Organizational Ethnography and the Art of Judgment in-the-Moment

Vincett, Joanne (2013). Organizational Ethnography and the Art of Judgment in-the-Moment. In: 29th European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) Colloquium, 3-6 Jul 2013, Montreal, Canada.


This paper responds to the conveners’ call on exploring and advancing Organizational Ethnography (OE) as a paradigm for the organizational sciences. This sub-theme is linked through my empirical study of senior managers in international development organizations and how they make sense of using their judgment ‘in-the-moment’ in the context of their leadership roles and work environments. I adopt an “ethnographic orientation” (Watson, 2011, p.216) and emphasize the need for a highly reflexive approach in an ethnographer’s role as making judgments throughout the challenging processes of doing “fieldwork, headwork and textwork” (Van Maanen, 2011, p.218). Theoretically, this study contributes to the existing judgment and decision making literature from a social constructionist perspective by drawing linkages to judgment as a co-constructed phenomenon. How senior managers understand their judgment-making in situations ‘in-the-moment’ is an understudied area thus far and even scarcer in the context of international development organizations. Methodologically, the ethnographic and radically reflexive approach taken addresses a gap in the literature, builds awareness and raises in importance examining the ‘multiple selves’ (Reinharz, 1997) of the ethnographer. How I influenced my research and was influenced by it as both subject and object were key to my findings.

In addition to the sub-theme call, this paper also links to the overarching Colloquium theme, ‘Bridging Continents, Cultures and Worldviews’, by connecting the cultures and co- constructed views of the researcher and practitioners. The collaborative, ethnographic approach taken was a unique way to get ‘up close and personal’ in understanding what judgment meant to senior leaders in the two participating UK-headquartered organizations. With international development missions in African nations, the senior leaders continuously constructed their own bridges across borders in their financing, operations and communications between their team members and external stakeholders located in multiple countries, reliant on virtual offices and mobile and Internet technology to stay connected. My judgment as an ethnographer was necessary to determine how to best embrace this way of ‘working’ during fieldwork and become another type of stakeholder to them.

I will begin with a brief theoretical and methodological background of my exploratory study, identifying the gap in the literature and how my study fills it. Then I will outline the methodology, methods, data collection and analysis and findings. Finally, I will conclude with the challenges of ‘doing organizational ethnography’ inside small international development organizations and the contributions made to advance OE as a unique way to study the social phenomenon of judgment ‘in-the moment’.

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