I’ve been reading “The Ethnographic 1: A Methodological Novel about Autoenthnography” by Carolyn Ellis, and it has on some levels really resonated with me, and the way I feel about research, particularly with regard to the project I am currently working on.
The book itself is written like a fiction, giving an account of Carolyn as she teaches a set of students about doing autoenthnography - and it makes for a really enjoyable, and insightful read. What makes the book useful is the way Carolyn uses a cast of students, who each take differing angles on the autoethnographic approach, to examine autoenthnography and challenges to the approach from a range of viewpoints. And by vividly describing these students and the problems they have understanding, and implementing this type of research (why it is research at all, how it can be valid when so subjective, how to write about the self within research), I begin to feel that I am in the class, and Carolyn is addressing some of the questions that I am pondering as I join them on their journey. The book evokes a sense of vicarious learning - or, observing others as they learn and perform new skills. What I find myself liking considerably about this approach is the way in which it questions truth and objectivity. It accepts and even encourages that the researcher - participant relationship will have an impact on the stories that get told by a participant, and therefore what data a researcher ends up having in their analysis.
The book itself is very much grounded in understanding the experiences of others, through understanding the experiences of the self - and vice versa. The subject matter covers the social, emotional, moral, and political, with the aim to deeply engage with, understand and describe experience, such that others can engage with and understand their own experiences. A lot of the students projects, and the work that Carolyn talks about herself, has to do with pain, or with coming to terms with an life changing event, or an epiphany. But, often in HCI we are not dealing with these sorts of life changing events, and sometimes we are dealing with the mundane, the everyday event. So, is it possible to use autoethnography within HCI? I'd like to think so, and particularly if we consider how a researcher might understand the experience of others, in order to design for those experiences.
I’m beginning to embark on a new project (PATINA), where along with a group of interesting researchers from a range of disciplines we will explore how technology can redefine research, and the research space. Perhaps, this is where the autoethnographic approach can begin to align with my research? As a researcher I bring with me a range of stories and experiences about doing research, so could I use an autoethnographic approach to understand the research process of others, and through doing so begin to understand how technology might support facets of this process?