.