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Doing ethnography in a paranoid organization: an autoethnographic account

Sanne Frandsen (Department of Intercultural Communication and Management, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 13 July 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine what we can learn from an autoethnographical approach about public administration. In this context it presents and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of autoethnography.


The paper is based on a case study of E-rail, a European national rail service subject to extensive negative press coverage. The autoethnographic accounts, based on interviews, observations, phone calls, e-mails, and other informal interactions with the organizational members, highlight the researcher’s entry to and exit of the organization.


The paper mobilizes fieldwork access negotiation and trust building with participants as empirical material in its own right, arguing that challenges involving “being in the field” should be explored to provide new types of knowledge about the organizational phenomenon under study – in this case the rise of organizational paranoia.


This paper uses autoethnography, which is rare in public administration studies, and discusses the distinct features of autoethnography as an ethnographic approach to public organizations. It argues that autoethnographic accounts of fieldwork relationship highlight and challenge the boundaries of the kind of research questions we might ask – and the kind of answers we might provide – about public administration.



Frandsen, S. (2015), "Doing ethnography in a paranoid organization: an autoethnographic account", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 162-176.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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