Autoethnography is a form of autobiography, self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experience and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. It differs from ethnography —a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group’s culture— in that autoethnography focuses on the writer’s subjective experience rather than, or in interaction with, the beliefs and practices of others. As a form of self-reflective writing, autoethnography is widely used in performance studies and English.
Autoethnography as a qualitative research methodEdit
According to Maréchal (2010), “autoethnography is a form or method of research that involves self-observation and reflexive investigation in the context of ethnographic field work and writing” (p. 43). Another well-known autoethnographer, Carolyn Ellis (2004) defines it as “research, writing, story, and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political” (p. xix). However, it is not easy to reach a consensus on the term’s definition. For instance, in the 1970s, autoethnography was more narrowly defined as “insider ethnography,” referring to studies of the (culture of) a group of which the researcher is a member (Hayano, 1979). Nowadays, however, as Ellingson and Ellis (2008) point out, “the meanings and applications of autoethnography have evolved in a manner that makes precise definition difficult” (p. 449).
Autoethnography differs from ethnography, a social research method employed by anthropologists and sociologists, in that it embraces and foregrounds the researcher’s subjectivity rather than attempting to limit it, as in empirical research. While ethnography tends to be understood as a qualitative method in the ‘social sciences’ that describes human social phenomena based on fieldwork, autoethnographers are themselves the primary participant/subject of the research in the process of writing personal stories and narratives. Autoethnography “as a form of ethnography,” Ellis (2004) writes, is “part auto or self and part ethno or culture” (p. 31) and “something different from both of them, greater than its parts” (p. 32). In other words, as Ellingson and Ellis (2008) put it, “whether we call a work an autoethnography or an ethnography depends as much on the claims made by authors as anything else” (p. 449).
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