Sub-theme 12: Organizational Ethnography and the Challenges of Social Space


Heidi Dahles, Griffith University, Australia
Juliette Koning, Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom
Wendy Smith, Monash University, Australia

Call for Papers

Recent years have witnessed the expansion of ethnography as a research methodology into the fields of organization studies, management, business, marketing, governance and policy studies and its growing presence in the curricula of business and medical schools. Organizational ethnography (OE) engages with the socially constructed nature of studying organizational practices and processes in situ. The ethnographic approach establishes that these practices and processes are socio-culturally defined in time and space. A major concern of ethnographers pertains to ‘managing the research space’, which manifests itself in terms of its social dimension, i.e. the structure and meaning of relationships – formal, informal, and imbued with power, which the ethnographer must decipher, interpret and capture in prose.

As a method, OE faces the challenge of locating, accessing, mapping, and exiting the field, as organizations do not constitute clearly bounded entities but processes. Requiring permission from organizational gate-keepers may compel ethnographers to settle for partial access and may require the design of new and unconventional fieldwork strategies (virtual and digital ethnography, auto-ethnography, multi-sited ethnography, etc.).

As a genre of writing, ‘an ethnography’ conveys a sense of ‘being there’ and reflects upon the polyphony of the phenomenon under study. Ethnography is sensitive to power relations, as it reflects on the position ethnographers adopt vis-à-vis the subjects and objects of their research – a relationship which is seldom one of equals. This may result in measures of control and (self)-censorship.

As a theoretical paradigm OE is about transcending the challenges of space. The ethnographic approach zooms in on the contextual dimension of the process of organizing and managing. Context is understood here in terms of a positioning of organizational practices and processes in space.

We invite papers that explore the ways in which organizational scholars deal with issues of space in doing, writing and theorizing OE. We are particularly interested in receiving empirical, conceptual and reflective papers that address innovative approaches to the challenge of social space in organizational ethnography diverting from the conventional ‘bounded entity’ paradigm.

Topics might include:

  1. The promise and pretense of ethnographic methods (‘fieldwork’) of producing knowledge that speaks to its local embeddedness and rootedness in organizational space:
    • How does fieldwork generate situational knowledge about everyday organizational life?
    • How does fieldwork help to uncover of institutional logics, logistics and tacit governance structures?
    • What challenges does fieldwork pose to both the fieldworker and the participants in the process?
  1. What is the promise and pretense of ethnographic methods of dealing with and rising above restrictions emanating from organizations’ spatially bounded character, in particular regarding:
    • Locating organizations,
    • Gaining access to organizations,
    • Exiting organizations,
    • Studying “up” vs. studying “down”: organizational power relations,
    • Analyzing the ethnicized, racialized or gendered nature of organizational space?
  1. What innovative approaches does organizational ethnography offer which challenge the constraints of space? Papers may address for example:
    • Virtual/digital ethnography
    • Auto-ethnography
    • Multi-sited ethnography
    • The use of social media in fieldwork


Heidi Dahles (PhD in social sciences in 1990, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands) is full Professor and Head of Department of International Business and Asian Studies at Griffith University, Australia. Her research interest is in Chinese business, small-scale enterprises, and the informal economies of Southeast Asia. Heidi is co-convenor of the EGOS SWG ‘Organisational Ethnography’ and co-editor of the peer-reviewed Open Access journal Asia Matters: Business, Culture and Theory.

Juliette Koning is Reader in Organization Studies and Asian Business at Oxford Brookes University, UK. She has a PhD in social anthropology and her research interests include questions of religion, identity and ethnicity in entrepreneurship and small business organizations in Southeast Asia. She is co-convenor of an EGOS Standing Working Group on Organizational Ethnography and co-editor of the peer-reviewed Open Access journal Asia Matters: Business, Culture and Theory.

Wendy Smith, PhD, is a senior lecturer in the Department of Management, Monash University, Australia, and the Director of the Centre for Malaysian Studies, Monash Asia Institute. She is an anthropologist specializing in cross-cultural aspects of management in Japan and Malaysia. She has researched and published on Japanese management transfer, Asian new religious movements, social protection in Islamic diasporic communities and capacity building in Asian developing economies by Australian universities.

Posted On: June 8, 2014
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