Autoethnography is a methodology utilized in social sciences and expressive arts, a mode of inquiry that allows for investigation into the subjective human experience of individual lives in the context of larger cultures, defining ideas, and the complex socioeconomic realities that shape who we are and what we experience within our stories. (Ellis, 2004; Denzin, 2014)
As it has evolved for the purpose of creating a framework within which the researcher is invited to explore the nuanced space between the personal, the political and the social, autoethnography does not silence the researcher’s voice and perspectives.
The researcher’s voice is core to the research, a subject unto itself.
In a world that most people can agree is often confusing, chaotic, and troubling, as well as beautiful and full of potential, we exist as individuals and community members through our conceptions and experiences of who we are – our ideas about identity and purpose, our motivations and relationships.
Our experiences are shaped by relationships between economy, race, gender, social norms, cultural values, and broad ideas informed by religion, philosophy and law about what it means to be human in our modern worlds.
We live in many different worlds.
Autoethnography may be a powerful tool for those who are seeking to make sense of their lives, whether they want to make sense of their lives or not. Sometimes, people are impelled by circumstance and significance to have to reflect on who they are and why they experience their lives in the way that they do. By offering a set of flexible, reflexive critical tools, autoethnography presents opportunities to consider perception, test reality, explore ideas about self and world and create spaces where the sorely invisible internal world and realities may be shared.
Understanding processes of conscious identity and worldview formation may be vitally important in our evolving understanding of what it is to be human in the 21st century. It may be crucial that we, as a species, re-learn to consider our stories critically, objectively, and subjectively, from multiple perspectives and recognizing the many variables that impact how we experience our lives. A single room of people supposedly experiencing a shared event can hold a multitude of different realities. Through exercising the capacity to think critically about who we are and who we think we are, in relation to others and the ideas that define us, individuals and communities are able to gain insight into the conceptual and economic/environmental factors that differentially impact life experiences and identity.
It is in the depth and range of analysis that autoethnography becomes such a powerful tool in reflecting mindfully and critically on one’s experiences in life. However, the reasons for inquiry into one’s identity and experience extend beyond the self. Our individual lives exist in relationship with social, cultural, and economic structures that define much of what we experience, even going so far as to relegate some people to lives of abject deprivation while others will lead lives of relative ease.
In seeking to make sense of who we are within and across social and environmental contexts, we are able to gain insight into the mechanisms of oppressions and privileges within our lives and explore the ways that our conceptions of self and humanity have been shaped by the interwoven forces of culture, history, and economy (Drick, 2008; Denshire, 2014; Reed-Danahay, 1997).
It is worth noting that the developing autoethnographic works below are largely experimental and very much in progress. Therefore, these works do not represent the practice of autoethnography as it may be employed by professional social scientists working in academic settings.
The Family Papers [In Progress]
The Prodrome: A Coming of Age [Forthcoming]