This Is My Story-Autoethnographically Speaking!

Every person is like every other person, but like no other person. The autoethnographer inscribes the experiences of a historical moment, universalizing these experiences in their singular effects on a particular life.

Denzin, 2003


Here I am trying to take hold of this story that is somehow intertwined with my life but is  also a scholarly work and I am sadly failing. I want to tell my story and for it to be meaningful and evocative and produce a work that Holman Jones 2005 describes as “analytical, accessible” and that “change[s] us and the world we live in for the better” (cited by Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011). How amazing it would be to achieve these lofty heights but sadly at this point in time I’m not sure what I am trying to say and I feel confused and unable to go forward. It seems such a simple thing, to write an autoethnography, but somehow I have added so many layers to my original concept that it has become overwhelmingly complex. I am asking myself as Bochner in 2002 questions “How useful is the story?” and “To what uses might the story be put?” (cited by Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011) however I seem to have lost sight of my own personal narrative and what I was originally trying to convey.


Sarah Wall (2008) describes a state of  ‘persistent anxiety’ around self representation while writing an autoethnography about her personal experiences related to the process of adoption and ‘was afraid that [her] readers would think less of [her] if they knew what [she] “really” thought’. In my current frame of mind I am certainly feeling some anxiety however I’m not so concerned with telling a story from my personal perspective and what my readers might think of me. No its not that! Right now, I’m more concerned with the act of writing a story that is ‘complex, constitutive and meaningful’  using my ‘personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience’. Heewon Chang (2007) discusses the important role of cultural connection and agrees with Ellis and Bochner (2000) that ‘the important mission of autoethnography’ is the method of ‘”connecting the personal to the cultural”‘. I should also be concerned with the readership, who they are? what impact the story will have upon them? and will the story fuel further conversation around the topic? (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011).

So I’m sure by now, you can begin to understand the genesis of my dilemma. Chang (2007) explicitly states that autoethnography should be ‘ethnographical in its methodological orientation, cultural in its interpretive orientation, and autobiographical in its content orientation’. This statement is very explicit and illuminating giving a clear guideline as to how an autoethnography should be undertaken. However I think my ‘block’ pertaining to the development of my digital artefact is concerned with the scope of the project as I have outlined it so-far. I stated in my last post that “I would like to learn more about not only anime, but especially the music of anime and how it is used to reflect Asian culture”. This in itself is a very broad topic. I had the idea of developing a digital timeline focusing on one or two anime per decade. In retrospect I feel that I have ‘bitten off more than I can chew’ and it is the enormity of the task which is overwhelming me. One of Chang’s (2007) ‘pitfalls to avoid in doing autoethnography’ is ‘overemphasis on narration rather than analysis and cultural interpretation’ and I feel that I would definitely risk falling into this trap if I try to cover too much ground. I think the other problem I have is not being decisive as to how I am going to collect data? and what are my field sites? I have thought about starting with anime from my childhood such as Astro Boy and Gigantor but perhaps these things are too personal to me and are preventing me from moving forward.

It may be more beneficial if I select something that I’m not so familiar with such as Cowboy Beebop of which I already admire the theme music, and study that in depth. I can still reference my experiences of childhood anime but let the research guide me as to the direction of the project. Delving into something new may still allow me to find my childhood voice but at the same time ‘gaining a cultural understanding of self that is intimately connected to others in the society’ (Chang 2002). Cowboy Bebop, after all is not anime for children and it is precisely this that I may be advantageous from an autoethnographic perspective. I will be watching and listening to something new to me and analysing it from my own cultural framework which encompasses my experience with anime all those years ago! A review of Cowboy Bebop celebrating its 20 year anniversary (its no spring chicken either) maintains that “[t]he show resonates so deeply because it’s a mirror in which you can see yourself, and how we all wrestle with life. This is what makes Cowboy Bebop great art”. I’m hoping that this is a good place to start.


Denzin, NK 2003 Performing [Auto] Ethnography Politically, The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, vol. 25, no. 3, pp.257–278, DOI: 10.1080/10714410390225894.

When I Was Six

Image screenshot- Wikipedia

Autoethnography requires that we observe ourselves observing, that we interrogate what we think and believe, and that we challenge our own assumptions, asking over and over if we have penetrated as many layers of our own defenses, fears, and insecurities as our project requires. Carolyn Ellis 2013

When I was young, the highlight of the week was to wake up early on Saturday morning and watch the 6:00 AM cartoons. From memory I think Astro Boy was first up and I know Gigantor was shown as well. I think Kimba the white lion was aired after school and that’s about all I can recall. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of other cartoons but these were the three that have endured over time in my memory. I had no notion that these popular cartoons originated in Japan as they were dubbed and I could sing along to the theme music. ‘There you go Astro Boy on your flight into space’, ‘Gigantor-Bigger than big, taller than tall, quicker than quick, stronger than strong’ and Kimba who lives in deepest darkest Africa’. The black and white dubbed version of Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) was shown in Australia in April 1966 and amazingly only 104 episodes where dubbed and released for International viewing. In 1966 I was six years old and very sickly and subsequently had many days away from school. It is probably because I was at home a lot during this period that these cartoons played such an important role in my life. I remember walking along trying to replicate the sound that Astro Boy made when he walked and calling out “Dr Elefun! Dr Elefun” (Astro Boy’s mentor in the series a.k.a Professor Ochanomizu) although I used to call him Dr Elephant.

Recently I watched Akira and was entranced by the soundtrack and I thought that I would like to learn more about not only anime, but especially the music of anime and how it is used to reflect Asian culture. The question I had in mind was if music was traditionally an important element of anime or had it been  an adaption for the Western market ? But wait! When did the West develop a taste for anime? I think it was much later than 1966. There is so much that I don’t know about anime. It is an almost overwhelming task. For my initial research I will begin by collecting sound samples and collate these into years as well as delving into the production studios for each example. I would like to take a close at the composer of the music. As an example Tatsuo Takai wrote the music for the Astro Boy theme song and Shuntarō Tanigawa wrote the lyrics. From here I would research how this links to the creation of the anime i.e. was it written after the anime was produced, during or after? What are the links? Concurrently I will look at how these productions related contextually within their culture and within my own life. It is important to build a cultural framework which I can then use to create a digital artefact which pulls it all together under one platform. An important aspect of this project is using as Adams, 2008 and Lorde, 1984, describe ‘techniques of “showing”‘( cited in Ellis, Adams, & Bochner 2010) allowing the reader to participate in my experiences, almost living through them. Sarah Wall describes this process of viewer participation when she cites Wolcott, 1999  “every view is a way of seeing, not the way”. An essential element in my project’s creation is that the viewer is transported back to my youth and experiences anime for the first time as I did as a child.

Watching cartoons in the 60s

Originally I thought of creating a timeline of anime music beginning with the 60’s to coincide with my birth year which is 1960 and then relating the years to what was occurring in my life. Looking back at different years and how they impacted on my life could also be related to in an historical sense on a global scale. But wait! Perhaps this is becoming bigger than Ben Hur. It may also be quite difficult to recall specific years as it feels as though there have been quite a few! The other problem I may encounter with this method is the enormity of the task. However, this would relate to my understanding of field sites as archeological digs with the environment of that place being instrumental in how it affects the layers. In this case, anime and the time it was viewed, represents the site where I am ‘digging’ and platforms such as Spotify and YouTube would provide the means of accessing the anime thus enabling the means of collecting the data.The more I think about the idea of a timeline the more interesting it becomes with its potential as an autoethnographic research project.  I need to ensure that the project remains firmly grounded in discovery around anime soundtracks rather than becoming just some vague historical rant. I am also interested in investigating later anime such as Cowboy Bebop which I would be experiencing as a newbie. I think this would be a valuable experience as a comparison to the earlier anime which I viewed as a child. I still haven’t made a firm decision as to the platform for this digital artefact. One suggestion was a Youtube playlist however I am leaning towards a Prezi at this stage.

There were some other ideas which interested me especially extreme online fashion linking this to Kabuki theatre. Fortunately, joy of joys, I am addressing a somewhat related topic, Yami Kawaii albeit a much darker content, in a group project. I will keep you posted!


Jones, SH, Adams, TE & Ellis, C 2013, Handbook of Autoethnography, 2nd Edition, Routledge N.Y.