Workshop Series: Paul Spee

31 January, 2012 - 14:00 to 15:30
Room 103 Colin Clark Building #39


An increasing interest in “practice” across a variety of strands in the management literature has recently helped ethnography to unknown prominence in the field of organizational studies. What people actually do in performing various organizational and societal roles, who or what they interact with, the spaces they interact in, and the tools they may use have come to fascinate scholars from strategy-as-practice (e.g., Jarzabkowski, 2005, Johnson et al., 2007) to technology studies (e.g., Orlikowski, 2007, 2010) to institutional theory (e.g., Kellogg, 2009; Zilber 2002), to the sociology of finance (e.g., Knorr-Cetina & Bruegger, 2002; Preda, 2007, 2009). Yet, calls remain that ethnography should “play a much more central role in the organization and management studies repertoire than it currently does” (Watson, 2011: 202). Ironically, those organizational realities that ethnographers are called to examine have at the same time become less and less amenable to ethnographic study. Increasing complexity, fragmentation, mobility, pace, and technological intermediation of organizational life make “being there” increasingly difficult. Where do ethnographers have to be, when, for how long, and with whom to “be there” and grasp the practices, norms and values that make the situation meaningful to natives? These novel complexities call for new forms of organizational ethnography (e.g., van Maanen, 2006; Watson, 2011). In this paper, we respond to these calls for innovative ethnographic methods in two ways. First, we report on the practices and ethnographic experiences of conducting a year-long team-based video ethnography of reinsurance trading in Lloyd’s of London. Second, drawing on these experiences, we propose an initial framework for systematizing new approaches to organizational ethnography and visualizing the ways in which they are ‘expanding’ ethnography as it was traditionally practiced. In doing so, we contribute to the ethnographic literature in three ways: First, we develop a framework for charting new approaches to ethnography and highlight the different dimensions – site, instrument, and fieldworker - along which they push the boundaries of traditional ethnographic work. Second, we outline the opportunities and challenges associated with these expansions, specifically with regard to research design, analytical rigour and communication of results. Third, drawing on the previous two contributions, we highlight configurations of methodological expansions on the aforementioned dimensions that are more promising than others in leveraging new technologies and approaches to claim new territory for organizational ethnography and enhance its relevance for understanding today’s multifarious organizational realities.

Paul Spee, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Sydney Business school

Paul Spee is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The University of Sydney Business School. Previously, Paul held a lectureship in Strategy at Aston Business School (United Kingdom). His research interest focuses on the role of sociomateriality, such as strategy tools or strategy documents within strategy processes. He works mainly on two longitudinal ethnographic data sets: a strategic planning exercise in a university, and a study on reinsurance trading comparing practices in London and Bermuda. Paul published an essay conceptualising strategy tools as boundary objects in Strategic Organization and co-authored a review and future directions for the strategy-as-practice perspective in the International Journal of Management Reviews. Recently, Paul’s jointly authored paper appeared in a Special Issue on New Directions in Organizational Communication Research in Organization Studies. Address: The University of Sydney Business School, NSW, 2006, Sydney, Australia. [email:]