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Autoethnography as Method

Nikola Lero
Tomás Martins Paes de Almeida

Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg

Heewon Chang

• B.A. in Education Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

• M.A. in Education and Anthropology, University of Oregon
• Ph.D. in Education and Anthropology, University of Oregon

Research Interests:
• Multicultural education, educational justice and equity, diversity leadership, women
leadership, anthropology, ethnography and qualitative research

• Chang, H., Ngunjiri, F., & Hernandez, K. (2013) Collaborative Autoethnography.
Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
• Chang, H., & Boyd, D. (Eds., 2011). Spirituality in Higher Education:
Autoetnographies. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
• Chang, H. (2008). Autoethnography as Method. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
• Chang, H., (1992). Adolescent Life and Ethos: An Ethnography of a US High School.
London, UK: Falmer Press
Structure of the Presentation

1. Culture: A Web of Self and Others

2. Self-narratives

3. Autoethnography

• Reflections and Questions

Symbiosis of Culture and People

• Premise: culture is inherently group-oriented, because culture results from

human interactions with each other.

• Gajjala would argue that face-to-face interactions are not a prerequisite to the
creation of culture in a highly globalized digital age when interactions can be
facilitated by digital means of communication.

• Whether interactions are conventional or alternative, the fundamental premise is

not challenged.

• Where culture is located? One argues that culture is located outside of

individuals and the other that it is inside people´s minds.
Work-in-Progress Concept of Culture

• Seven premises:
1. Individuals are cultural agents, but culture is not at all about individuality.
2. Individuals are not prisioners of culture.
3. Despite inner-group diversity, a certain level of sharedness, common understanding,
and/or repeated interactions is needed to bind people together as a group.
4. Individuals can become members of multiple social organizations concurrently.
5. Each membership contributes to the cultural makeup of individuals with varying degrees
of influence.
6. Individuals discard a membership of a cultural group with or without „letting go“ their
cultural traits.
7. Without securing official memberships in certain cultural groups, obvious traits of
membership, or members´ approvals, outsiders can acquire cultural traits and claim
culturual affiliations with other cultural groups.
The Concepts of Self

• Culture as a product of interactions between self and others in a community of practice.

• Individual as a basic unit of culture.

• Historical Concepts of Self

• Cross-Cultural Concepts of Self

Western view of self - Gergen: “a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and
cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action…“

Native American views of self – Oglala: „the self contains some of the other, participates in
the other… In respecting the other, the self is simultaneously respected“
The Concepts of Others: The typology of Others

- The term „others“ generally refes to existentially different human beings – those who are
other than self.

Others of similarity: Those who belong to the same community as self are likely to be seen
as comrades who share similar standards and values. (friends to self)

Others of difference: Others from a different community are likely to be distinguished as

strangers who possess and operate by different frames of reference. (strangers to self)

Others of opposition: When differences in behaviors, beliefs, or customs are deemed to be

not only irreconcilable but also threatening to the very existence of self and others of
similarity. (enemies to self)
The Concepts of Others: Cultural Verstehen of
• „verstehen“: empathic understanding – an act of putting aside one´s own framework and
„seeing others“ experiences within he framework of their own.

• Although perfect verstehen is beyond our human capacity, attempts to empathize can
reduce incorrect judgments about others and enhance rich understanding of strangers.

• Leave one´s standards momentarily and observing and analyzing differences between
self and others are helpful practices in understanding others of difference.

• In the process of understanding others of difference, self may learn from others and take
in part of others. The genuine effort to „verstehen“ others´ culture often produces
cultural crossing between self and others.
The Concepts of Others: Expanding Cultural
• The product of genuine and thoughtful cultural crossing is known as an „edgewalker“.
(Kreb, 1999).

Edgewalker: significant lived experiences with different cultural communities through which
they develop solid cross-cultural competence while maintaining a healthy understanding of

Blending old and new cultural competence, edgewalkers constantly turn their former others
of difference into others of similarity by reducing strangeness in others and expanding teir
cultural boundaries.

They also engage others in the mutually transformational process because genuine cross-
cultural pollination affects both parties. Both self and others end up expanding their cultural
boundaries to include each other.
Self-Narratives: Growing Interest in Self-
• Writing focusing on self have increased significantly in volume in recent decades.
• They have come in the form of autobiography, memoir, journal, diary, personal essay, or
• The widespread interes in self-narratives has been demonstrated by scholars in
anthropology, sociology, communication, education, medicine, nursing, psychiatry, and
Self-Narratives for Understanding Self and
• Writing focusing
Studying others on
self have
to comparein volume
and contrast
in recent
decades. with others in
• the cultural
They have come
texts in
of autobiography,
study, in turn discovering
memoir, journal,
new dimensions
diary, personal
of their
own lives.
• Self-reflection evoked by reading of others is a means to self-discovery. (Florio-Ruane, 2001;
• Brunner,
The widespread
1994). interes in self-narratives has been demonstrated by scholars in
• Self-discovery in
anthropology, sociology,
a culturalcommunication,
sense is intimately
related to
psychiatry, and
If others refers to others of similarity, the self is reflected in others in a general sense.
If others refers to others of difference, understanding the similarity between self and others
captures only a portion of understanding others.
The Variety of Self-Narratives

• Genres

They have come in the form of:

1. Autobiography: whole life;

2. Memoir: fragments of life, most significants experiences in life;

3. Journal: tend to be records of daily growth, musings and insights;

4. Diary: record daily happenings; more chronological and descriptive;

5. Personal essay: contains personal insights in response to the author´s environment;

6. Letter: can also have self-narrative quality when they contain descriptions of the
behaviors and thoughts of their authors.
“500 days of Summer”

If you want to get over

put them into literature....
Autoethnography, Chapter 3

• The author singles out autoetnography from other self-narratives

 Autoethnography transcends mere narration of self to engage in cultural analysis

and interpretetion

• Structure of the chapter:

 autoethnography’s history,
 characteristics,
 benefits
 pitfalls to avoid
History and development of autoethnography

• Autoethnography is not new to social scientists:

 Sun Chief (Simmons, 1942), Through Harsh Winters (Kikimura, 1981)

• Antropologists turn scholarly interest inward on themselves

 Reed-Danahay (1997) states, "We are in the midst of renewed interest in

personal narrative, in life history, and in autobiography among anthropologists"

• The discourse war of scholars - objectivity vs subjectivity

What is autoethnography?

• Author promotes broader sociocultural context and reflexivity transcending

autobiography by “connecting the personal to the cultural”

Ellis and Bochner (2000) define autoethnography as "autobiographies that self-

consciously explore the interplay of the introspective, personally engaged self with
cultural descriptions mediated through language, history, and ethnographic

• Autoethnography should be ethnographic in its methodological orientation,

cultural in its interpretive orientation, and autobiographical in its content
What is autoethnography?

• Similarities and differences with ethnography

 “Autoethnographers use their personal experiences as primary data”

• Autoetnography as a method for personal and emotive topics: sometimes

including those conventionally kept private, such as a complex mother-daughter
relationship (Ellis, 1996), a father's death (Wyatt, 2005), childhood with a
psychotic parent (Foster, McAllister, & O'Brien, 2005)
Benefits vs Pitfalls of Autoethnography

Benefits: Pitfalls

 (1) it offers a research method friendly  (1) excessive focus on self in isolation
to researchers and readers; from others;

 (2) it enhances cultural understanding of  (2) overemphasis on narration rather

self and others; than analysis and cultural interpretation;

 (3) it has a potential to transform self  (3) exclusive reliance on personal

and others to motivate them memory and recalling as a data source;
to work toward cross-cultural
coalition building.  (4) negligence of ethical standards
regarding others in self-narratives;

 (5) inappropriate application of the label

Writing about being a Yugoslavian refugee
from Bosnia

“Do not try to be a hero

of your story.

And you will be one.”

An exercise and questions
Thank you!