Teaching Autoethnography

10. Conducting Observations


In earlier chapters, I discussed the importance of observation and using the five senses. Up to this point, students have done many assignments that rely on observation and analysis. For this chapter regarding the final autethnographic project, I will not reintroduce these previous assignments, but will add a small amount of information about ways students will be using observation to do three additional things: describe the person they are interviewing, describe an event they attend, and describe a meeting space for their subculture. This work should happen by week 14.

Observing an Interviewee

As described in Chapter 9, while interviews can be conducted in many different ways, the most productive results will come from in-person interviews. If your students are able to conduct their interviews in person, it is important to remind them of the importance of taking notes on the process rather than just recording the interview. Observing the physical space where the interview is conducted can help the student writer create a scene later in the narrative. Taking note of the diction of the interviewee, emotions, mannerisms and physical appearance can also help the student re-create the person as a dynamic and complex character in the final narrative. The more information the better!

Observation Assignment

When we engage in autoethnographic writing, it is important to try to re-create the spaces we are visiting—in other words, to explore the field sites where we are spending our time.

As part of our larger assignment, you need to identify a field site that will be relevant for your subculture. This can be a location where it meets, a place where history, event or memory is held.

For this assignment, I want you to walk into a space or event related to your subculture and spend at least twenty minutes there. You will be engaging in a stream-of-consciousness freewrite, making notes on everything you experience with your five senses. As in earlier assignments, I will then ask you to create a narrative from the details you have noted.

Rely on all five of your senses to convey not just what the space looks like but what it feels like. Sight, smell, touch, sight, sound are all important to consider as we try to re-create an environment we are experiencing for an outsider. Do not edit! Just write for the entire twenty minutes in the space without picking up your pen or pencil or relinquishing your keyboard, and see what you come up with!

As you did with earlier assignments, you should write the narrative version of your notes as close to the time of observation as possible.



As in previous observation assignments, students will be gathering information to use space and event as characters in the final assignment. Focusing on working in spaces in real time will help students gain new insight and obtain copious amounts of information they can use to create subtext, support themes, frame and introduce their final narratives.


Observational information will add the rich sensory detail students need to make their projects accessible and interesting for their audience. Building on these skills throughout the semester and expanding their applicability in the autoethnographic project ensures students are attuned to the importance of their surroundings.


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