Classical ethnographic research begins with the recognition that the observer starts as a stranger to the group being studied, a recognition as evident in the analysis of formal organizations as of gangs or tribes. From this position of difference the researcher must learn the themes and dynamics of a setting of otherness. The researcher begins as an outsider, a stance that creates initial challenges, yet permits the transmittal of novel information to external audiences. This is particularly true while studying organizational worlds that explicitly focus on occupational socialization. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
This conceptual paper relies on the close reading and analysis of three major ethnographies of occupational socialization.
The reality that (many) ethnographers begin as strangers permits them to understand socialization processes while observing how group cultures change. The authors defines this as the “stranger paradigm.” This otherness is joined by the perspective of the scholar's discipline and awareness of comparable research that permits understanding of forces that are unrecognized by participants, but which can be profitably scrutinized by disciplinary colleagues within their own occupational worlds. The authors term this “ethnographic authority.”
To support the claim that distance and authority support the formulation of theoretical insights, the paper examines organizational ethnographies that examine the occupational socialization of doctors, morticians, and ministers.
The authors wish to thank Clem Brooks, Matt Gougherty, Michael Sauder, and Kristen Schilt for comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The authors appreciate the insight of Mario Small and other participants at University of Chicago Causal Thinking and Ethnographic Research Conference. The authors also benefitted from conversations with Brian Powell and Fabio Rojas.
Alan Fine, G. and Hallett, T. (2014), "Stranger and stranger: creating theory through ethnographic distance and authority", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 188-203. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-07-2013-0015Download as .RIS
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