This special issue of the Psychology Press journal Memory spotlights and aims to encourage research that uses a functional approach to investigate autobiographical memory (AM) in everyday life. This approach relies on studying cognition, in this case AM, taking into account the psychological, social, or cultural-historic context in which it occurs. Areas of interest include understanding to what ends AM is used by individuals and in social relationships, how it is related to other cognitive abilities and emotional states, and how memory represents our inner and outer world. One insight gained by taking this approach is that levels and types of accuracy need not always be regarded as memory 'failures' but are sometimes integral to a self-memory system that serves a variety of meaningful ends of human activity. The papers in this issue include theoretical and empirical work by individuals who have made central contributions to our understanding of memory functions in their programmatic work. Previously hypothesized functions of AM fall into three broad domains: self, social, and directive. Each paper addresses how AM serves one or more of these functions and thereby examines the usefulness and adequacy of this trio.