Adams, T. S. Jones, and C. Ellis. 2015. Autoethnography: Understanding Qualitative Research.

Adams, Tony E., Stacy Holman Jones, and Carolyn Ellis. 2015. Autoethnography: Understanding Qualitative Research. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ethnography as a synthesis of artistry and analysis – making sense of how we come to know, define, analyze, and interpret our cultural experiences. Works to confront “the tension between insider and outsider perspectives, between social practice and social constraint” (Reed-Danahay 2009).

Uses personal experience to describe and critique cultural practice, belief, experience, centers on the relationship of the researcher with others. Offers practiced self-reflection (reflexivity) to examine relationship between self and society – personal and political (Berry and Clair 2011). Looks at how individuals problem-solve and create meaning, offers emotionality and accessibility, seeks solutions to social problems.

Examines self, role-taking, interaction, subjectivity, emotionality, interaction. Highlighted as a feminist practice, integrating experiences into the canon of sociology. Ethnography acting as a reciprocal experience- one cannot just experience and observe the field — the field and those you encounter in it change you and how you think. Autoethnography as a queer method – breaking down categories and blending emotions and analysis into one (and none). Works to share stories of others, through lens of self-perception. Offers solutions through expressing the stories of others (and self). Constructs identity representation where there may be a dearth, offers accountability and reciprocality (evening of field) toward research subjects.

Conquergood (1989) – ethnographic research embedded within power and authority – who gets to observe whom?

Reed-Danahay (2002) – we can no longer “assume a voice of objective authority, or a self-righteous certainty that his/her interpretation is ‘true’. We know that ‘natives’ have their own interpretations, and that our colleagues may see things differently” (423) —- autoethnography helps to seek out individual perspectives and incorporation multiple persepectives )

Introduced as “self-ethnography” by Walter Goldschmidt (1977), as autoethnography by David Hayano (1979) – however, there’s an implication – not explicit demand for overcoming insider-outsider statuses

Richardson (2000) – “Many of us no longer wish to become the kinds of ethnographers – distant, removed, neutral, disengaged, above-it – traditional ethnography would have us be” (pg. 253). Understanding that the self has a place in the stories of ethnography – how we are treated, how we experience, and how we interpret the field.

“We are more honest as scholars when we acknowledge the myriad ways in which our personal lives and emotions are intertwined with who, what, and how we study” (Blee 2003, 111).

Storytelling and personal experience gendered feminine in a masculinist, positivistic discipline. How could people ‘feel’ and still be objective? Autoethnography questions the predictive capacity of social science – how do we predict an unpredictable population? How do we integrate major points of experiential identity (gender, race, class, sexuality) into our analysis? How to we go beyond imperialist and colonial practices of traditional ethnography? How do we disrupt silences, break taboos, and open the field up for marginalized voices?

“Although we may be able to make educated guesses about cultural patterns and practices, we can never predict what other people might think, say, or do. Nor can we establish singular, stable, or certain “truth” claims about human relationships. Social life is messy, uncertain, and emotional. If our desireis to research social life, then we must embrace a research method that, to the best of its/our ability, acknowledges and accommodates mess and chaos, uncertainty and emotion” (9).

Autoethnography as a qualitative method – focusing on a specific type of knowledge on individual lives, experiences, relationships rather than groupings of general information. Based out of the anthropological debate of the crisis of representation – acknowledged limits of knowledge that ethnographers can claim regarding the lives and contexts of their subjects and arena, acknowledging researchers roles in how identities, beliefs, and values shaped the direction and interpretation of their research. AE used to create narratives of emotion, question, voice, sensation – tying past, present, and prospects for future events into an interaction between writer and audience.

Making an Autoethnographic Project

  • Foreground personal experience, highlight sense-making processes, demonstrate reflexivity, show insider knowledge of cultural phenomenon, describe and critique norms and behaviors, seek responses from audience

Doing Autoethnography

Often, our project begins with events that turn our feelings, thinking, sense of self and others.

Start out with personal experiences – epiphanies – “transformative moments and realizations that significantly shaper or alter the (perceived) course of our lives (Denzin 2014)” – leaving us with lasting memories and sensations. Or, “aesthetic moments” (Bolen 2014) that are mundane, without transformative power, but still constitute memory. Search for a storyline – what’s the plot? A recurring theme?

Types of AE: realism, impressionism, expressionism, conceptualism

In creating “good” AE, consider: What are the contributions I’m making through knowledge? How does it value the experience? How does it tell the story? Is it ethical? Does it contribute to larger social issues?


Berry, Keith and Robin P. Clair. 2011. “Special Issue: The Call of Ethnographic Reflexivity: Narrating the Self’s Presence in Ethnography.” Cultural Studies < = > Cultural Methodologies 11(2): 95-209.

Blee, Kathleen M. 2003. “Studying the Enemy.” In Our Studies, Ourselves: Sociologists’ Lives and Work, edited by Barry Glassner and Rosanna Hertz, 13-23. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bolen, Derek M. 2014. “After Dinners, In the Garage, Out of Doors, and Climbing on Rocks.” In On (Writing) Families: Autoethnographies of Presence and Absence, Love and Loss, edited by Jonathan Wyatt and Tony E. Adams, 141-147. Rotterdamn, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Conquergood, Dwight. 1989. “Poetics, Play, Process, and Power: The Performative Turn in Anthropology.” Text and Performance Quarterly 1(1): 82-95.

Denzin, Norman K. 2014. Interpretive Autoethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Goldschmidt, Walter. 1977. “Anthropology and the Coming Crisis: An Autoethnographic Appraisal.” American Anthropologist 79(2): 293-308.

Hayano, David M. 1979. “Auto-Ethnography: Paradigms, Problems, and Prospects.” Human Organization 38(1): 99-104.

Reed-Danahay, Deborah. 2002. “Turning Points and Textual Strategies in Ethnographic Writing.” Qualitative Studies in Education 15(4): 421-425.

Reed-Danahay, Deborah. 2009. “Anthropologists, Education, and Autoethnography.” Reviews in Anthropology 38(1): 28-47.

Richardson, Laurel. 2000. “Evaluating Ethnography.” Qualitative Inquiry 6(2): 253-55.


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