“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.”
Today marks my journey into the world of autoethnographic research. From my best understanding, autoethnography is the practise of recording your own experiences with a form of media in order to gain insight into the cultural implications of both the work itself and your own social conditioning.
As a science based student, I find myself both comforted and disturbed by the intentional bias of autoethnography as a research practise. The futility of social science and psychology’s attempts to create research as unbiased as you would find in the realm of physics and chemistry is no doubt quite frustrating or both researchers and readers.
Autoethnography acknowledges that as long as you’re studying humans and the human experience, objectivity will never be achieved. Instead, autoethnography harnesses one of mankind’s greatest advantages when in comes to understanding the working of the human mind; their own experience. In doing so it allows both the researchers and outside observers to learn from the observations and assumptions made, and the culture structures that these assumptions are generated from.
I believe autoethnography should be seen as a cousin to scientific research.
It is similar, and with many grounding akin to that of chemistry or physics, however autoethnography is borne out of more artistic and creative ties. It is commonly used by artists as a tool to improve their work by reflecting on it, however shouldn’t be limited to that domain. By applying a critical gaze to my initial auto-ethnographic experience, I can develop it in a narrative that follows my path of learning and recognising the inherent assumptions that my cultural conditioning has allowed me to make, and in the process learn more about the culture and myself.
By encouraging the analysis of the outside world through the researchers own world view it is possible to have a diverse, while still ethical, platter of research data that openly acknowledges the inherent bias of the results, as opposed to other forms of studies that attempt to deny the existence of a bias that comes from researchers having their own personalities. In autoethnography, emphasis is put on the fact that there is no one definitive view-point or recollection, rather a collection of perspectives and biases to consider, none which holds more importance over any other.
My first autoethnographic experience was not of Japanese media, but South Korean, through the documentary “State of Play”.
Luckily, or unluckily for me I have had very little exposure to South Korean culture. This allowed me to view the documentary without any preconceived ideas on what to expect, however also left me open to falling into stereotypical assumptions in order to understand what I was seeing.
The documentary followed video game players at different levels, from amateur to professional, and their experiences of professional gaming. The documentary had very little actual game footage included. It wasn’t so much about the viewer watching the game itself being played, rather a chance to empathise with the experience of the players. Game sounds were featured out of context of the game to immerse the viewer-in the case me- into the experience of the game itself. It gave the game a more tangible feeling to it, and helped me invest myself into a game that I had no stake or particular interest in.
The greatest boundary I encountered in watching this documentary was the lack of female representation.
Any woman who featured in the film was either their to clean and cook or to hopelessly fan girl over the players. I acknowledge that there is a big cultural difference between South Korea and Australia, and yet this fact shocked me. I found it especially confronting being a female in a University course that is typically seen as a “male choice.” There seemed to be very strong gender roles in place, even up to the fact where it was seen as mind-blowing that one of the male players cried after a game, whilst the females were often seen in a highly emotional state.
I also found the contrast between the exciting nature of the commentary of each game as it was played, and the actual action that was occurring quite humorous. I would put that down to my lack of personal investment about the outcomes of the games. To anyone concerned with the games result I feel the commentary would have been fitting, however to an outside observer the whole thing seemed a tad melodramatic.
It wasn’t until right at the end of the documentary that I finally realised how different my life experience is to the players featured. For the most part I had assumed the unfamiliarity of the actions of the players came from the strangeness of the occupation and the difference in gender. I had assumed I would have struggled to connect just as much to an Australian Olympic swimmer, who would also live a very different life to mine.
At the end of the film the unsuccessful amateur player is filmed playing pool with his friends. It struck me that the pool table had no holes in it. I stared at him laughing and playing, fully realising that I couldn’t have even taken a guess at how the game worked. This was when I fully realised just how much I still have to learn. It was, and is, a completely different culture, with fine points of difference that I may never fully understand. I guess the best I can do is try.