Considering autoethnographic research

The research project for INF537, the capstone for MEd Knowledge Networks &Digital Innovation (KN &DI) provides the opportunity to investigate and aspect of KN & DI in more detail. The single aspect that fascinated me most in my studies is how we learn socially in this connected world. It was clear to me that I want to investigate an aspect of this in more detail. Recent restrictions on research using social media without pre-clearance from the CSU Ethics Committee has made this more difficult. Julie Lindsay, our subject coordinator, suggested a lesser known method of qualitative research, namely ethnography. I started to investigate…

Image by David Bruyland from Pixabay


Ethno = race/people/culture + Graphy = process of writing or recording

Ethnography =  the study and systematic recording (graphy) of human cultures (ethno); also : a descriptive work produced from such research (from Merriam-Webster)

Autoethnography is the research method that accommodates subjectivity and emotionality, by the systematic analyses and description (graphy) of personal experiences (auto) in order to understand an aspect of culture (ethno) (Ellis, Adams and Bochner, 2011, p. 273). The method combines elements of autobiography with ethnography when studying a particular aspect of a culture – the phenomenon, as well as it’s associated relational practice and shared experience (p. 275). Ethnographers are retrospective participant observers, who look analytically at personal experience in order to highlight and illustrate facets of cultural experience, contrasting their experience against existing research and literature. Emergent understanding is facilitated though exploration of feelings, stories and happenings together with field notes, interviews, memoirs and/or artefacts.  Patterns of cultural experience are discerned as the author’s experience is analysed alongside data, abstract analysis and relevant literature (p. 278).

A written ethnography is a thick description of a facet of a particular culture. Readers provide validation by comparing their experience to that chronicled by the researcher.

Critics of autoethnography see it as being not rigorous, theoretical and analytical enough, but rather being too emotional, self-absorbed and based on biased data and not fulfilling scholarly practices of hypothesizing, analysing and theorising (p. 289).


Approaching the end of my masters’ studies, I have a desire to “pull together” the themes I have studied and compare personal practice and experience against theoretical knowledge. I wish to study and evaluate my development as a connected learner, a knowledge network practitioner, and digital scholar through the analysis of my online behaviour, both in the beginning and latter stages of my studies.  Given the circumstances, autoethnographic research is the most appropriate means of investigating what I had already established as my research focus.

Academic research must contribute to the existing body of knowledge.

How will this project I am about to undertake be useful to others?

This the main challenge I face.

Sources useful in becoming informed about the autoethnographical method:

Autoethnography in Wikipedia – as always useful background info

Autoethnography: An Overview by Carolyn Ellis, Tony E. Adams and Arthur P. Bochner
published in Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung in 2011 – very thorough overview and most cited paper

Autoethnography: Critical appreciation of an emerging art by Margot Duncan published in the International Journal of Qualitative Methods in 2004 – excellent description of how she applied this research method and ensured that it satisfies the requirements ofacademic research

Autoethnography as a Method for Reflexive Research and Practice in Vocational Psychology by Peter McIlveen published in Australian Journal of Career Development in 2008

Digital Storytelling as Autoethnography in Anthropological Pedagogy and Practice, a chapter from Deep Stories by Aaron Thornburg – in case I decide to produce a digital artefact as product