Autoethnography is a research method that foregrounds the researcher’s personal experience (auto) as it is embedded within, and informed by, cultural identities and con/texts (ethno) and as it is expressed through writing, performance, or other creative means (graphy). More specifically, it is a method that blends the purposes, techniques, and theories of social research—primarily ethnography—with the purposes, techniques, and theories associated with genres of life writing, especially autobiography, memoir, and personal essay. (Manning & Adams, 2015, p. 188-189)
One of the things I came across in both Bochner & Ellis (2016) and Manning & Adams (2016) is the idea of defining autoethnography by breaking up the name into its component parts. I like this idea and it has had me reflecting on how it applies to my research. Interestingly, I find that writing some of my blog posts are little exercises in authoethnography – I practice each of the components when writing posts – or at least some post, others are just pure opinion or pure analysis. Regardless, I figure it is a useful exercise to explore the definition in terms of what I think my research will be.
Auto – This is the self-reflective component of my research. I will start with a research question which is still forming. I had started with “What learning occurs in breast cancer blogs?” but that is just too broad. I need to narrow a little, and what I’m finding I’m really interested in is how blogs are used to put words to the experience of developing health literacy. In looking at my own journey, I will being by exploring the first year of my breast cancer blog. I will re-read through my blog looking for the different ways I use it to express new found health literacies. I will reflect on who writing the blog caused me to further develop those literacies – doing things like finding appropriate sources for comments I was making on my blog.
Ethno – This is where I take what I learned from my blog and see if it rings true with other blogs. Here I will look at the first year of other people’s blogs. I’m specifically interested in those who started blogging at the beginning of their treatment – which will align with when I started blogging. Again, I want to see, does their blog show their grown in terms of health literacy?
In addition, I want to look at the comments on both my blog on other peoples blogs. Do the comments show how people might be using the blog to develop their health literacies? Is the blog teaching them something that is useful?
Graphy – For me this is both the fun and the difficult part. There is where I get to be creative, something that I love doing but I have struggle to find an outlet for in my research. I’m really thinking of use this as a way to write up my results, but it isn’t just about writing results. Bochner & Ellis (2016) highlight that the act of writing itself is a form of inquiry. I agree completely. Even as I write this post, I’m reflecting, and learning. The act of write this up has changed my perspective. I can recall many times when the epiphany of the situation occurs to me only when I go to put words on a page (or screen as is the case here).
I’m also wondering about privileging of the different phases – the auto, the ethno, and the graphy. Will I be privileging one over the other? If I think about it, I can easily see the privileging of the Auto – in part because I have a strong feeling that my story matters. Perhaps it is more a need for my story to matter? Either way, I see that as an easy privileging. It is also that I’m an expert in the auto. No one else can tell my story from an insiders perspective. That is only something that I can do. The ethno is perhaps my weakest link, but not really. If I think about it as cultural studies, then I feel it as weak simply because I have never identified as someone that studied culture. In reality though, I do have some knowledge in that area. I’m not a complete novice. But I also bring to the ethno the insider perspective. This is different than looking at myself from the inside, it is looking outwards but with an insider knowledge of the community/phenomena – which means that I am in a better place to hear and understand what others in the community have to say. And finally there is a the graphy. This is an area where I struggle a little, but am struggling less when I reframe things. I know I’m a good writer. I know that I can communicate well using the blog genre. Where I get weak is when I try to do things that are too different from what I know. Then I get all caught up in impostor syndrome and the sense that I could never learn it all. Then I need to step back and take stock of what I do know, and realize that I can create an evocative autoethnography without needing to use the forms of language (such as two person dialog) that I’m completely unfamiliar writing. I can use other forms that are much more familiar to me, and frankly, will likely do a better job communicating what I’m trying to communicate anyways.
Also, what I’m seeing here is that autoethnography is not a linear process – or at least not for me – it is more a series of cycles. Introspection/Reflection (looking inwards), Extrospection (looking outwards), and Writing (sense-making).
Now with the idea of cycles, I’m thinking of bike tires spinning round-and-round, never taking the same path twice.