Sub-theme 04: (SWG) Long-shots and Close-ups: Organizational Ethnography, Process and History

Juliette Koning
Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom
Sierk Ybema
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Merlijn van Hulst
Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

In recent decades, organizational scholars have set out to explore the processual character of organizations. They have investigated both the overtly ephemeral and sometimes dramatically unstable aspects of contemporary organizing and the social flux and flow of everyday organizing hiding beneath organizations’ stable surface appearances.
In the EGOS Standing Work Group (SWG) 04 on “Organizational Ethnography” we want to discuss the use and usefulness of an ethnographic approach to studying organizational processes. Ethnography is claimed to be sensitive to both historical context and the micro-dynamics of organizational life (Bate,1997; Ybema et al., 2009). Van Hulst, Ybema and Yanow (forthcoming) argue, for instance, that an ethnographic approach is well suited for process studies, as ethnographers ‘draw close enough to observe the precariousness of organizational processes, stay long enough to see change occurring, and are contextually sensitive enough to understand the twists and turns that are part of organizational life’. ‘By virtue of its situated, unfolding, and temporal nature,’ as Jarzabkowski et al. (2014, p. 282) put it, ethnography ‘is revelatory of processual dynamics’.
Ethnography – or, to emphasize its processual nature: ethnographying (Tota, 2004) – typically means, first, having a prolonged and intensive engagement with the research setting, following actors, issues, materials as they move through time and space (fieldwork). Second, ethnography embraces a sensibility towards overt, tacit and/or concealed processes of meaning-making (sensework). Third, ethnographic analyses are commonly presented through a written text, which places both author and reader at the scene, in the midst of a process, while also placing the day-to-day happenings within a social, political, and historical context (textwork). This allows organizational ethnographers to capture the unfolding of organizational life and its dynamism in at least two different ways (van Hulst et al., forthcoming; Ybema et al., 2009): taking ‘long shots’ that follow developments over an extended period of time (long-term dynamics) and making ‘close-ups’ of the dynamics of day-to-day organizational life (short-term dynamics). Some ethnographic researchers stretch their fieldwork over many months or years of present-time work; others include historical analysis and archival data. Both of these allow researchers to follow slow-paced developments or sudden transformations over long periods of time. These longitudinal ethnographies offer in-depth accounts of organizational life across time. A second potential strength of ethnography for studying organizational processes lies in its quality of eyeing the moment-to-moment details of everyday organizing. Having a shorter term focus, these studies bring into view, for instance, situational dynamics or organizational bricolage.
Based on these presumed or potential merits of a close fit between organizational ethnography, historical analysis and a process view, we invite papers, conceptual, empirical and theoretical, that address (but are not restricted to) for instance:

  • How do long-shots and close-ups support a more processual understanding of the complexities of organizational life (within and beyond)?
  • How does ‘ethnographying’ improve our understanding of key themes in organization studies, like storytelling, sensemaking, power, exploitation, control and resistance?
  • With ‘time’ being a challenge in/of organizational ethnography, should we rearticulate Organizational Ethnography as sensitivity to history, process and situation/context?
  • How do organizational ethnographers develop an understanding of fieldwork as researchers’ acts of ‘following’ (actors, acts and/or artefacts), and how does this end up in written research accounts and/or ethnographic texts?
  • How can new methods of data generation and analysis (visual, virtual or team-based ethnography) strengthen a more dynamic conception of ethnography?
  • Where do historical and ethnographic analyses coalesce or conflict in our attempts to understand temporal processes? How do we analyze and/or theorize history, time and temporality in our narration of processes of organizing?
  • How does an ethnographic account of long-term or short-term processes help us grasp the dynamics of collaborative relationships, boundary and identity work, shifting power relations, and the like?
  • How can a process-ethnographic approach account for the ‘multi-storied’ nature of processes and the inherent moral, social and political antagonisms in, for instance, building ‘the good organization’?



  • Bate, S. Paul (1997): “Whatever happened to organizational anthropology?” Human Relations, 50 (9), 1147–1171.
  • Jarzabkowski, Paula, Bednarek, Rebecca, & Lê, Jane K. (2014): “Producing persuasive findings: Demystifying ethnographic textwork in strategy and organization research.” Strategic Organization, 12 (4), 274–287.
  • Tota, Anna Lisa (2004): “Ethnographying public memory: The commemorative genre for the victims of terrorism in Italy.” Qualitative Research, 4, 131–159.
  • Van Hulst, Merlijn, Ybema, Sierk & Yanow, Dvora (forthcoming): “Ethnography and organizational processes.” In: Ann Langley & Haridimos Tsoukas (eds.): Handbook of Process Studies of Organizations, forthcoming.
  • Ybema, Sierk, Yanow, Dvora, Wels, Harry & Kamsteeg, Frans (2009): “Studying everyday organizational life.” In: Sierk Ybema et al. (eds.): Organizational Ethnography. London: SAGE Publications, 1–20.
Juliette Koning is Reader in Organization Studies at the Faculty of Business, Oxford Brookes University, UK. With a background in social anthropology, her research focuses on small organizations, entrepreneurship, leadership, identity, and religion published in ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Entrepreneurship and Regional Development’, ‘Qualitative Research in Organization’ and ‘Management, and Management Learning’.
Sierk Ybema is Associate Professor in the Department of Organization Sciences at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He has published on culture and conflict, relational and temporal identity talk, managerial discourse and ‘postalgia’, and organizational change and crisis rhetoric in ‘Human Relations’, ‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and ‘Organization Studies’.
Merlijn van Hulst is Associate Professor in the School of Politics and Public Administration at Tilburg University, The Netherlands. He is interested in the role of sense-making in public organizations and specializes in interpretive research methods. He has published in journals across the social sciences, including the ‘British Journal of Criminology’, ‘Planning Theory’, ‘Media, Culture & Society’ and ‘The American Review of Public Administration’.