What is an autoethnography?

It was after reading Simi Linton’s My Body Politic in the fall of 2013 that I had my first “eureka” moment as a grad student. Linton writes about becoming a disabled woman, and how it’s a process, not something that happened automatically. In other words, she didn’t wake up in the hospital after being paralyzed and was well-adjusted to her new disability. She was devastated. But after being treated as a patient for too long, she began to get mad. That’s when she began to realize that her existence as a woman with a disability wasn’t just a biological fact, but a political one. She would choose how to live her life, not the doctors that treated her.

Anyway, Linton speaks so candidly about her life that I all but dived into her story. At this point, after choosing disability studies, I knew that I wanted to do something that brought together my love of writing with my love of disability, but I didn’t know what form that would take. The idea that I would write my story was terrifying. Who would read it?

Face-to-face with Linton’s narrative, though, I knew my fate was sealed.


This summer I’m working on the proposal of my thesis. It’s an autoethnography, and when I tell people that their eyes kind of glaze over because it’s one of those academic-sounding words that just sound intimidating. It just so happens that autoethnographies are, excuse me, the shit, but they are also intimidating. Think of an autobiography with theory to back up your position in the world. Think of an autobiography quoting feminist, queer, and disability studies scholars who are writing about something you have actually experienced. Doesn’t that sound cool?

Autoethnographies are based on vulnerable narratives. They are a kind of writing that is meant to highlight not only the experiences of the writer, but to make those experiences universal. I don’t know much about anthropology, where the term “autoethnography” comes from, but I wish I did. I think looking into minority groups and voices and seeing where we fit into those experiences – rather than where we diverge from them – is the key to successful understanding.

But I digress.

This is what I’m doing. I’m writing an autoethnography. I’m going to write about my life in a way that I hope many people from many different walks of life can relate to it and find just the teeniest bit of similarity with their own life. It’s going to be scary, and it’s not going to be easy. I don’t particularly like being vulnerable; it’s not something I’m comfortable with yet. But I’m learning, I’m growing.

And by doing this, by writing my way through it, I think I’ll manage.

(Do you get why I’m obsessed with stories right now?)


4 thoughts on “What is an autoethnography?

  1. Kate, you have become a very interesting young woman from the little “Katie-bug I knew, but even then, you were determined and had a lot to share. I know you will succeed at this thesis and you will be in my thoughts. I look forward to an opportunity to read about your struggles and successes. Take care dear girl. Ruby

  2. Kate,
    Although we met many years ago, you have gone on to graduate with a bachelors degree and gone on to have plenty of amazing experiences that you have shared through your warm true personality and your talented writing. I look forward to reading the whole story and following your journey. Thanks for letting me tag along!

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