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Auto-anthropology is a research method within anthropology that involves the study of one’s own culture, society, and experiences.

What is Auto-Anthropology

History and Development of Auto-Anthropology

  • Emergence in the 1970s and 1980s
    • Auto-anthropology emerged as a reaction to the traditional anthropological methods that focused on the study of “the other” (Jackson, 1987).
    • The rise of postmodernism and reflexivity in social sciences encouraged anthropologists to turn their gaze inwards, examining their own cultures and societies (Clifford & Marcus, 1986).
  • Influential scholars
    • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: His work on autobiographical writings and reflections on self and society laid the groundwork for auto-anthropology (Rousseau, 1782).
    • Michael Jackson: He developed the concept of “radical empiricism,” which emphasizes the importance of personal experiences in anthropological research (Jackson, 1989).
    • Ruth Behar: A prominent feminist anthropologist, Behar advocated for the integration of personal narratives into anthropological research (Behar, 1996).

Methodology and Approaches

  • Ethnography of the self
    • Auto-anthropologists use their own experiences and narratives as primary data sources.
    • Participant observation is conducted within one’s own social and cultural context.
    • Auto-ethnographic methods, such as personal diaries and life histories, are commonly used.
  • Reflexivity
    • Reflexivity involves critically examining one’s own biases, assumptions, and positions within the research process (Davies, 2008).
    • Auto-anthropologists engage in reflexivity to enhance the validity and reliability of their research findings.
  • Collaborative research
    • Auto-anthropology often involves collaboration between researchers and their communities, allowing for the co-production of knowledge and the sharing of research findings (Lassiter, 2005).

Benefits of Auto-Anthropology

  • Insider perspective
    • Auto-anthropologists possess intimate knowledge of their own cultures and societies, which can contribute to a more nuanced and authentic understanding of the research subject (Narayan, 1993).
  • Challenging stereotypes
    • Auto-anthropology allows researchers to challenge and deconstruct stereotypes and misconceptions about their own cultures, leading to a more accurate representation of cultural diversity (Davies, 2008).
  • Personal and professional growth
    • Engaging in auto-anthropology can lead to increased self-awareness and personal development for researchers (Behar, 1996).
    • Auto-anthropology can contribute to the development of culturally sensitive and empathetic researchers, enhancing their ability to conduct research in diverse contexts.

Challenges in Auto-Anthropology

  • Objectivity and subjectivity
    • Auto-anthropologists face the challenge of balancing their personal experiences and emotions with the need for objectivity in their research (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007).
  • Ethical considerations
    • Researchers must consider the potential implications of their auto-anthropological research on their own lives and the lives of their community members (Ellis, 2007).
  • Representation and power dynamics
    • Auto-anthropologists must be aware of the power dynamics inherent in the process of representing their own cultures and societies (Clifford & Marcus, 1986).

Implications for Contemporary Anthropological Research

  • Expanding the scope of anthropology
    • Auto-anthropology encourages anthropologists to explore new dimensions of human experience and contribute to a more inclusive and diverse understanding of humanity (Davies, 2008).
  • Promoting cultural awareness and sensitivity
    • By engaging in auto-anthropological research, anthropologists can develop a greater understanding and appreciation of their own cultures, fostering cultural awareness and sensitivity in their work (Narayan, 1993).
  • Strengthening reflexivity in research
    • Auto-anthropology emphasizes the importance of reflexivity in the research process, which can lead to more rigorous and robust research findings in anthropology (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007).


Auto-anthropology offers a unique and valuable perspective within the field of anthropology, providing insights into the complexities of one’s own culture and society through an insider lens. By integrating personal experiences and narratives, auto-anthropology challenges traditional anthropological methods and contributes to a more authentic understanding of diverse cultures. However, auto-anthropologists must navigate the challenges of objectivity, ethical considerations, and power dynamics to ensure the validity and reliability of their research findings. Overall, auto-anthropology has the potential to enrich anthropological knowledge and foster a deeper understanding of the human experience.


  • Behar, R. (1996). The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. Beacon Press.
  • Clifford, J., & Marcus, G. E. (Eds.). (1986). Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. University of California Press.
  • Davies, C. A. (2008). Reflexive Ethnography: A Guide to Researching Selves and Others. Routledge.
  • Ellis, C. (2007). Telling Secrets, Revealing Lives: Relational Ethics in Research with Intimate Others. Qualitative Inquiry, 13(1), 3-29.
  • Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography: Principles in Practice. Routledge.
  • Jackson, M. (1987). Anthropology at Home: Introduction. In A. Jackson (Ed.), Anthropology at Home (pp. 1-17). Tavistock Publications.
  • Jackson, M. (1989). Paths Toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry. Indiana University Press.
  • Lassiter, L. E. (2005). The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography. University of Chicago Press.
  • Narayan, K. (1993). How Native is a “Native” Anthropologist? American Anthropologist, 95(3), 671-686.
  • Rousseau, J. J. (1782). The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Penguin Classics.

See Also

Action AnthropologyAmerican AnthropologyAnthropology of Art
Anthropology of DevelopmentApplied AnthropologyAuto Anthropology
British AnthropologyCognitive AnthropologyCorporate Anthropology
Cyborg AnthropologyDigital AnthropologyEconomic Anthropology
Environmental AnthropologyEpidemiological AnthropologyFather of Anthropology
Forensic AnthropologyFrench AnthropologyGerman Anthropology
Indian AnthropologyJapanese AnthropologyLegal Anthropology
Media AnthropologyMuseum AnthropologyNutritional Anthropology
Philosophical AnthropologyPolitical AnthropologyPsychological Anthropology
Public AnthropologyRussian AnthropologyTheological Anthropology
Transpersonal AnthropologyTribal AnthropologyUrban Anthropology
Visual AnthropologyKinanthropometrySociology
Historical AnthropologyCultural AnthropologyArchaeology
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