The purpose of this paper is to consider “at home ethnography” and “abroad ethnography” not as labels standing for different kinds of fieldwork “out there” but rather as the poles of a continuum identifying the ethnographer’s situated, relative and ever changing epistemic status.
Building on data from a recent fieldwork in an intensive care unit, the author identifies the different epistemic circumstances that originate from the entanglement of the multiple territories of knowledge at stake in any ethnography of complex organizations.
The analysis shows how the participants’ relative access to knowledge and rights to claim it vary according to the circumstances and the unfolding of the interaction. The discussion advances that the ethnographer oscillates between “being abroad” and “being at home” as if he was constantly moving between the two classical positions of ethnographic work: making the familiar strange as it is typical of ethnographies focusing on the “very ‘ordinariness’ of normality” (Ybema et al., 2009, p. 2), and making the strange familiar as it is typical of anthropologists studying exotic communities.
The paper contributes to the still ongoing debate on “at home” organizational ethnography, by addressing the limits of the “insider doctrine” (Merton, 1972) that still pervades contemporary ethnography and proposes cognitive oscillation as the challenging mindset of any ethnographer-in-the-field.
This paper draws on data collected within the national research project “Phenomenology of Infectious Diseases in Intensive Care Units, PHENICE” financed by the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research (Milan, Italy) and coordinated by Dr Guido Bertolini, MD. The ethnographic study has been coordinated by Letizia Caronia (University of Bologna) and Luigina Mortari (University of Verona). Giuseppina Mesetti and Roberta Silva (University of Verona) and Marco Pino (Loughborough University) participated in data collection and analysis. The author wishes to thank all ethnographic team members for their collaboration in data collection and analysis. A special thanks also to Boris Brummans for his insightful comments and suggestions on a first draft of this paper.
Caronia, L. (2018), "How “at home” is an ethnographer at home? Territories of knowledge and the making of ethnographic understanding", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 114-134. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-12-2017-0067Download as .RIS
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