Connecting to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understanding
The history of autoethnography dates back to the 1970s (Heider, 1975; Hayano, 1979) when the term was used to describe researchers who conducted and wrote ethnographies of their own culture but did not include their personal experiences (Adams et al., 2015). However, Adams et al. (2015) suggested that the core ideal of autoethnography is to offer an account of personal experience to fill gaps in the existing literature and show how generalisation in research frequently masks important cultural nuances. It also helps to create texts that are accessible to academics and other audiences.
Ellis (1993: 724) told the story of the sudden death of her brother and family loss and, in doing so, sought to engage readers in topics that have been overlooked and to demonstrate a new form for representing these practices.
Mathews (2019: 1), a mother and researcher, used autoethnography to help process grief after the death of her son and wrote ‘pain started behind my eyes. I blinked a few times and kept writing. Tears welled up stronger and spilled down my face, splattering on my keyboard.’
Mathews suggested that her journal entries were lifeless, but they became a cathartic outlet, helping her to understand what she felt and why she felt that way. Then she discovered autoethnography, which triggered her brain ‘out of inertia’ and onto the path to ‘becoming a thinking, functioning, adult again’.
As Mathews suggested, autoethnography is a process of weaving personal experiences with academic research, to explore difficult issues such as death, grief, and loss.
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