AutoEthnographic Journaling – What is it?

Auto ethnographic Journal

AbyNightowl (c)

– October 25, 2013

A History, A story, A research, A LifeIntroduction

When given the assignment to produce an “auto-ethnographic journal”, I freely admit that I am intrigued.  As a fine artist, musician, educator, creative person in many fields, including education, the thought of writing an autobiography has been on my mind for a number of years.  Having lived through more than my share of both unfortunate, and life altering experiences has also driven my need to write the story, if for no other reason, than to leave a legacy for my children.  I have written pieces of it in verse, in prose, in notes, in notebooks, but have never found the right structure that had the ability to bring together a story that has so many pieces that it seems as if I have lived a hundred lives in one.

As a part of my preparation for this exercise, I did my own research, and found many references to the subject of auto ethnography.  The one that I most identified with was found in an article by BOCHNER (see Cite Index #1) . I particularly like the idea of researchers using not only methodological tools and research literature to analyze a personal experience, but the additional fact that an antoethnographer must also consider ways to use their own personal experiences to encompass and illustrate some facet of their cultural experience.

Autobiographies must possess certain characteristics

1.  They should be aesthetic and evocative, using techniques such as:

a.  use of the first-person to tell a story (CAULEY, 2008, p.442)

b.  bringing in a second-person as a witness (GLAVE, 2005)

c.  bringing in a second-person to describe things too personal to tell in the first person (GLAVE, 2005)

d.  the use of the third-person as a form of reporter. (CAULEY, 2008)

2.   They should engage the readers with conventions of storytelling (ELLIS & ELLINGSON, 2000)

a.  Characters

b. Scene

c.  Plot development

Autoethnographies, on the other hand, try to produce an enriched description of personal and interpersonal experience.  As opposed to a straight autobiography, an auto ethnographer first tries to discern a pattern of cultural experience using:

1.  Field notes

2.  Interviews and/or artifacts

3.  Storytelling

4.  Showing and telling

5.   Alterations of the authors voice

The goal of this kind of writing is to try to make a personal experience meaningful, engaging, and hopefully the resulting text may be able to reach a more diverse audience than either research alone, or an autobiography alone.

Forms of autoethnography include:

1.  Indigenous/native ethnographies

2.  Narrative ethnographies

3.  Reflexive, dyadic interviews

4.  Layered accounts

5.  Interactive interviews

6.  Community autoethnographies

7.  Co-constructed narratives

8.  Personal narratives

Writing personal stories can be therapeutic for the authors (KIESINGER, 2002), as we write to make sense of the things that occurred in our lives.  Writing personal stories can also be therapeutic for readers, making them “witnesses”, giving the participants and readers the ability to observe a problem or experience (e.g. GREENSPAN, 1998; ROGERS, 2005), allowing them to feel validated and/or able to want to change their life.

One of the identified issues that must be dealt with in this form of writing is the ethics of writing publicly about the lives of the persons surrounding the event, or events. For example, if an auto ethnographer tells a story that implicates themselves, and as a part of that story, they speak about a mother, or a son; a husband, or a father, that person is implicitly implicated by what is said, for it is difficult for an identified writer to mask a relationship that is public without altering the meaning and purpose of the story.  The cultural parallel would be similar to a writer in a small community writing about a known person, such as a town mayor, a minister or a public official.  These people are easily recognized, and may not welcome being participants in a text written without their knowledge or consent.  Therefore, the writer must weigh the ethics of either seeking and either gaining permission from these interpersonal relationships, or they may have to protect the privacy and safety of others by altering the storyline to the point where identifying characteristics are removed.  While the essence and meaningfulness of the story is more important than the precise recounting of detail, writers must recognize that these protective devices can influence how their work is interpreted and understood.


Caulley, Darrel N. (2008). Making qualitative research reports less boring: The techniques of writing creative nonfiction. Qualitative Inquiry, 14(3), 424-449.

Ellis, Carolyn & Ellingson, Laura (2000). Qualitative methods. In Edgar Borgatta & Rhonda Montgomery (Eds.), Encyclopedia of sociology (pp.2287-2296). New York: Macmillan.

Glave, Thomas (2005). Words to our now: Imagination and dissent. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.

Greenspan, Henry (1998). On listening to Holocaust survivors: Recounting and life history. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Kiesinger, Christine E. (2002). My father’s shoes: The therapeutic value of narrative reframing. In Arthur P. Bochner & Carolyn Ellis (Eds.), Ethnographically speaking: Autoethnography, literature, and aesthetics (pp.95-114). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira

Rogers, Kim Lacy (2004). Lynching stories: Family and community memory in the Mississippi Delta. In Kim L. Rogers, Selma Leydesdorff & Graham Dawson (Eds.), Trauma: Life stories of survivors (pp.113-130). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.

Cite Index:

1.  Autoethnography: An Overview

ELLIS, Carolyn; ADAMS, Tony E.; BOCHNER, Arthur P.. Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, nov. 2010. ISSN 1438-5627. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 26 Oct. 2013.

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