What is autoethnography

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What is autoethnography?
Your job is to teach outsiders about your culture through both personal and empirical research, but perhaps, too, to help people within your culture better understand themselves. In “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pratt defines an autoethnographic text as a text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them” (Pratt).The target audience for your autoethnography is outsiders to your culture who may or may not have a positive or accurate understanding of your culture. In other words, autoethnographies “speak back” to outsiders who have misunderstood or misrepresented your culture.
Explained in its simplest form, and autoethnographic essay combines memoir and research into a student’s into the student’s immediate culture with traditional academic research which is then used to analyze that experience in a wider cultural framework.
Choose a culture of which you are a member.
Begin with self-reflection (what you already know through experience). Use your own experience to begin describing and analyzing your culture.
Conduct library research using online databases. Use at least 3 secondary sources.
Conduct an interview (one primary source) to use in your essay.
Use your analysis and research to help identify and clarify misconceptions outsiders might have about your culture.
Use your analysis and research to help identify something about your culture that insiders and outsiders should know.
Explain why your analysis and research are important, revealing, or useful to our understanding of your culture. What difference do your ideas make?
Use MLA Style and incorporate research using quotes, paraphrases, and summaries.
You should have 3-5 pages not including the Works Cited page.
You will have 4 total sources (3 secondary and 1 primary).
Breaking it Down into Steps
Step 1: Choose a Culture to Represent
We are each members of multiple cultures and sub-cultures. Culture here does not have to mean ethnicity or socio-economic status (although it could mean those things if you so choose). It could also reflect who you are, how you spend your time, what you value, or things you have.
We can often locate groups we are a part of by thinking about
The things we have
The things we do
The things we believe
Places we’ve lived
Physical constructs
Our heritage/ ethnicity
Social/ Cultural constructs
Our attitudes
The following are example core qualities that can separate us into groups:
Things you have
I’m a parent because I have kids
I’m a local taxpayer, because I own a house
I’m a driver because I have a license
I’m a renter because I have a lease.
Things you do
Student. I take classes at WCC.
Gamer. I play online World of War Craft
Chuckanut runner’s club member
I am a professional photographer
Things you believe
Tea-Party Republican
Social Justice Activist
Places you’ve lived
New Yorker
Physical construct
hearing impaired
Heritage/ Ethnicity
Social/ Cultural Construct
single/ married/ coupled
gay/straight/ bi
male/ female/ trans
a free-spirit
Suffixes that imply people
Consider the suffixes -ian, -ist, -er
When we add these to the end of a word, they can be used to denote a person or group of people. These words can be helpful to explore as you are thinking about groups you are a part of. Many of these examples represent professions, attitudes, and belief-based groups.
Examples of -ian
Examples of -er
Examples of -ist
Study a culture, not just yourself
While you will be able to share snapshots of your own experience to help illustrate your culture, you will also need to draw larger conclusions through research and analysis about the culture of, for example, car accident survivors, in general. When you include personal examples, and good autoethnographies often do, analyze a specific memory/experience you had that reveals insight into the culture to which you belong.
Then you can take the analysis to the next level and see how your experience may be typical or atypical or how it may vary from other people’s understandings of what it is like to be “x.” You will use primary research, like interviews of members of your culture, to develop your research beyond just your own experience.
If you choose to include your personal experience as evidence, keep in mind that this evidence is one piece of data in what should be a wider data set you give your readers. You are an ambassador of a culture here, but your experience and perspective is not the only voice who matters. How will you set about to represent the group and yourself as a part of that group?
Step 2: Generate & Develop Ideas
List as many descriptions and definitions of your self as you can.(e.g., I am x, y, z …)
Go back to the ones that intrigue you and develop them a little further. Describe specific memories you have where this core component or culture was challenged, exposed, etc.
Freewrite a response to the following questions:
What defines you? How do you describe yourself?
Of the many wonderful and not-so-wonderful qualities you have, which are significant? Think broadly as well as idiosyncratically.
Step 3: Gather Information from Secondary Sources
Look for any research already done on your culture. Primarily use online databases. You will have 4 total sources (3 secondary and 1 primary).
Use one image that represents your subculture. This can be your own photo or an image you find when you research.
Step 4: Reflect on your own experience
Choose a specific incident from your personal history that reveals something important about your culture. Free-write about it.
Add interpretive analysis to your narrative of the event. How might this experience be representative of an aspect of your culture? In what ways is it typical or atypical?
Step 5: You might want to consider the following ideas:
What types of objects are important to your culture (either physical or not)?
What is the “stuff” your culture uses?
Why are these things/objects/artifacts important?
In what ways do outsiders read or mis-read these objects?
What traditions or rituals are important to your culture?
What do these traditions or rituals look like? Give a detailed account from personal experience, field notes, or an interview.
Why are these traditions/rituals important?
In what ways do outsiders read or mis-read these traditions or rituals?
Think about the language of your culture. How might this culture’s language clash or not clash with the language of an outside culture?
What type of words, phrases, and pronunciations of language do insiders of your culture use?
Step 6: What might your research reveal about your culture?
What does your research reveal about your culture?
What are the larger societal implications of your analysis?
How might your work here re-define people’s perceptions of your culture?
Why might it matter or be important?
Step 7: Putting it together
Move beyond this list. Rearrange your writing around a point you’d like to highlight
What’s the most important thing you want to say? How can you arrange the writing you’ve done in steps above to highlight that point?
Compare and contrast the points you’ve surfaced in the previous steps. For instance, what do the rituals and cultural objects you’ve discussed have in common? What is something about your culture these examples together prove?
Think about what you want your readers to encounter first? What example, story, description do you want them to see first? Do you want to immediately immerse readers in something really unfamiliar, to emphasize their lack of understanding, for instance? Do you want to lead with a powerful quote from an interview? An image of your culture in a ritual? As an ambassador of your culture, what first-impression might others within your culture want outsiders to have?
Form a thesis statement and outline before working on a rough draft.

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