Leader: Dr. Jim Lane 

Autoethnography is a form of narrative study that is written and recorded by the individual who is the subject of the study (Cole & Knowles, 2001; Creswell, 2013; Ellis & Bochner, 2000).  Denzin and Lincoln (2006) define the approach as “engaging in ethnographical practice through personal, lived experience; writing the self into the ethnographic narrative” (p. 379).  Spry calls autoethnography “a self-narrative that critiques the situatedness of self with others in social contexts” (2001, p. 710). But that is just the beginning of an explanation of this personal, emotional, analytic, and often evocative approach to ethnographic research. 

Jones calls autoethnography a “blurred genre overlapping writing practices in anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, journalism, and communication” (Jones, 2005, p. 765).   For Tedlock (2005, p. 467), it is “connecting the autobiographical impulse (the gaze inward) with the ethnographic impulse (the gaze outward).”  Anderson observes that the autoethnographer must be “visible, active, and reflexively engaged in the text” (2006, p. 383). He notes that a key characteristic is that “the researcher’s own feelings and experiences are incorporated into the story and considered as vital data for understanding the social world being observed” (2006, p. 384).  Anderson notes that a key element of autoethnography is the researcher’s “quest for self-understanding” (2006, p. 386).   This self-understanding “lies at the intersection of biography and society:  self-knowledge that comes from understanding our personal lives, identities, and feelings as deeply connected to and in large part constituted by – and in turn helping to constitute - the sociological contexts in which we live” (Anderson, 2006, p. 386).

Ellis and colleagues (2011, p. 273) describe autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).”  They agree that the process challenges “canonical ways of doing research” and “treats such research as a political, socially just, and socially conscious act” (2011, p. 273).  They note that the autoethnographer uses aspects of autobiography, making the approach “both process and product . . . Through that approach the researcher’s goal should be to produce aesthetic and evocative thick descriptions of personal an interpersonal experience” (2011, pp. 273-277).   The researcher’s goal is to use life experience to generalize to a larger group (Ellis, 1999).  Thus the writer is both researcher and participant.   Cole and Knowles note, “An autoethnography places the self within a sociocultural context. . . . (It) uses the self as a starting or vantage point from which to explore broader sociocultural elements, issues, or constructs” (2010, p. 16). 

Post your comments and questions to the Autoethnography Forum.

For a more immersive discussion, view these presentations delivered by pioneers on autoethnographic methodology, Dr. Carolyn Ellis and Dr. Art Bochner:

This is an excellent overview by Dr. Ron Chenail, editor-in-chief of The Qualitative Report.

For examples of autoethnographic inquiry, review these links:

See an example of collaborative autoethnography in this article co-authored by Dr. Lynne Devnew, Distinguished Research Fellow and leader of the Women and Leadership Research Group.

For a recent Call for Proposals, review The Reflexivity of Pain and Privilege: Auto-Ethnographic Collections of Mixed Identity


Autoethnography References

Anderson, L. (2006, August). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography,35(4), 373-395. doi:10.1177/0891241605280449

Bochner, A.P. & Ellis, C. (2016). Evocative autoethnography: Writing lives and telling stories. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boylorn, R.M. & Orbe, M.P., eds. (2014). Critical autoethnography: Intersecting cultural identities in everyday life. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Chang, H. (2008). Autoethography as method.  Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Ellis, C. (1993). "There are no survivors": Telling a story of sudden death. The Sociological Quarterly, 34(4), 711-730.

Ellis, C. (1999, September). Heartful autoethnography. Qualitative Health Research, 9(5), 669-683. doi:10.1177/104973299129122153

Ellis, C. (2000). Creating criteria: An ethnographic short story. Qualitative Inquiry, 6(2), 273-277. doi:10.1177/107780040000600210

Ellis, C. (2002). Being real: Moving inward toward social change. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, J5( 4), 399-406.

Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. New York: Altamira Press.

Ellis, C. (2007). Telling secrets, revealing lives: Relational ethics in research with intimate others. Qualitative Inquiry, 13(1), 3-29.

Ellis, C. (2009). Revision: Autoethnographic reflections on life and work. Walnut Creek,     CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., & Bochner, A.P. (2011). Autoethnography: An overview.     Historical Social Research. 36:4, pp. 273-290.

Ellis, C. & Bochner, A.P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject. In N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 733-768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2003). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (pp.199-258). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ellis, C. S., & Bochner, A. P. (2006). Analyzing analytic autoethnography: An autopsy Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 429-449.

Jones, S.H. (2005). Autoethnography: Making the personal political. In N.K. Denzinand Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 763-792)). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jones, S.J., Adams, T.E., Ellis, C., Eds. (2013). Handbook of autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Spry, T. (2018). Autoethnography and the other: Performative embodiment and a bid for utopia. In Handbook of qualitative research (5th ed., pp. 627-649). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.