Sub-theme 01: [SWG] Ethnography: Surprises, Stories, Speaking Out [merged with sub-theme 57]

Dan Kärreman
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, & University of London, United Kingdom
Sanne Frandsen
Dept. of Business Administration, Lund University, Sweden
Hugo Letiche
LESI, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

Ethnography is about understanding the mysteries of the lived world of those under study, how they make sense of their life at hand and what difference it makes in a broader sense. Fundamentally, it is about searching for, finding and creating surprises when studying everyday life in its complexity, writing up these surprises in stories, and speaking out on (and to) larger issues.
Surprises. A surprise occurs when we encounter a fleck of empirical reality that challenges how we expect social reality to work. Given ethnography’s focus on “how things work” (Watson, 2011) or do not work, it is particularly apt for discovering and creating surprises. Ethnography not only traditionally studies phenomena in contexts, often unchartered, unfamiliar or even extreme, but also explores them in depth, while balancing closeness with distance, situating agency in structures and linking the micro with the macro. Building on this, the sub-theme encourages submissions that address the following:

  • What surprises has ethnographic research uncovered and explored?

  • What research strategies may ethnographers take to encounter surprises?

  • How can ethnography upset expectations and problematize assumptions prevalent in research and practice?

Stories. Whereas in contemporary organization and management studies researchers are increasingly encouraged to chop, slice and mix empirical findings to support an abstraction – the conceptual contribution – ethnography focuses on stories and fleshing out findings in specific contexts. The “tales of the field” (Van Maanen, 2011) are supposed to show rather than tell the surprising findings, provide thick descriptions, situate the findings in context and in this way captivate the reader’s attention. Building on this, the sub-theme encourages submissions that address the following:

  • What are innovative ways of publishing ethnographic stories?

  • What makes findings compelling and persuasive?

  • How can ethnographic stories captivate readers?

  • What can ethnography learn from literature and what literary texts are ethnographic?

Speaking out. Ethnography’s surprises are meaningful not because of their contribution to a specialized theoretical debate but rather because of the ways in which they speak to larger issues – of economic, political, social and cultural significance. Social realities do not necessarily reflect today’s division of labour in academic work, which ultimately serves to reduce phenomena to tidy concepts and neat perspectives, and to keep the messy and complex realities at a distance. Rather, ethnographic research ponders the importance of the phenomenon under study on its own merit, by the ways in which it deals with pressing issues of our time. Building on this, the sub-theme encourages submissions that address the following:

  • What are the pressing economic, political, social and cultural debates ethnographic research engages in and speaks out on?

  • How can ethnography engage with society and overcome the boundaries of academia and practice?

The sub-theme encourages presentations in the form of a story or anecdote concerning a surprising finding. Moreover, conversations will be facilitated by letting designated discussants provide initial input for discussion. PowerPoint presentations will not be permitted.



  • Van Maanen, J. (2011): Tales of the Field. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Watson, T.J. (2011): “Ethnography, reality and truth: the vital need for studies of ‘how things work’ in organizations and management.” Journal of Management Studies, 48 (1), 202–217.

Dan Kärreman is Professor in Management and Organization Studies at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and Professor in Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. He is also affiliated to the Lumos group at Lund University. His research interests include critical management studies, knowledge work, identity in organizations, leadership, organizational control and research methodology.
Sanne Frandsen is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Business Administration, Lund University, Sweden. Sanne’s research is interdisciplinary and guided by empirical observations in contemporary corporations and public organizations. She is interested in several topics, including sales in knowledge work, identity work at individual and organizational levels, stigmatization, image, branding (corporate branding, employee branding), organizational pathologies (paranoia), strategy-as-practice, organizational change, counter-narratives, frontline service work.
Hugo Letiche is Professor of Intervention & Organization at LESI, Utrecht, The Netherlands, and Visiting Professor at at the Institut Mines-Telecom, Paris, France. He was Director of the UvH Utrecht Practitioner PhD programme. He has held positions at the Nutsseminarium UvA Amsterdam, University of Leicester, University of Lancaster, Keele University, Durham University, and the University of York. He has (co-)authored sixteen books and over 60 articles. His current research interests centre on the performativity of the turn-to-affect in education and research.