Auto-ethnography

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Auto-ethnography is a method of social research whose defining characteristic is that the author links personal experience and autobiography with social, political, and cultural concepts. Its difference from ethnography is the high degree of subjectivity that is introduced to the study, and the fact that the perspective of the author shows personal involvement with the subject much more than participant observation invites.

From the 1970s onwards, auto-ethnography has been gaining impact and is being used more and more. However, it still constitutes an issue of controversy and is, sometimes, criticized because of its individualistic and subjective nature, which is seen as potentially undermining of its scientific credibility. That is, the author’s personal involvement with the events and society he/she describes and analyzes is sometimes considered as something that clouds his/her objectivity. It remains, however, questionable whether auto-ethnography should be judged on the same terms as traditional ethnography, as one may argue that they have different purposes altogether, and that a subjective point of view is advantageous and what auto-ethnography has to add to traditional methods.

Different definitions of auto-ethnography[change | change source]

Maréchal defines auto-ethnography as “a form or method of research that involves self-observation and reflexive investigation in the context of ethnographic field work and writing”.[1] In the 1970s it was more simply defined as “insider ethnography”, referring to the fact that the group of study is the ethnographer’s own.[2]

Benefits and concerns regarding auto-ethnography[change | change source]

The most significant element that auto-ethnography introduces to the study of culture and society is the shift from a depersonalized, “seen from a vantage point” and neutrally distanced narrative to a storyline with which the audience can engage morally, aesthetically, and intellectually, and, thus, co-participate in the events described.[3] Especially for ethnographers who use multiple informants, auto-ethnography introduces an alternative way of writing where “the distinction between ethnographer and ‘others’ is unclear”,[4] thereby challenging “imposed identities and boundaries”.[5]

However, auto-ethnographers should avoid some dangerous pitfalls that could undermine the credibility and usefulness of their work. Chang identifies the following: "(1) excessive focus on self in isolation from others; (2) overemphasis on narration rather than analysis and cultural interpretation; (3) exclusive reliance on personal memory and recalling as a data source; (4) negligence of ethical standards regarding others in self-narratives; and (5) inappropriate application of the label autoethnography".[6]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Maréchal, Garance (2010), p. 43
  2. Hayano(1979)
  3. Ellis and Bochner (2000)
  4. Khosravi (2010, p. 5
  5. Pratt (1992)
  6. Chang (2008), p 54

References[change | change source]

  • Chang, Heewon. (2008). Autoethnography as method. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
  • Hayano, D. (1979). Auto-ethnography: Paradigms, problems and prospects. Human Organization, 38(1), 99-104.
  • Khosravi, Shahram. 'Illegal' Traveller: an Auto-ethnography of Borders. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Maréchal, G. (2010). Autoethnography. In A. J. Mills, G. Durepos & E. Wiebe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of case study research (Vol. 2, pp. 43-45). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1992.