Ethnography and the Management of Organisations

  • Tony Watson


It is important to note that the term organisational ethnography can be used in a variety of ways: for example, as a research method; as a descriptive study of people in a particular cultural context; as a theory-informed and theory-informing analysis of (intensive) fieldwork; and as a partly humanities style written account and analysis of events in which the researcher-writer has participated. The present author personally favours a combination of the latter two examples and the chapter will explain that this is probably the most helpful for the doctoral researcher to adopt, given current trends in ethnographic organisational studies and, indeed, the preferences of external examiners working in the field. It will be stressed that it is not helpful to think of ethnography as a research method. Among the various reasons for this is the fact that producing ethnography can involve a whole range of research methods, from interviews and documentary analysis to mini-surveys and life and historical analyses. All of these are secondary, however, to the use of intensive, preferably, participative, observation or ‘field work’. The conclusion will observe that making ethnographies is an especially challenging enterprise, in terms of investigative practices, analytical work and writing. When carried out within organisations it can, however, achieve a depth of insight and theory-relevant analysis that cannot be produced with any other style of organisational research. Its greatest potential lies in its capacity to relate the very mundane, particular and detailed actions of organisational members to larger organisational, social, political and economic ‘wholes’.


Ethnography Ethnographic interview ‘Learning the ropes’ Management Culture 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tony Watson
    • 1
  1. 1.Nottingham UniversityNottinghamUK

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