Sub-theme 15: (SWG) Organizational Ethnography: Behind and Beyond the Field

Juliette Koning
Oxford Brookes University, UK
Heidi Dahles
Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, and Dept. of Organization Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Laura Galuppo
Catholic University of Milan, Italy

Call for Papers

This new SWG aims at exploring and advancing Organizational Ethnography (OE) as a paradigm for organizational sciences. While conventional thinking views OE basically as a method, OE is and fieldwork and headwork and textwork (Van Maanen, 2011: 218).

Ethnography implies conceptual work that gives direction to fieldwork and its various representational practices. The ethnographic approach enables us understand that these practices and processes do not materialize in a vacuum but in space and time, and is thus constituent for theorizing on organizational life. Ethnographic fieldwork implies rather unorthodox ways of getting as close as possible to the informant's life world: "Ethnographers listen, observe, participate, converse, lurk, collaborate, count, classify, learn, help, read, reflect, and – with luck – appreciate and understand what goes on – and maybe why" (Van Maanen, 2001: 240).

As much as theorizing is part and parcel of ethnographic fieldwork, ethnographic descriptions are mediated through genres of writing. Ethnographic researchers attempt to obtain and communicate through their writings an insider's view and so to understand other people's worldview. However, the very act of interpreting necessitates an inquiry into the researcher's role in establishing ethnographic text. Writing ethnography turns into a reflexive process, which requires alternative styles of writing: ethnographies become "multivocal accounts that capture the multiple, conflicting views of multiple authors and various disagreeing cultural members" (Martin, 2002: 293).

We invite papers that explore the concerns particular to OE research. Papers should engage with issues of 'doing ethnography'. Topics may include:


Diverging practices of 'doing ethnography':
  • Different modes of data gathering (e.g. multi-sited fieldwork, visual ethnography, etc.) in organizational studies
  • Different theoretical and disciplinary perspectives in doing ethnography: how does anthropological doxa relate to other varieties of ethnographic work?
  • Debates on what organizational research 'deserves’ to be labelled as ‘ethnographic'
  • The nature and the form of the 'ethnographic data'
  • Writing ethnographies: different genres and practices


The challenges of doing organizational fieldwork and textwork:
  • Issues of getting access; issues of leaving the field; involvement and detachment
  • Organizational power relations; studying "up" the organization vs. studying "down"
  • Culture shock and its consequences for doing fieldwork and 'text work' in diverging forms of organization
  • The role of experts/specialists and expertise/specialist knowledge
  • The multiple identities of the ethnographer, as interpretive researcher, consultant or employee


The contributions of ethnography to the theoretical advancement of the organizational studies: 
  • The contribution of ethnography in studying specific topics, such as organizational identity, organizational learning, etc.
  • The added or peculiar value of ethnography's empirical focus on the specific and particular in an organizational context
  • The significance of OE for understanding social processes in and between organizations
  • The debate around which unique contribution OE makes that cannot be achieved by means of other methods and approaches
  • The debate around how convincing are the claims made by organizational ethnographers that they offer a genuine 'insider's point of view'



Martin, Joanne (2002): Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain. Thousand Oaks (CA): Sage Publications.
Van Maanen, John (2001): 'Afterword: natives 'R' us: some notes on the ethnography of organizations.' In: David N. Gellner & Eric Hirsch (eds.): Inside Organizations. Anthropologists at Work. Oxford (UK): Berg, 233–261.
Van Maanen, John (2011): 'Ethnography as work: some rules of engagement.' Journal of Management Studies, 48 (1), 218–234.


Juliette Koning is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Anthropology at the Department of Business and Management, Faculty of Business, Oxford Brookes University. Her current research focuses on business, leadership, identity, ethnicity and religion in Southeast Asia. Recent publications are contributions to 'East Asia – An International Quarterly', 'Inside Indonesia', 'Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies', 'International Journal of Business Anthropology', 'Journal of Business Ethics', and to volumes on "Christianity in Asia" (Routledge, 2009) and "Entrepreneurship in Context" (Routledge, 2012).
Heidi Dahles is Full Professor in International Business & Asian Studies at Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Brisbane (Australia) and Guest Professor in Transnational Business Networks at the Department of Organization Sciences at VU University Amsterdam (The Netherlands). She published in peer-reviewed journals such as 'Culture & Organization', 'East Asia; An International Quarterly', 'Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship', 'Journal of Enterprising Communities' and 'Journal of Contemporary Asia'. Among her recent books are "Capital and Knowledge. Changing Power Relations in Asia" (co-edited with Otto van den Muijzenberg, 2003) and "Multicultural Organizations in Asia" (co-edited with Loh Wei Leng, 2006).
Laura Galuppo is a PhD in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Psychology Department, Faculty of Psychology, Catholic University of Milan, Italy. Her current research focuses on social sustainability in organizations, organizational learning and collaborative management research. Recent publications are contributions to 'Systemic Practice and Action Research' and the 'European Journal of Psychology of Education', and she edited a volume "When working is un-sustainable ? Promoting social sustainability through an action-research approach in health organizations" (Vita e Pensiero, 2011).