Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich

Autoethnography: new (re)presentations of subjectivity in Cultural Anthropology

Neue Ansätze zur Subjektivität in kulturanthropologischer Forschung


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This article discusses three principal variant ways in which anthropologists and scholars in other cultural studies disciplines have utilised the term autoethnography over these past two decades and suggests some avenues for introducing subjectcentred fieldwork and writing into our research and teaching. Autoethnography was first discussed as auto-Anthropology, a method and perspective for analysing disciplinary fields, methods of fieldwork and writing and intradisciplinary paradigms of knowledge production. The term is derived from a need to re-evaluate writing cultures (crisis of representation) and, therefore, the role of the self, the author, in the process of ethnographic work and representation. Such re-evaluations invited authors to experiment with texts, probing different styles of ethnographic or theoretical writing to shake up or re-form the link between the field, the reflection and the production of publication. This shift was very much inspired by feminist epistemology and theory. Increasingly, and especially under the influence of Carolyn Ellis and Arthur Bochner, autoethnography came to stand for a purely introspective technique that examines the self as the object of research, observation, note-taking, analyses and publication; the self was explored to reveal the other. Such a radical shift, the complete abandon of the other in ethnography, has raised concerns as well as applause. Consequently, there emerged a third avenue suggested by social scientists who proposed an analytic autoethnography, one that looks at the role of the self in relation to others, is concerned about and takes seriously ethical concerns in fieldwork and writing, embraces theory and reflexivity and situates the author’s self within the field, that is, the broader research question. I conclude by suggesting that, although there might be no pressing need to embrace autoethnography in our own work, there is much to be gained by acknowledging and respecting it as well as incorporating some of its ideas into our teaching.

autoethnography, ethnographic self, subjectivity, writing culture, writing as inquiry