Alana L. Jolley
British scholar who conducted first ethnographic
research in the Trobriand Islands, in New Guinea,
1915-1918, publishing his findings.
His Ethnography: Argonauts of the Western Pacific
His theory of Function in culture:
“ . . . in every type of civilization, every custom,
material object, idea and belief fulfills some vital
function, has some task to accomplish, represents
an indispensible part, within a working whole.”
• A research method where one learns about a group’s
beliefs/behaviors by social participation and personal
observation in the community.
• A person writing his/her autobiography has been a participant
observer of his/her own life, and all life events, social and family
ties, and the connections so evident to all those happenings.
Ethnographic Research Methods
Participant observation is extended fieldwork in a community.
Methods and Autobiography
Urban Ethnic center fieldwork: China Town Los Angeles, California
Writing one’s own autobiography may mean doing fieldwork in different places.
Ethnographic Research Methods
may be used in Autobiography
unstructured and open-ended
structured, based on prepared
If an autobiographer needs participants, he/she should get consent.
Ethnography and Autobiography
Detailed description of a culture primarily based on fieldwork.
2. A personal history, written by another person, based on
research, interviews, and/or recordings
Written/recorded history of a person, by that person, which may
include ancestral research and ethno-history
Applied in Autobiography
• Describe particular situations, practices, or events as
they exist, or as previously existed.
• Information or responses to a particular question from
a memory-jogger list compiled by an ethnographer
• Observations of actual events and activities.
• Relevant historical information, including ethno-history
• Statistical data or quantitative data. Qualitative data.
• If connected to a particular claim or position – the
autobiographer must explain his/her connection.
• A “key consultant” is a member of the society being studied.
He/she provides information, which helps the researcher
understand the meaning of what is observed.
• An autobiographer is his/her own key consultant for the society
he/she is a member of, and must think clearly about meanings of
the ideas, observations and events to be detailed. An
autobiographer may also use “key consultants.”
Describing One’s Own Culture
To accurately describe one’s own culture an autobiographer
should consider three kinds of data:
1. His/her own understanding of his/her own culture and the
general rules of that culture, which he/she shares with
others in the society.
1. To what extent does he/she believe that he/she and others
observe the rules of his/her culture?
1. Is his/her own behavior consistent with what he/she says
or writes about?
• A study of one’s own culture of the recent past through oral
histories, accounts of explorers, missionaries, traders, and
analysis of records such as land titles, birth and death records,
maps or other archival materials, which may be available from
the family or reliable sources is considered ethno-history.
• This data collection is qualitative data, because it is nonstatistical.
• In researching Chinese
Andrea Louie (center)
research: St. Louis, San
Francisco, Hong Kong, and
• Autobiographers may do the
same, depending on his/her
• Photographs are very
important, such as this fourgeneration one.
• It tells a story. Who are the
people? What year?
Location? Season? Who can
identify them? What was the
occasion? Who took the
• Use digital technologies - audio and visual to collect, analyze, and
present ethnographic data.
• Due to digital technology the autobiographer may not have to
write much – if he/she dictates to a computer.
• Putting it altogether may just be a matter of editing the final
• In science – as well as writing an autobiography, all data and
information should be accurate.
• Without reliable documentation, even an autobiography cannot
• Check/double-check: sources, dates, interviews, photos,
documents, names, events, memories.