i. autoethnography of objects

Autoethnography uses narrativised experience in order to examine, interpret and explain cultural experiences and practices (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015):

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.” (Ellis, Adams and Bochner 2011: np).

Autoethnographic researchers describe and analyse cultural beliefs, practices and experiences that qualitatively recognise the value of the research relations with others, but rarely do those others include objects. One notable autoethnographic engagement with tangible materiality is Paul Booth’s Game Play (2015) which examines paratextuality in contemporary board games. Adapting Matt Hill’s approach to the study of Fandom, Booth explores the ludic functionality of analogue games through play by scrutinising the tastes, values, attachments and investments of his and his game group’s personal experience. Objects, however, are only peripheral in the engagement and while some of the physical matter of board games is considered, objects take a backseat to the reflexive analysis of the subjective experience of the researcher and his team of players.

Autoethnography is a research method that is careful and methodological in its reflexivity, but the focus of reflection is almost always on the self, society, the personal and the political. Objects are rarely considered in equal measure to the subjective experience of autoethnographic ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973: 10), and objects are not considered as partners in the narratives and stories that reflect heavily on time, place, emotion and affect but rather as a basis for heightened concerns about social, political and ultimately subjective identity. In the desire to make sense of the messy and uncertain social life, autoethnography attention is paid to the physical experience and embodiment, but even the body as an object is often sublimated in the narratives and accounts that are used to answer questions about how identities matter. It is important to understand that the identities, characteristics, experiences, regulation, silencing, disregard and abuse of objects also matter.

The omission of objects in autoethnography is understandable as the methodology places the ‘self’ within the scope of the investigation and the narratives developed are the framing devices for critical analysis of subjective experience. Autoethnography asks the researcher to consider their own biases, opinions and assumptions as part of the process of discovery and learning. This approach makes objects part of the intellectual firmament that autoethnography so promisingly seeks to escape. To consider objects is to risk falling into the ‘crisis of representation’ (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015: np) precisely as we are attenuating our senses to “local knowledge” that promises to subvert existing power relations to ‘create more just and equitable living conditions”. There is a sense that this kind of qualitative research can only focus on human intentions, actions, and motivations, and to incorporate objects is to fall back into the traps of colonialism, scientificism, and capitalism. Autoethnography is “a method for exploring, understanding, and writing from, through and with personal experiences in relation to and in the context of the experiences of others” and those others can include objects (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015: np).

In the posts to follow this one, I will provide an autoethnographic account of the interactions with the objects involved in playing Pokemon Go and experiencing Virtual Reality.  The autoethnographic account will seek to retain the core ideals of the methodology which generally involves the foregrounding of personal experience; an illustrative sense-making processes; highly reflexive analysis; illustration of insider knowledge to document a cultural phenomenon and experience; critique cultural norms and practices; and seeks to communicate with and respond to audiences from outside the academy (Adams, Holman Jones and Ellis 2015: np). In order to include objects in what Leon Anderson (2006) describes as Analytical Autoethnography, it is possible to rebuild attention between the subject and object by including 1) attention to the social world that the objects and the researcher are a part of; 2) reflexivity involving understanding of the privileged and often unique position of the researcher and access to the objects; 3) narrative visibility of the active researcher, which makes visible the human and the non-human within the networks of the social world under observation; 4) a non-technical account of the interaction and dialogue between the researcher as subject and the objects involved in the encounter, and the experience of others as presented in available media to be consumed, such as YouTube accounts, Memes, Tweets, and communities of practice, including specific online communities (fans, experts, reviewers) in a dialogue with others (Anderson 2006: 386); and finally 5) a commitment to theoretical analysis which draws on empirical evidence to conceive and test theoretically the illumination of a broader set of cultural and social phenomena.