Insider Anthropology and the Study of the Canadian Forces Reserves

Derek MacIssac, Anne Irwin, Charles Mather


The purpose of this paper is to discuss the use of ‘autoethnography’ as an innovative contributor to the field of military and defence studies. Autoethnography is an ethnographic approach that positions the author as the primary subject and utilizes the authors’ self-accounts and reflexive reports, interpreted by the author within a broader social context, to gain a better cultural understanding of a given society. The author is typically an affiliate of the group and, therefore, this method has been commonly associated with ‘insider anthropology.’ Research of such a reflexive and personal nature may allow for insights into problems that traditional ‘scientific’ research may previously have overlooked or unreported.
Social science research on the Canadian Forces Primary Reserves is in its infancy and an autoethnographical approach to military and defence studies has the potential to provide insights to such human relations and enhance the understanding of the Canadian Forces as a whole. However, this innovative approach is not without its limitations. In this paper we will further discuss the limits of autoethnography and the potential value of auto-ethnographic reporting to military and defence studies.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.