The Autoethnographic Methodology & Akira

In Autoethnography: An Overview, Ellis et al. (2011) defines autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”.

Before the commencement of BCM320 – Digital Asia, my only knowledge of autoethnography came entirely from another university subject, BCM241 – Media Ethnographies, which I have discussed on this blog previously. My understanding of autoethnography during the subject was that it is essentially a specific branch of ethnography, which is defined as “the recording and analysis of a culture or society, usually based on participant-observation and resulting in a written account of a people, place or institution” (Coleman and Simpson n.d.).

As a result of my understanding, I feel that it is important to also learn about ethnography, in order to fully grasp autoethnography as a research methodology. Anderson (2009) frames the goal of an ethnographic researcher as “viewing people’s behaviour on their terms”, which coincides with Ellis’ definition of autoethnography. Specifically, the relation between the analysis of personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.

To gain a better grasp of autoethnography for BCM320, I further analysed Autoethnography: An Overview and noted how the methodology was defined as a two-part framework, “The Process (Doing Autoethnography)” and “The Product (Writing Autoethnography)” (Ellis et al. 2011).

The Process:

As shown in the name, autoethnography is a combination of autobiography and ethnography, drawing on both practices to form the overall methodology. The process of autoethnography involves thinking about experiences in hindsight, which can also be described as epiphanies. These epiphanies are made possible by holding an identity in, or being an active part of a particular culture (Ellis et al. 2011).

The Product:

When writing autoethnography, researchers produce a thick description of a culture, in addition to the occurred experiences from within that culture, gathered through interviews or field research. The researcher must also frame their findings through facets of storytelling, using theoretical and methodological tools to analyse the autoethnographic experience. Autoethnographers strive to make cultural experiences engaging and personal experiences meaningful, with the end goal of making social and personal change possible by reaching diverse and wider audiences that traditional research would otherwise overlook (Ellis et al. 2011).

Using the autoethnographic methodology, I am able to respond to the screening of Akira (1988), and the subsequent live tweeting session in BCM320. My most engaged with tweet stemmed from a fact that I knew about before having seen the film, which is Kanye West‘s claim of Akira being his biggest creative inspiration. This “epiphany” was only made possible by being a part of Akira’s culture and analysing the experience through the screening and live tweeting (Ellis et al. 2011).

Using reflexive autoethnography, where the researcher changes as a result of conducting field work (Ellis et al. 2011), I was able to learn more about the Japanese culture embedded within Akira, and analyse how different it is compared to cultures that I’m more familiar with, such as Australia and other English speaking cultures.

This analysis was achieved by live tweeting additional sources about Akira during the screening. For example, my understanding of political, economic and social landscapes in Japan greatly increased when I read the following tweet by a fellow student.

I also tweeted an article about Katsuhiro Otomo, who directed Akira, and this gave me a fresh perspective of the director position in film and how their personal context has a large influence on the text. Again, this wouldn’t be possible without being a part of Akira’s culture through the live tweeting experience, and by adopting the reflexive framework within the autoethnographic methodology.

Reference list:

Anderson, K 2009, ‘Ethnographic Research: A Key to Strategy’, Harvard Business Review, viewed 15 August 2019, <https://hbr.org/2009/03/ethnographic-research-a-key-to-strategy>.

Coleman, S and Simpson, B n.d. Ethnography, Discover Anthropology, viewed15 August 2019, <https://www.discoveranthropology.org.uk/about-anthropology/fieldwork/ethnography.html>.

Ellis, C, Adams, T & Bochner, A 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, art. 10, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095#gcit>.

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