Collaborative Digital Autoethnography as Inclusive Mode of Knowing: The #kachinlifestories Project

Dr. Stan BH Tan-Tangbau, Independent Researcher, Singapore

Stan BH Tan-Tangbau is a Vietnamologist specializing in studying ethnicity, state, and frontier formations, as well as cultural narratives in Vietnam and the Southeast Asian Massif. In 2010, Stan founded Kachin Life Stories, a collaborative digital autoethnography designed for the Kachin people. He is author of the very first book length academic work on jazz in Vietnam, Playing Jazz in Socialist Vietnam: Quyen Van Minh and Jazz in Hanoi, published by University Press of Mississippi.


Kachin Life Stories is a collaborative digital autoethnography that attempts to address the fundamental question of “who are the Kachin” through a conglomeration of life stories snippets shared via social media platforms by ordinary Kachin people using a central hashtag, #kachinlifestories. The project attempts to re-imagine conventional understanding of “research” by foregrounding ordinary life stories as method, product, and process (as outcome) through an inclusive symmetrical relationship between researcher/expert and subject/layperson. By including individuals in a more symmetrical research relationship, this collaborative digital autoethnography allows ordinary Kachin to self-define their individual relationships with the ethnic label of being Kachin through a conglomeration of life stories marked by messiness, complexity, and resistance to ethnographic mono-authorship. This essay discusses how a more symmetrical relationship between researcher/expert and subject/layperson could help to inculcate an inclusive mode of autoethnographic knowing that allows participants to, over time, reflect and embrace their individual autoethnographic difference.