Autoethnography is Nonsense – An opinion piece by Robin Öberg

3 Responses

  1. john says:

    Robin you a making a bold claim here – that AE is nonsense. If you make claims like this you need to be sure your arguments are solid. I have concerns about multiple aspects of this article but I want to start with your foundational claim and see if you can defend it. You present a description of AE based on an Ellis (2004). Ellis is certainly a good source and you reference her and provide an apparent description of what she says. From your text you write of AE…

    It is a method whereby one goes into a field, which is often a group of people, and once in the field, one gathers observational data of oneself in the field (Ellis, 2004).

    Can you please provide the direct text you relied upon to write this description? Perhaps a paragraph or two?

    I say this because your description of AE is not how I understand AE and I doubt that Ellis would provide such a description – but maybe you can prove me wrong? I am suggesting this description allows you to set up a straw man argument where you define AE and then go onto critique it without actually understanding what it is and how it is done.

    Regard John

    • Robin Oberg says:

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

      The reference in question is in itself an example of AE, with characters creating a narrative to convince the reader of something. Therefore, it would be falling into an internalistic reasoning to assume that a critique of the method has to comply with the definitions constructed by an example of the method itself.

      However, if you really have no idea what AE is, and you’re looking for a very quick explanation, you can look at page XIX in the Preface of Ellis’ “The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel about Autoethnography” (2004).


  2. john says:

    Ok Robin, thankyou for your prompt response.

    I read Ellis’ 2004 description of meeting a woman – Valerie – who describes she has breast cancer, and who wanted to write about her experience. I read their dialogue where Ellis describes what AE is.

    Finally, I read Valerie’s response to Ellis own AE work (p.18) …

    “Dear Professor Ellis: This is some of the most powerful writing I’ve ever read. I identified with your grief over losing your brother so suddenly. You reminded me of how I felt when I found out I had cancer. So did Butler and Rosenblum. I recall experiencing that kind of turmoil, confusion, and meaninglessness. This work violates everything I’ve been taught about social science research, but I’m fascinated and want to know more. Would you send me more autoethnographic stories and think again about being on my committee? If you insist, I promise to enroll in your class next year. Valerie”

    Now Robin – putting aside the philosophy – I want to return to your description of AE..

    “It is a method whereby one goes into a field, which is often a group of people, and once in the field, one gathers observational data of oneself in the field (Ellis, 2004).”

    Does your description match what Ellis wrote? I have not read her story but based on Valerie’s reaction Ellis presumably told a story about a human tragedy in a way that evoked others to understand and connect with this. Now in this case Valerie did connect.

    I would suggest that such a story is – or should be – at the heart of the anthropological project – learning though storytelling what it is to be human.

    Ellis is not going into the field, nor is she gathering observational data – she is telling a story based on her life.

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