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From cooperative practice to research and back: Learning from the emotional experience of ethnography with two social enterprises

Kiri Langmead (School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




This paper aims to explore how experiences and emotions arising from the performance of ethnography shape the construction of knowledge about democratic practice in two social enterprises. It argues that ethnographers can develop a more nuanced understanding of organisational practices by moving beyond the self-reflexive work of being aware of one’s position to embrace the emotional work of engaging reflexively with this position, re-embedding reflexive moments in the process of knowledge construction.


Reflections are made on the emotions and experiences arising during a 12-month ethnographic study in two social enterprises.


The author found that engaging reflexively with relational and emotional processes of meaning-making opened up three analytical starting points. First it highlighted and helped the researcher to see beyond the limits of their assumptions, opening them to new understandings of democracy. Second, it gave rise to empathetic resonance through which the researcher was able to feel into the practice of democracy and re-frame it as a site of ongoing struggle. Finally, it brought to consciousness tacit ways of knowing and being central to both research and democratic praxis.


The paper adds to limited literature on processes of knowledge construction. Specifically, it contributes new insights into how emotional experiences and empathetic resonance arising at the meeting point of research performance and democratic praxis can offer analytical starting points for a more nuanced understanding of democratic organising in social enterprise.



The author would like to thank her supervisors and all research participants for supporting her on her research journey. The author also thanks the editors and anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


Langmead, K. (2017), "From cooperative practice to research and back: Learning from the emotional experience of ethnography with two social enterprises", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 13 No. 02, pp. 194-212.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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