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What is an Auto-ethnography?
Auto = self + ethno = culture + graphy = scientific study of
Auto-ethnography is a genre of writing that has been described as:
A “…highly personalized accounts that draw upon the experience of the author/researcher for the purposes of extending sociological understanding’ (Sparkes, 2000, p.21).
An essay that ‘lets you use yourself to get to culture’ (Pelias, 2003, p. 372)
What will you be doing?
You will write a 2-3 page ethnographic essay that explores a formative aspect of yourself. This could be anything that you think is important to your identity. For example, it could be your immigrant experience; it could be your life as a mother; your experience within the criminal justice system; your appearance–anything that you think has shaped you. From this, you conduct research and analysis to draw larger conclusions about the culture of that particular subgroup (“Immigrants”, “Moms,” etc.).
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
Think about which aspect of yourself you’d like to discuss and how this is shaped. Then, choose a specific incident from your personal history that demonstrates this aspect and serves as the foundation for your sociocultural analysis. To begin, consider that who you are can be shaped by any of the following:
things you have (e.g., I am a mom – because of things I have – kids)
things you do (e.g., I am an athlete – because I play sports often and possibly on a competitive level)
things you believe (e.g., I am a Baptist.)
places you’ve been/lived/spent a lot of time (e.g., I am a New Yorker.)
physical construct (e.g., I am petite.)
heritage/ethnicity (e.g., I am African-American.)
social and/or cultural construct (e.g., I am a widow.)
STEP 2: Apply course concepts
Choose a concept from TWO chapters we’ve covered so far that you can relate to and apply to the main component of your story (example: “Culture”, “Hegemony,” “Language”, “Race” etc.). The goal here is to see how broader social and cultural forces have shaped who you are, your experiences, and your place in the world.
STEP 3: Research and Analyze
Once you have steps 1 and 2 nailed down, conduct basic research about your main component. In other words, find statistics or ideas and/or quotations from media sources that complement and support your narrative. Your essay should have at least 2 scholarly or valid sources.
Please make sure your sources are VALID. Without valid sources, the most you can earn on this paper is a C. Do not cite Wikipedia–it is not a valid source of information because it can be edited by anybody.
STEP 4: Write
You can choose any style of writing (even poetry!), as ethnography lends itself to creativity. Be yourself! Whichever tone you choose, keep in mind that the goal is to write for a diverse audience. Do not assume that the reader is familiar with everything about American culture; write as if you are explaining the culture to someone who is new to it. Within the introduction, write a clear sentence explaining your topic and its significance. As you write, always check to make sure that you have answered two key questions:
Why is the component you chose so central to you?
What does your personal story and research reveal about culture (American or any other culture)?
Conclude your essay by answering the following question:
Why is understanding this topic important?
Be sure to cite your in-class and research sources in a bibliography! I am not picky about whether you choose MLA, Chicago or APA, but whichever format you choose, I require consistency.
STEP 5: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!
Once you have drafted and revised your auto-ethnography, be sure to run it through the spelling and grammar check in the very least, and proofread twice.
Guest, Kenneth Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age. Third Edition
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