“There is a sense in which all ethnography is autoethnography” – Walter Goldschmidt
Both a process and a product
Autoethnography as method attempts to disrupt the binary of science and art. It synthesizes both a postmodern ethnography, in which the realist conventions and objective observer position of standard ethnography have been called into question and a postmodern autobiography, in which the notion of a coherent, individual self has been similarly called into question (Ellis, 2005). In essence, autoethnography really has a Yin-Yang type thing going on.
The word derives from three separate words; Auto meaning “I”, Ethno meaning “culture”, and Graph meaning “analyse”. When we introduce the auto part, the word becomes a paradox when considering traditional, “canonical” (Ellis, 2010) and objective-based research(analysis) methods. As Alsop states (2002, pp.1) the shift from ‘ethno’ to ‘autoethno’ “comes about when the autoethnographer places the self within a social context by connecting the personal and the cultural.”
According to Ellis (2004) & Holman Jones (2005) auto-ethnography is ‘an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.’
If you didn’t catch all that, I’ll summarise; Basically, if you want to talk about self-reflexive research with someone but don’t want to use a term with six syllables, just call it iCulture.
Since recording my initial auto-ethnographic experience with South Korean film State of Play, I’ve educated myself on the world that is pro-eSports. Also, I’ve sort of become really fascinated about South Korean culture as a whole entity. It’s made it a lot easier to understand how an activity like elite eSports can cultivate and come to be so widely embraced.
Sure, this is all lovely but how can I make sure I apply this research in the right way?
I wanted to dive deeper into the what’s and the how’s of autoethnography. The various definitions and methodologies of autoethnography (And do they differ from my understanding?) Along the way, I came to realise that prior to knowing what autoethnography is and how it’s used, I’ve already had so much practical experience using similar research methodologies.
Take my blog, for example, I now see it as an autoethnographic tool – I record subjective observations about various texts, media industries, products, and information. I’ll reflect on my blogs weeks and months after having written, usually with fresh knowledge about the given subject I’ll more than often have many answers to my previous questions. Reader comments will also shift my perspective about what constitutes a useful or interesting topic. According to Adams (2005) and Wood (2009) the process of autoethnography
Reader comments will also shift my perspective about what constitutes a useful or interesting topic. According to Adams (2005) and Wood (2009) the process of autoethnography “expands and opens up a wider lens on the world, eschewing rigid definitions of what constitutes meaningful and useful research; this approach also helps us understand how the kinds of people we claim or are perceived, to be influence interpretations of what we study, how we study it, and what we say about our topic”
I relayed my initial observations initially in the last blog but it’s sort of useless unless I analyse them with my new super-auto-ethnographer brain. Totally a thing, guys. Strap yourselves in but, I’m about to make this research my b.
- I couldn’t wrap my head around the way the tone of the movie i.e. the soundtrack, lighting, and general themes were so mismatched with my idea of video games and their uses. We have MMORPG here in Aus, and yet I’m yet to hear about the down-under equivalent to Lee Jae Dong.
State of Play is a film about competitive sports. Rightly so, the atmosphere it invokes is intense. However, the sport is unconventional. The problem with this is that the idea of playing video games professionally in a country like Australia would generally evoke a different parental response than what Jae Dong’s parent when he details with pride that ‘only the smartest brains can achieve success’ in pro-gaming.
My personal experience using MMORPG gaming, and gaming in general, is minimal, and what I’ve observed is a mostly relaxed attitude to video games, seeing them used in a wind-down-recreational type style. However I do remember my Dad getting pretty into playing World of Warcraft back in the day – I only remember because the whole family shared a computer (roughly 2008, I think) and I probably would’ve been so pissed that I couldn’t update my Bebo at any time. For this reason, I can understand how these games can be addictive by nature.
I recalled this memory as we might call it an example of relational ethics. In Ellis’ (2005) work, relational ethics is addressed and he details how autoethnographic researchers must consider “relational concerns” as a crucial dimension of inquiry. Through my own personal experience, I have an understanding of the appeal MMORPG gaming has for players to play consistently.
- Another salient observation I made in my initial autoethnographic account was my disillusionment with a culture that cultivates professional gaming. I did initially wonder if South Korean’s were simply bored, and it made me question cultural norms. The thought probably sounded a lot like “What?!!! They start training by abandoning school at just 15?? BUT WHY?! What do the parents think?!”
Dhoedt (2015) helped shed light on how such a phenomena could be cultivated. He states that “the micro-world of the StarCraft Pro League is like a mirror of South Korean society – a society so competitive that it almost seems logical that a simple video game would result in a professional competitive sport. South Korea is a country that aims high. It’s a country in full development that wants to prove itself on all levels – technologically, economically as politically.” – For me, this was an ‘aha’ moment. Much in the way Australians celebrate their debaucherous nature making a beverage (VB) a national past-time, Koreans alike choose to celebrate their competitive nature by, well, competing.
Check out this article that was originally posted on a Korean forum, that calls on audiences to inform them that “Korean StarCraft scene is in a great shape”. Reinforcing insights about Korea’s competitive nature the author literally states “if you don’t agree, we have something to prove you wrong – a brand new Korean TV-show with pro-gamers playing the main roles” The comments on the forum also reiterate the popularity of the StarCraft franchise, that includes more than just eSports, in South Korea.
You get the gist.
I like to write in a formal style so I often overlook the inclusion of personal anecdotes. Epiphanies, however, can be an example of how verisimilitude works. I’m sure now though that including such ‘aha’ moments will give me a vessel to tie methodology with observation and provide a feeling of validity. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Epiphanies are an example of the autobiographical processes of autoethnography. Recalling epiphanies can according to Bochner (1984), reveal ways a person could negotiate “intense situations” and “effects that linger—recollections, memories, images, feelings—long after a crucial incident is supposedly finished”.
Consequently, autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research, rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist (Ellis, 2010) Autoethnographers recognize the innumerable ways personal experience influences the research process. For instance, a researcher decides who, what, when, where, and how to research, decisions necessarily tied to institutional requirements (e.g, assessment guidelines for DIGC330), resources (e.g, what research methods are available/relevant to me), and personal circumstance (e.g., how do the themes in relate to my life).
Alsop, C K. 2002. Home and Away: Self-Reflexive Auto-/Ethnography Forum Qualitative Qualitative Social Research, vol. 3 no. (3) http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs/fqs-eng.htm
Dhoedt, S 2015, ‘State of Play,’ Al Jazeera, 18 November, accessed 18/08/16
Ellis, C; Adams, T E. & Bochner, A P. 2010. Autoethnography: An Overview. Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12 no. (1), http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1101108.
Grzelak, L 2009, ‘New Korean TV-show with progamers,’ Gosu StarCraft, 23 November, accessed 18/08/16