Ethnography in Organization Research
- LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0210
- LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0210
Classic organizational theory was built on ethnographic studies. These studies, which rely on immersion in everyday organizational life, adopting the native’s perspective, and an openness to emergent phenomena, have helped illuminate the complexities and nuances of organizations that were otherwise invisible to outsiders. Today, organizational scholarship boasts of drawing on a wide range of theoretical traditions and diverse methodologies, particularly in quantitative methods that lend generalizability and scientific precision to organizational theory. As such, the role of ethnography has also evolved over the years; its validity has been criticized and defended, its ontological and epistemological foundations reflected on, and its place among other traditions clarified. Besides its critical role in establishing organizational study as a discipline in its own right, ethnographic work is now generally recognized and appreciated in the scholarly community, in what has been termed its Golden Age, for its contributions to new intellectual territories across multiple subfields of organizational theory.
Classic ethnography is associated with monographs, such as Mayo 1933 on factory work and Whyte 1948 detailing restaurant management. Notable recent book-length ethnographies from the last decade include Anteby 2013 and its study of Harvard Business School, Turco 2016 on a tech company, and Vertesi 2020 on NASA space missions, all delving into how organizational culture produces macro-level outcomes. In work and occupations, Bechky 2021 studies a crime laboratory and Kellogg 2011 examines hospitals and their changing norms and practices, while Ocejo 2017 on craft occupations and Viscelli 2016 on truckers observe changes in meanings of work and status. Rivera 2015 discusses elite job seekers and Sharone 2013 looks at unemployment to reveal social dynamics that shape the labor market.
Anteby, M. Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
An ethnography of the Harvard Business School demonstrates how this elite, powerful institution uses selective forms of silence to cultivate the moral perspectives of its members.
Bechky, B. A. Blood, Powder, and Residue: How Crime Labs Translate Evidence into Proof. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021.
In this study of a crime laboratory, the author shows how forensic scientists’ work anticipates the expectations of the world of criminal justice and the assumptions of the public while reflecting their own scientific ideals.
Kellogg, K. C. Challenging Operations: Medical Reform and Resistance in Surgery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
In this ethnography of surgical residents in three hospitals, the author traces the impact of a reform intended to reduce work hours, showing how such institutional reforms spark resistance by challenging established norms and systems of authority.
Mayo, E. The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization. New York: Macmillan, 1933.
This classic study of Western Electric explores the nature of factory work and the relationships between workers and supervisors. It established the foundations of the human relations movement within the field of management.
Ocejo, R. E. Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.
This study examines the rise of craft occupations that leverage culture and taste to create unique products fit for the new elite, culturally omnivorous, consumer. The author explores how these workers and businesses, as part of community institutions, challenge traditional cultural stratification but also contribute to gentrification and create new status distinctions
Rivera, L. A. Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
This ethnography looks into the hiring process of elite professional service firms and reveals how social class shapes the way talent and merit is demonstrated by job seekers, as well as recognized and evaluated by employers.
Sharone, O. Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
This ethnography that compares unemployment in the United States and Israel shows how differences in the structure of the labor market influence the subjective experiences of unemployment as well as job-seeking strategies in different ways.
Turco, C. The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.
This ethnography examines a company that intended to establish radical openness by renouncing traditional bureacracy and hierarchy. Ongoing negotiations between employees and leaders, however, led to reestablishing some structure and certain aspects of bureacracy.
Vertesi, J. Shaping Science: Organizations, Decisions, and Culture on NASA’s Teams. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.
This ethnography compares two NASA space missions to show how the social context of scientific teams affects the way scientists interact, set goals, allocate resources, and resolve competing agendas. The author argues that how knowledge is produced influences knowledge itself.
Viscelli, S. The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.
In this ethnography of the work of long-haul drivers, the author examines how “bad work” leads to dissatisfaction and high turnover. The nature of the labor market, however, resists reform and instead tends towards further decline at the expense of those who most need the work.
Whyte, W. F. Human Relations in the Restaurant Industry. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948.
In this foundational study, the author treats restaurants as social systems and focuses on the management of personnel as pivotal to the restaurant’s success. The study was influential in examining the areas of effective supervision, conflict management, status, and privilege among organizational members.
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- Assessment Centers: Theory, Practice and Research
- Authentic Leadership
- Bayesian Statistics
- Behavior, Organizational
- Behavioral Approach to Leadership
- Behavioral Theory of the Firm
- Between Organizations, Social Networks in and
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- Business and Human Rights
- Career Studies
- Career Transitions and Job Mobility
- Certified B Corporations and Benefit Corporations
- Charismatic and Innovative Team Leadership By and For Mill...
- Charismatic and Transformational Leadership
- Compensation, Rewards, Remuneration
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- Conflict Management
- Considerate Leadership
- Corporate Philanthropy
- Corporate Social Performance
- Corporate Venture Capital
- Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB)
- Cross-Cultural Communication
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- Cultural Intelligence
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- Empowerment, Psychological
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- Entrepreneurial Orientation
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- Goal Setting
- Grounded Theory
- Hofstedes Cultural Dimensions
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- Human Resource Management
- Human Resource Management, Strategic
- Human Resources, Global
- Human Rights
- Humanitarian Work Psychology
- Humility in Management
- Impression Management at Work
- Influence Strategies/Tactics in the Workplace
- Information Economics
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- Intelligence, Emotional
- International Economic Development and SMEs
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- Job Analysis and Competency Modeling
- Job Crafting
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- Job Satisfaction
- Judgment and Decision Making in Teams
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- Pay for Skills, Knowledge, and Competencies
- People Analytics
- Performance Appraisal
- Performance Feedback Theory
- Planning And Goal Setting
- Proactive Work Behavior
- Psychological Contracts
- Psychological Safety
- Real Options Theory
- Regional Entrepreneurship
- Reputation, Organizational Image and
- Research, Ethics in
- Research, Longitudinal
- Research Methods
- Research Methods, Qualitative
- Resource Redeployment
- Resource-Dependence Theory
- Response Surface Analysis, Polynomial Regression and
- Role of Time in Organizational Studies
- Safety, Work Place
- Selection, Applicant Reactions to
- Self-Determination Theory for Work Motivation
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy In Management
- Self-Management and Personal Agency
- Sensemaking in and around Organizations
- Service Management
- Shared Team Leadership
- Social Cognitive Theory
- Social Evaluation: Status and Reputation
- Social Movement Theory
- Social Ties and Network Structure
- Sports Settings in Management Research
- Status in Organizations
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- Strategy and Cognition
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- Team Composition
- Team Conflict
- Team Design Characteristics
- Team Learning
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- Team Newcomers
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- Teams, Global
- Technology and Innovation Management
- Technology, Organizational Assessment and
- the Workplace, Millennials in
- Theory X and Theory Y
- Time and Motion Studies
- Training and Development
- Training Evaluation
- Trust in Organizational Contexts
- Unobtrusive Measures
- Virtual Teams
- Work and Family: An Organizational Science Overview
- Work Contexts, Nonverbal Communication in
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- Workplace Aggression and Violence
- Workplace Coaching
- Workplace Commitment
- Workplace Gossip
- Workplace Meetings
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