The Best Writers2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 1/18AutoethnographyAlia R.Tyner-MullingsWhile it is an ethnographic method on its own, an autoethnography can also be a goodplace to begin an ethnographic investigation. Through it, you can begin to situate yourselfwithin the larger structural and social system. It allows you to explore your own positionalitybefore you begin to examine the lives of others as an autothenography is a way to turnethnography on yourself and to learn about your life in the same way you might learn aboutsomeone else’s. The process of creating an autoethnography allows you to be reflective onwhat makes you who you are and how you came to be. Through this process, anauthoethnography can also help you to look at the larger context in which you live. 1Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe andsystematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand culturalexperience (ethno) (Ellis, 2004; Holman Jones, 2005). This approach challenges canonicalways of doing research and representing others (Spry, 2001) and treats research as a political,socially-just and socially-conscious act (Adams & Holman Jones, 2008). A researcher usestenets of autobiography and ethnography to do and write autoethnography. Thus, as amethod, autoethnography is both process and product.2History of AutoethnographySo how did autoethnography come to be? In the 1980s, scholars introduced new andabundant opportunities to reform social science and reconceive the objectives and forms ofsocial science inquiry. Scholars became increasingly troubled by social science’s ontological,epistemological, and axiological limitations (Ellis & Bochner, 2000). Furthermore, there was anincreasing need to resist colonialist, sterile research impulses of authoritatively entering aculture, exploiting cultural members, and then recklessly leaving to write about the culture formonetary and/or professional gain, while disregarding relational ties to cultural members(Conquergood, 1991; Ellis, 2007; Riedmann, 1993).Gradually, scholars across a wide spectrum of disciplines began to consider what socialsciences would become if they were closer to literature than to physics, if they profferedstories rather than theories, and if they were self-consciously value-centered rather thanpretending to be value free (Bochner, 1994). Many of these scholars turned toautoethnography because they were seeking a positive response to critiques of canonicalideas about what research is and how research should be done. In particular, they wanted toconcentrate on ways of producing meaningful, accessible, and evocative researchgrounded in personal experience, research that would sensitize readers to issues of identitypolitics, to experiences shrouded in silence, and to forms of representation that deepen ourcapacity to empathize with people who are different from us (Ellis & Bochner, 2000).Autoethnographers recognize the innumerable ways personal experience influences theresearch process. For instance, a researcher decides who, what, when, where, and how toresearch, decisions necessarily tied to institutional requirements (e.g., Institutional ReviewBoards), resources (e.g., funding), and personal circumstance (e.g., a researcher studyingcancer because of personal experience with cancer). A researcher may also change namesand places for protection (Fine, 1993), compress years of research into a single text, and2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 2/18construct a study in a pre-determined way (e.g., using an introduction, literature review,methods section, findings, and conclusion; Tullis Owen, McRae, Adams & Vitale, 2009). Eventhough some researchers still assume that research can be done from a neutral, impersonal,and objective stance (Atkinson, 1997; Buzard, 2003; Delamont, 2009), most now recognize thatsuch an assumption is not tenable (Bochner, 2002; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Rorty, 1982).Consequently, autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges andaccommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research, ratherthan hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist.Furthermore, scholars began recognizing that different kinds of people possess differentassumptions about the world—a multitude of ways of speaking, writing, valuing and believing—and that conventional ways of doing and thinking about research were narrow, limiting,and parochial. These differences can stem from race (Anzaldúa, 1987; Boylorn, 2006; Davis,2009), gender (Blair, Brown & Baxter, 1994; Keller, 1995), sexuality (Foster, 2008; Glave, 2005),age (Dossa, 1999; Paulson & Willig, 2008), ability (Couser, 1997; Gerber, 1996), class (Hooks,2000; Dykins Callahan, 2008), education (Delpit, 1996; Valenzuela, 1999), or religion(Droogsma, 2007; Minkowitz, 1995). Often, those who advocate and insist on canonical formsof doing and writing research are advocating a White, masculine, heterosexual,middle/upper-classed, Christian, cis-gendered and able-bodied perspective. Following theseconventions, a researcher not only disregards other ways of knowing but also implies thatother ways are unsatisfactory and invalid. Autoethnography, on the other hand, expands andopens up a wider lens on the world, eschewing rigid definitions of what constitutes meaningfuland useful research; this approach also helps us understand how the kinds of people weclaim, or are perceived, to be influence interpretations of what we study, how we study it, andwhat we say about our topic (Adams, 2005; Wood, 2009).The Structure of AutoethnographiesAs described above, autoethnography combines characteristics of autobiography andethnography and in writing an autobiography, an author retroactively and selectively writesabout past experiences. Usually, the author does not live through these experiences solely tomake them part of a published document; rather, these experiences are assembled usinghindsight (Bruner, 1993; Denzin, 1989, Freeman, 2004). In writing, the author also may interviewothers as well as consult with texts like photographs, journals, and recordings to help with recall(Delany, 2004; Didion, 2005; Goodall, 2006; Herrmann, 2005).Most often, autobiographers write about “epiphanies”—remembered moments perceived tohave significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life (Bochner & Ellis, 1992; Couser, 1997;Denzin, 1989), times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyze livedexperience (Zaner, 2004), and events after which life does not seem quite the same. Whileepiphanies are self-claimed phenomena in which one person may consider an experiencetransformative while another may not, these epiphanies reveal ways a person could negotiate“intense situations” and “effects that linger—recollections, memories, images, feelings—longafter a crucial incident is supposedly finished” (Bochner, 1984, p.595). This is one justification forfocusing the autoethnography on a student’s path to college and how they arrived at ourschool like we do at Guttman Community College. When researchers do autoethnography,they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are madepossible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.However, in addition to telling their audiences about experiences, autoethnographers often2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 3/18are required by social science publishing conventions to analyze these experiences. As MitchAllen says, an autoethnographer must“look at experience analytically. Otherwise [you’re] telling [your] story—and that’snice—but people do that on Oprah [a U.S.-based television program] every day.Why is your story more valid than anyone else’s? What makes your story more valid isthat you are a researcher. You have a set of theoretical and methodological toolsand a research literature to use. That’s your advantage. If you can’t frame it aroundthese tools and literature and just frame it as ‘my story,’ then why or how should Iprivilege your story over anyone else’s I see 25 times a day on TV?” (personalinterview, May 4, 2006)3Autoethnographers must not only use their methodological tools and research literature toanalyze experience, but also must consider ways others may experience similar epiphanies;they must use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing,make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders. To accomplish this mightrequire comparing and contrasting personal experience against existing research (RONAI,1995, 1996), interviewing cultural members (Foster, 2006; Marvasti, 2006; Tillmann-Healy, 2001),and/or examining relevant cultural artifacts (Boylorn, 2008; Denzin, 2006).In her piece “Evaluating Ethnography,” Laurel Richardson examines the divide that haspersisted between literary and scientific writing (253). This is similar to the division that hasexisted between academic and personal writing. She notes the “oxymoronic” naming ofgenres that have tried to bridge this gap, thus blurring distinctions among categories such as“creative nonfiction; faction; ethnographic fiction; the nonfiction novel; and true fiction”(253). And she seeks to lay out the criteria she uses to judge ethnography’s success.4In attempting to create new standards that allow writers to move more freely in theirethnographic work, Richardson establishes the following as important evaluative criteria. Shebelieves the work should: make a substantive contribution, have aesthetic merit, havereflexivity, make an impact, and express a reality (254). In this way, Richardson intends to showthe related nature of scientific research and creative expression.Arthur Bochner responds to Richardson in “Criteria Against Ourselves” and sets up his ownevaluation criteria for what he terms “alternative ethnography,” another name oftenassigned to ethnography that deviates from traditional social science norms. He seesalternative ethnographies as “narratives of the self” that “extract meaning fromexperience rather than depict experience exactly as it was lived” (270). When looking at thispersonal writing, he wants abundant concrete detail, structurally complex narratives,emotional credibility, a tale of two selves, and ethical self-consciousness (270-71).In “Evocative Autoethnography: Writing Emotionally About Our Lives,” Carolyn Ellis describesher gradual departure from traditional sociological methods into an approach that is morepersonally meaningful. She achieves this balance in her writing by using multiple voices,starting and restarting to establish her point of view through both analysis and storytelling. “Imade myself begin again in an autoethnographic voice that concentrates on telling apersonal, evocative story to provoke others’ stories and adds blood and tissue to theabstract bones of the theoretical discourse” (117). Throughout the piece, she clearlyestablishes a point of view, which she emphasizes in many of her works about2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 4/18autoethnography, “I think that sociology can be emotional, personal, therapeutic,interesting, engaging, evocative, reflexive, helpful, concrete, and connected to the world ofeveryday experience” (120). She aims to be true to her feelings, move away from timeordered structures and convey her emotions (128).Ellis draws on interviews, notes, conversations, and diaries to construct her writing and seeks tofind herself in the context of a larger world. “The inner workings of the self must beinvestigated in reciprocal relationship with the other: concrete action, dialogue, emotion, andthinking are featured, but they are represented within relationships and institutions, very muchimpacted by history, social structure, and culture, which themselves are dialectically revealedthrough action, thought, and language” (133).She seeks to find value in autoethnography through the impact it has on her audience. “Astory’s ‘validity’ can be judged by whether it evokes in readers a feeling that theexperience described is authentic and lifelike, believable and possible; the story’sgeneralizability can be judged by whether it speaks to readers about their experience” (133).She believes that by sharing stories this way, we open up a world that allows others to sharetheir stories (134).To accomplish this, your first attempt at autoethngraphy might begin with Allen’s simpleretelling of a “story”. This story connects with something powerful in your life and may leadyou to a particular conclusion about how your individual world works and how that is affectedby larger social institutions. If you are able to do multiple drafts, the opportunity for reflectiongrows and the connection to larger social institutions is more easily made.5Preparing for the AutoethnograhyIn writing an autoethnography, you will be asked to analyze your epiphany, position in thesubculture or the educational path you are currently on as well as the positioning of othersand how it might affect your perspective. Autoethnographic analysis in this case mightinclude interviewing other members of the subculture, conducting field observation, analyzingtextual materials, investigating histories, and engaging in self-reflection. Previous involvementin or attachment to a subculture provides a vested interest in the project, a sense of authority,and a position from which to analyze.6When conducting autoethnographic research, as opposed to traditional ethnographicresearch, you start out with a certain amount of knowledge about the subculture or epiphanyyou are investigating because you have some expertise about it. At the same time, because itis necessary to explain the subculture to those who are unfamiliar with it, you must also learnhow to translate that knowledge to an outside audience. In addition, when considering anyobservations you might make, you need to look at the subculture afresh and describeelements you may have taken for granted. You must account for rituals, language andsubtleties that make it operate as something unique and situated. You might considerinterviewing members of the subculture who inhabit a different position than you do, and youcan also gather new perspectives from insiders that will help you to further articulate your ownideas and question your own authority in communicating exactly what the subculture is.Interviewing and conducting observations can both empower you and decenter you fromyour own experience, forcing you to question and revise your representation of your2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 5/18experience to an intended audience (your instructor and classmates, who may see this writingat multiple stages).7When you draw on visceral experiences as well as textual evidence, it can also create a richerunderstanding of the subculture and an ethical responsibility to convey its multiple facets andto avoid being reductive. This can increase your understanding and involvement in thesubculture and produce a new appreciation for an activity that perhaps had been anunexamined part of your life outside the classroom. In this way, the writing carries an impactthat extends beyond the scope of the assignment and its evaluation against classroomstandards.One of the first steps you want to take in preparing for your autoethnograpy is to determine itsstructure. An autoethnography assignment will generally provide you with an overall question,a particular subculture or epiphany or a series of smaller questions related to an overall theme.You should pay close attention to what is being asked of you including what you will need tosubmit, the research required to complete it and what the differences are between anysubsequent drafts. At Guttman, we generally begin with an exercise that helps you to thinkabout your path to college. This might be a brainstorm, a list of questions or an exploration ofyour own notes, posts, assignments or journal entries.8Collecting data for your autoethnographyIf you have not been provided a list of questions, you may need to develop your own. In thiscase, you will need to review whichever aspect of your world your professor has asked you toexamine and any experiences, people and artifacts that are related.9At Guttman, we focus on the general question “How Did I Get Here?” and ask you to reflecton your unique experiences, positions and perspectives in this world. You should think aboutwho were the people that lead you to this college? What has happened with your schoolingand work experiences, your family and friends, your spiritual/religious beliefs, and/or yourneighborhoods that brought you to Guttman?For your autoethnography, you will think deeply about your own understanding of how yougot to Guttman—the people, places and experiences in your life that led you to New York, toGuttman, through your first year and to a possible major and career. This is called anautoethnography because the primary source of analysis is your experience and perceptionsof the events in your life. Your introduction should engage readers with your story and yourpurpose of writing and your conclusion should state your main findings about your path toGuttman and reflect more broadly on how your experience may indicate largerideas/experiences/structures in our social world.Some professors may also ask you to consider the following questions:1. How do your experiences reflect broader societal issues about education?2. How does race, socio-economic class, gender and other aspects of identity playout in your narrative?2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 6/183. What is important about the main challenges and opportunities youexperienced?4. What is the role of social institutions—such as family, schools, religion, etc andyour pathway to Guttman?The structure of your autoethnography should be similar to how you might write up anethnography. This will generally include one or more narrative stories that describe theparticular aspects of your subculture or epiphany that are referred to in your assignment. Youmight include pictures or images that capture your experiences. As part of this assignment,you may find it useful to speak to family or friends who might also have insight into those partsof your life, examining journals, photos and pictures to collect information can also provideinformation.As you think about your autoethnography, you must also understand that memory is fallible. Asa rule, people remember only a very small amount of what they experience. If this were nottrue, we would not be able to function on a daily basis. Consider whether you have a memoryof something that others dispute—maybe something that happened in childhood or anexperience with a friend on which you disagree about what actually occurred.It is important to establish that just because memories differ does not mean they are invalid.There is a fine line between remembering something to the best of our ability and willfullymisremembering something. Talking to others who were involved in memories, if possible, canbe helpful in fleshing out details. . Since memory is fallible, interviewing others who werepresent at important events, speaking to multiple people directly involved in the memories orreading journals or other first-hand accounts can be an important part of the writing. It maycome as a surprise that writing about your own life can require research.10Once you have your data, you want to begin to organize it. There are two general ways toorganize your autoethnography—chronologically and by theme. If you are describing yourpath to or through something, you will likely want to write this chronologically. You shouldbegin with the earliest event, person or activity and share a story or multiple stories through tothe current time.11If you are not writing your essay as building up to something or this is later draft that includessome analysis or examination of social institutions, you might want to organize your paper bytheme. In this case, you might collect particular examples that share a particular pattern orconnect to a theme.Ethnographic NarrativesThe forms of autoethnography also differ in how much emphasis is placed on the study ofothers, the researcher’s self and interaction with others, traditional analysis, and the interviewcontext, as well as on power relationships.12 Many assignments in a class are likely to focusmore on the self but others might ask you to pull on data outside of your own experiences.These are built off of different structures of ethnographic research and the ways in whichnarratives are composed.132022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 7/18Indigenous/native ethnographies, for example, develop from colonized or economicallysubordinated people, and are used to address and disrupt power in research, particularly a(outside) researcher’s right and authority to study (exotic) others. Once at the service of the(White, masculine, heterosexual, middle/upper-classed, Christian, cis-gendered, able-bodied)ethnographer, indigenous/native ethnographers now work to construct their own personaland cultural stories; they no longer find (forced) subjugation excusable (see Denzin, Lincoln &Smith, 2008).14Narrative ethnographies refer to texts presented in the form of stories that incorporate theethnographer’s experiences into the ethnographic descriptions and analysis of others. Herethe emphasis is on the ethnographic study of others, which is accomplished partly byattending to encounters between the narrator and members of the groups being studied(Tedlock, 1991), and the narrative often intersects with analyses of patterns and processes.Reflexive, dyadic interviews focus on the interactively produced meanings and emotionaldynamics of the interview itself. Though the focus is on the participant and her or his story, thewords, thoughts, and feelings of the researcher also are considered, e.g., personal motivationfor doing a project, knowledge of the topics discussed, emotional responses to an interview,and ways in which the interviewer may have been changed by the process of interviewing.Even though the researcher’s experience isn’t the main focus, personal reflection adds contextand layers to the story being told about participants (Ellis, 2004).Reflexive ethnographies document ways a researcher changes as a result of doing fieldwork.Reflexive/narrative ethnographies exist on a continuum ranging from starting research fromthe ethnographer’s biography, to the ethnographer studying her or his life alongside culturalmembers’ lives, to ethnographic memoirs (Ellis, 2004, p.50) or “confessional tales” (VanMaanen, 1988) where the ethnographer’s backstage research endeavors become the focusof investigation (Ellis, 2004).Layered accounts often focus on the author’s experience alongside data, abstract analysis,and relevant literature. This form emphasizes the procedural nature of research. Similar togrounded theory, layered accounts illustrate how “data collection and analysis proceedsimultaneously” (Charmaz, 1983, p.110) and frame existing research as a “source of questionsand comparisons” rather than a “measure of truth” (p.117). But unlike grounded theory, layeredaccounts use vignettes, reflexivity, multiple voices, and introspection (Ellis, 1991) to “invoke”readers to enter into the “emergent experience” of doing and writing research (Ronai, 1992,p.123), conceive of identity as an “emergent process” (Rambo, 2005, p.583), and considerevocative, concrete texts to be as important as abstract analyses (Ronai, 1995, 1996).Interactive interviews provide an “in-depth and intimate understanding of people’sexperiences with emotionally charged and sensitive topics” (Ellis, Kiesinger & Tillmann-Healy,1997, p.121). Interactive interviews are collaborative endeavors between researchers andparticipants, research activities in which researchers and participants—one and the same—probe together about issues that transpire, in conversation, about particular topics (e.g.,eating disorders). Interactive interviews usually consist of multiple interview sessions, and, unliketraditional one-on-one interviews with strangers, are situated within the context of emergingand well-established relationships among participants and interviewers (Adams, 2008). Theemphasis in these research contexts is on what can be learned from interaction within the2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 8/18interview setting as well as on the stories that each person brings to the research encounter(Mey & Mruck, 2010).Similar to interactive interviews, community autoethnographies use the personal experienceof researchers-in-collaboration to illustrate how a community manifests particularsocial/cultural issues (e.g., whiteness; Toyosaki, Pensoneau-Conway, Wendt & Leathers, 2009).Community autoethnographies thus not only facilitate “community-building” researchpractices but also make opportunities for “cultural and social intervention” possible (p.59; seeKardorff & Schönberger, 2010).Co-constructed narratives illustrate the meanings of relational experiences, particularly howpeople collaboratively cope with the ambiguities, uncertainties, and contradictions of beingfriends, family, and/or intimate partners. Co-constructed narratives view relationships as jointly-authored, incomplete, and historically situated affairs. Joint activity structures co-constructedresearch projects. Often told about or around an epiphany, each person first writes her or hisexperience, and then shares and reacts to the story the other wrote at the same time (seeBochner & Ellis, 1995; Toyosaki & Pensoneau, 2005; Vande berg & Trujillo, 2008).Generally, the autoethnographies you will write for classes will be personal narratives storiesabout authors who view themselves as the phenomenon and write evocative narrativesspecifically focused on their academic, research, and personal lives (e.g., Berry, 2007;Goodall, 2006; Poulos, 2008; Tillmann, 2009). These often are the most controversial forms ofautoethnography for traditional social scientists, especially if they are not accompanied bymore traditional analysis and/or connections to scholarly literature. Personal narrativespropose to understand a self or some aspect of a life as it intersects with a cultural context,connect to other participants as co-researchers, and invite readers to enter the author’s worldand to use what they learn there to reflect on, understand, and cope with their own lives (Ellis,2004, p.46)Even if it is not assigned, an autoethnography can be a good exercise before embarking onethnographic research. It allows you to begin to think like an ethnographer with familiar data.It can also provide space for you to began to think about your perspectives on a particularresearch subject, as well as your biases and blindspots. In addition, the reflective purposes itserves can be invaluable in moving your own research forward.15a. Outlining the overall structureCome up with a name that isn’t “how I got here” “my trip here” “Why I’mhere” Something reflective of the paper.b. Writing an introductionc. Writing a conclusiond. RevisionRevise your document by incorporating any and all edits on your previous draftand make sure that you have an introduction and a conclusion. You also shouldmake sure that the new paragraphs fit with the paper as a whole.2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 9/181. Learning from your autoethnographye. Re-coding your autoethnographyYou will also be expected to return to and revise your first autoethnography toensure that it fits your additions and to add more information covering your firstyear. This may also include information from reflections or work in any of your otherclasses. You will also do the ethnographic coding that you have learned since yourprevious autoethnography and describe the themes and patterns that emerged.Read through the entire paper and pull out the theoretical notes. What are thepatterns in your life? The people, places, attitudes and/or opinions that have hadan effect on your life? Select at least three theoretical notes and describe theirimportance to you.Chapter SummaryAutoethnography is a reflective practice that allows the researcher to use their ownexperience in understanding social phenomenaThe researcher may need to consult sources outside of themselvesA researcher can do an autoethnography on their own experiences but can also askresearch subjects to do them on themselvesKey TermsAutoethnographyValue-centeredEpiphaniesQuestions1. How has autoethnography been used over time?2. If you had to develop three themes that illustrated your life so far, what would they beand what epiphanies led to them or are a result of them?3. How should autoethnographies be organized?ReferencesAdams, Tony E. & Holman Jones, Stacy (2008). Autoethnography is queer. In Norman K.Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln & Linda T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and indigenousmethodologies (pp.373-390). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Adams, Tony E. (2005). Speaking for others: Finding the “whos” of discourse. Soundings, 88(3-4),331-345.