The purpose of this paper is to unpack the question of research access(es), especially ethnographic access, seen as an intrinsic part of research projects that should be scrutinized carefully to gain a deeper understanding of the field. Two main questions are asked: what does the process of accessing knowledge-intensive businesses (KIBs), specifically large international consultancies (LICs), tell us about access more generally? And what does accessing KIBs, specifically LICs, tell us about these organizations more generally?
The paper builds on discussions of research access issues in organizational ethnography, in part when setting out to employ shadowing as a method of inquiry. It focuses on the challenges of gaining access to KIBs, where confidentiality is central to the work. The empirical focus is a study of LICs from where the data for this paper is drawn.
To answer the two questions, the paper provides an analysis of: accesses in the plural; ongoing processes of accessing; multiple levels of access and contradictory negotiations; research accesses, including access difficulties, as constitutive of research itself; and research accesses as dependent on and giving data on the organizations in question. Building on literatures on ethnographic access and empirical data gained while negotiating access to LICs, this paper contributes to prior research on access, focusing on LICs as an arena for organizational ethnography, whose particular character has to be taken into account when conducting research.
This paper examines the processes of accessing, a neglected but important part of research: the phase(s) of negotiating and gaining access to the field, and the need to fully absorb these phases into the research process as a whole. Access as such multi-level ongoing processes is often neglected, however, in both academic writing and importantly in doctoral education curricula. Therefore, the paper offers guidelines for use in research training.
The authors are very grateful to anonymous reviewers for very extensive constructive comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper, and Tuomas Kortteinen for graphical assistance. This paper derives from the project “Age, generation, and changing work-life balance and boundaries: an intersectional and interactive ethnographic study”, funded by the Academyof Finland, 2012-2014.
Karjalainen, M., Niemistö, C. and Hearn, J. (2015), "Unpacking the problem of research access(es): The case of large knowledge-intensive international consultancies", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 274-293. https://doi.org/10.1108/QROM-12-2013-1189
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