‘Mesearch’ – when study really is all about me

Is the selfie culture coming into serious academic research? Or is it a valid way of using first-hand experience?

There are strong opinions about an increasingly popular international research method which has been dubbed “mesearch”.

“Mesearch”, which is properly known as autoethnography, is when a researcher uses their personal experiences to tackle academic questions.

Critics dismiss it as “unscientific”, “academic narcissism” and “diary-writing for the over-educated”.

They say it is a very modern phenomenon – a high-brow version of taking selfies, watching reality television and posting thoughts into the echo chambers of social media.

But it is being used in many fields like sociology, education and psychology, published by mainstream journals, and taught in universities in the United States.

The term autoethnography dates back to the 1970s, and an early study described a researcher’s “unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of writer’s block”.

The fact the article was published suggests he managed to overcome the problem in the end.

Mirror image

While most qualitative researchers base their theories on in-depth interviews with a small number of people, an autoethnographer only uses his or her own experiences and feelings to understand a wider subject.

Autoethnographic articles are often written in the form of a story, rather than precise academic language.

There are claims that “mesearch” gives perspectives missing from conventional research

Sceptical academics have taken to Twitter to expose what they regard as the most self-indulgent and unscientific examples of autoethnography.

Their latest targets include a researcher using her experience of learning how to do glassblowing to understand hand-eye coordination, and an academic describing how walking in the hills helped him to develop his sense of identity.

Another autoethnographer recently described how Donald Trump’s presidential election victory left him unable to sleep.

All three were published in peer-reviewed journals.

BBC News