The negotiation of a working role in organizational ethnography

Bell, Emma (1999). The negotiation of a working role in organizational ethnography. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 2(1) pp. 17–37.



This paper is an account based upon the author's ethnographic study involving two major companies within the chemical industry sector. Using examples from personal research experience, and drawing upon organizational ethnographies in the management domain, the processes of impression management which enable research access are explored. Through analysis of narrative voice within predominantly realist accounts, it is argued that 'confessional' declaration of fieldwork experience provides a more reflexive textual account. Using culture as a theory within which to locate organizational ethnography, the implications of insider/outsider distinctions in fieldwork are considered. It is suggested that, particularly in management research, consultancy type 'working roles' are generated by researchers in order to gain credibility. Male-dominated research settings present particular issues for the female researcher, whose access to certain backstage regions and masculine discourse will almost certainly be limited. It is argued that gender, as a methodological issue which defines narrator perspective, needs to be taken into account by both men and women in the field and made more explicit. Gender dynamics within fieldwork can be modelled according to the dominant composition of the cultural setting. The paper argues for increased diversity in management research in order to appreciate the gender-situated nature of our understanding of organizational culture.

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