Research Methodology: Why Autoethnography?

Autoethnography is a qualitative research methodology whereby the author uses self-reflection to explore a personal experience as a way of understanding a wider cultural or societal experience. Here I share my thoughts on what attracts me to autoethnography as a research methodology.

I attended a virtual meet & eat event today which was hosted by Lancaster University and it inspired me to write this mini post. The event was arranged to discuss the special issue covering autoethnography in the Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning (STEL) journal. There were several guest speakers as well as some of the authors who had written articles in the journal. Rather than go into huge detail about what autoethnography is or isn’t, I’d suggest checking out the STEL journal which includes 16 papers (see the resources section below for the link) so you’ll get a good idea what it’s about from there.

What I would like to clarify before I continue is the difference between a methodology and a method, this is because autoethnography is often described as a method, whereas I refer to it more as a methodology. A methodology refers to the overarching strategy employed when conducting research, whereas the method (or methods) is the tool you use to gather data. Autoethnography as a strategy, therefore, implies that the researcher is going to conduct reflexive research and connect this to wider society. Methods for data gathering could consist of primary data related to the researcher e.g. a reflective journal, memory gathering, photographs, letters etc to more external data collection methods in the form of an interview or observation.

The meet and eat discussion got me thinking a lot about what attracts me to autoethnography. Even though I am in the 3rd year of my PhD, I would describe myself as a somewhat novice researcher. It’s only while I’ve been conducting my final research project that I feel like I’ve started getting to the ‘meat’ of research. I’ve made some mistakes along the way and learned a lot from them. My PhD is a taught programme, so the first two years comprise smaller research projects that contribute to my overall doctorate. Module one is where I first discovered autoethnography and by ‘doing autoethnography’ I not only gained confidence as a student and a researcher but also discovered a passion for writing, storytelling and reflexivity. I describe autoethnography as an accessible research method because the researcher is also the participant and I believe that everyone has a story to share, or a phenomenon they’ve experienced that can be connected to wider society in some way. In the paper Exploring Autoethnography as a Method and Methodology in Legal Education Research Cambell (2016) expresses that her “written work leaned towards reflection and that I appeared to have a strong desire to express myself.” (p.3) and I feel that I can relate to this myself.

Autoethnography isn’t just about getting the author’s story or experiences across – it’s about sharing the experiences and connecting them to others. Can my own experiences contribute to society and knowledge in some way? I believe the answer is yes, because I also believe that others can do the same. I also hope that somehow my experience may also help others in the future in their own research endeavours. Perhaps my contribution is small, but collectively over time maybe it helps society in a bigger way. After all, isn’t most qualitative research about finding out the ‘story’ and the details of a particular phenomenon and trying to make sense of it all?

For me, a blank page invites me to be more open and honest about how I think and feel and I think this richness of data can often be missing. But perhaps that is my nativity as a researcher – it could be said that if you don’t ask the right question, you don’t get the right answer.

Obviously, that isn’t going to be the same for everyone and research methodologies and methods need careful consideration to ensure they match the research being undertaken.

As an incredibly geeky bit of fun, I asked DALL·E 2 (an AI that creates images and art from a description) to create an image of what it thinks “a visual representation of autoethnography would look like” and it created the below, which I think is beautiful!



Campbell, E. (2016). Exploring Autoethnography as a Method and Methodology in Legal Education Research. Asian Journal of Legal Education, 3(1), 95–105.

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