Institutional ethnography (IE), a form of critical ethnography introduced to the social sciences in the late 1990s by Canadian sociologist Dorothy J. Smith, poises researchers to uncover how “work” (a concept defined generously) is co-constituted within institutional environments. The IE approach reframes institutional sites as dynamic shape shifters that use texts to mediate, organize, and lend value to the social practices of diverse and knowing individuals. Workplaces and practices can be said to reproduce the broader spheres of influence, prestige, and value that structure society at large. As such, IE seeks out the (often implicit and/or erased) connections between work processes and institutional discourses, revealing how work is coordinated across time and space. More plainly, the methodology uncovers how things happen – how institutional discourse compels and shapes practice(s) and/or how norms of practice speak to, for, and over individuals. IE research offers opportunities for more situated and finely grained understandings of the sites where we work, the people we work most closely with, the generative power of institutional texts and discourse, and the ways that our participation in work then gives material face to the institutions that govern the social world.
KeywordsInstitutional ethnography Ethnography Feminist methodology Cultural materialism Standpoint Material relations Institutional discourse Textual analysis
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