Yanow, D. (2013), "Editorial: on disciplinary histories Borrowing anthropology into organisational studies?", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 2 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/joe.2013.57502aaa.001Download as .RIS
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Editorial: on disciplinary histories Borrowing anthropology into organisational studies?
Editorial: on disciplinary histories Borrowing anthropology into organisational studies?
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Volume 2, Issue 1.
Researching organizational ethnographic work a few years ago, I happened upon the essay “Anthropology: The forgotten behavioral science in management history”, by Nancy C. Morey and Fred Luthans, a 1987 Academy of Management (AoM) “Best Paper” which was published in the AoM Proceedings that year. On rereading it in the Spring 2012, I suggested to JOE's editors that it might be worth reprinting, as I thought it gave a most interesting, yet forgotten history of anthropology/ethnography in early organizational studies, one worth reclaiming. I don’t know that many US scholars access the Proceedings, and I know that most European, UK, and other ones do not, such that reprinting it would bring that history to a new generation of readers. The editors agreed, and it appears here, just after the 25th anniversary of its initial publication. A reflective assessment by Professor Luthans follows, co-authored by Ivana Milosevic, a current doctoral student working with him, Dr Morey having died in 1997.
Following that, a handful of scholars weigh in with brief commentaries, contextualizing the original paper in various ways: Beth Bechky, Edgar Schein, and John Van Maanen all engage ethnography in one way or another from their organizational studies perspectives; Davydd Greenwood and Susan Wright draw on years of studying organizations from their base in anthropology. I invited these particular scholars to join in, in consultation with Professor Luthans, with several ideas in mind: reflecting both disciplines featured in the original paper; moving across different organizational studies generations; and accounting for a broader context for the US focus of that history. Some serendipities resulted. I knew that Ed Schein had done his PhD at the interdisciplinary Social Relations (SocRel) program at Harvard mentioned in the paper (working, among others, with anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn), but I had not anticipated the extent of his firsthand involvement with some of the persons Morey and Luthans discuss. Nor did I know that Davydd Greenwood had also interacted with many of them through the University of Pittsburgh, where he took his PhD. And it turned out that Nancy Morey had begun her anthropology PhD at Pitt two years before Davyyd, although he knew her only in passing.
One of the things that Morey and Luthans’ (1987) paper does well, I think, is to provide an intellectual genealogy and a wealth of contemporaneous contextual information about the persons the authors saw as having been influential during the early years of US-based organizational studies in bringing anthropology into the fold. For instance, the essay starts with Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, noting that Mary Parker Follett was influenced by the former (a provocative thought for understanding her work). It then turns to Elton Mayo, L. Lloyd Warner, and others, tracing their institutional appointments and students, whom those students taught and influenced, and where, and so on, in what today might be recognized as a sort of science studies/genealogical account.
The six comments contextualize the original paper in various ways. Adding some details about Nancy Morey, Luthans, and Milosevic mark what has happened in the last 25 years since the publication of the original paper, noting that organizational ethnography has not realized “the level of importance that its roots would have (should have) inferred”, commenting on the narrowing of the discipline's concerns (a historical point Davydd Greenwood also observes) and the disappearance of its once “inquisitive, yet cooperative, spirit”. In the second essay, Beth Bechky affirms the absence of anthropologists in present-day AoM meetings, in contrast with the presence of ethnographic interests among management scholars in various institutional settings and various research themes being pursued in this way. She shows just what ethnographic methods can contribute to researching what happens in organizational life, illustrated by her own recent research. Ed Schein then turns the discussion to a consideration of the ethnographer's role, raising a significant methodological point: “The entry of an ethnographer, no matter how many permissions have been given, is an intervention of unknown proportions into that system [which] might be beneficial or destructive […]”.
The next three commentaries offer different takes on the history advanced by Morey and Luthans. Arguing that they cut their history short, missing key research in the 1950s and 1960s and key international networks, Susan Wright adds UK events and important figures. In a significant contribution, she contrasts the Manchester School of Industrial Studies with the US Hawthorne studies featured in the 1987 essay, bringing in additional theoretical and methodological points. Then, John Van Maanen turns a critical eye on the Hawthorne studies as a component of organizational studies’ origin myth, featuring Elton Mayo as a kind of ethnographic “wizard” and the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Works as part Oz, part disciplinary Garden of Eden. He offers W. Lloyd Warner and Yankee City as better contenders for the roles of your parent and birthplace of organizational ethnography. Finally, Davydd Greenwood broadens the context still further, situating disciplinary histories within US social science developments and noting the ways in which violators of disciplinary boundaries – such as anthropologists wishing to study organizations – were disciplined (as, perhaps, have been many organizational studies scholars wishing to do ethnographic research). He charges us with turning our organizational ethnographic eye to our own workplaces: universities.
In the rest of this introduction, I wish to single out some themes that seem to me worthy of note. Morey and Luthans observe that most of the then-recent anthropological or organizational studies ethnographic work was more concerned with the anthropology of work than with an anthropology of organizations (One finds this, too, in more recent research, as reflected in the subtitle of the 2001 Inside Organizations: anthropologists at work; (Gellner and Hirsch, 2001)). This might be provocative for further study in terms of disciplinary histories: why privilege “work” over “organizations”? The original paper relates an early history of the interdisciplinary SocRel program, noting that the Society for Applied Anthropology grew out of it. In the American Anthropological Association, at least, research associated with the Society for the Anthropology of Work is also tagged “applied”, a marking, that is, intended, in the US context at least, as a disparaging comment – “applied” anthropology being seen by others as somehow a lesser version of the “pure” anthropology that they (imagine themselves to) conduct (see Wright and Greenwood on related points). As Morey and Luthans (1987, p. 131) wrote, “The professional rewards in the discipline were reserved for those who did lengthy field studies in exotic cultures outside their own country” – not for those studying organizations. Has this attitude somehow traveled into organizational studies, colouring ethnographic work there? Or might the elevation of work reflect the influence of Chicago School sociology on field research (see, e.g. Becker et al., 1961)?
That last question points to the character of the history narrated in the paper. Ed Scheinre marked on the absence of Everett Hughes and the Chicago School of sociology, including ethnographies by Erving Goffman, Howard Becker, and others (personal communication, 16 August 2012). That Dr Morey had completed a PhD in anthropology (at the University of Utah, having transferred there from Pittsburgh) prior to beginning a second PhD in management at the University of Nebraska, working with Professor Luthans, might suggest one explanation: a greater likeliness that she was reading anthropology rather than sociology. But let's push this matter a bit further.
Of note on the organizational studies side of things is that neither of the organizational studies ethnographers included here – Beth Bechky, John Van Maanen – came to their work through a traditional anthropology department (nor did I); nor did Gideon Kunda (as he makes clear in his essay elsewhere in this issue), Stephen Barley, or many others who are closely identified with organizational (studies) ethnography. Gideon notes (this issue) that he read widely – “sideways and backwards” – an experience I resonate with, having followed bibliographic bread crumbs from one reading to another, pursuing subject-focused readings rather than disciplinary cannons. That Ed Schein took his PhD in the intentionally cross-disciplinary SocRel department might explain his own broad reading habits (albeit being strongly identified with psychology). Is this sort of disciplinary border crossing characteristic of “organizational studies ethnography”? And if so, does it lend such work a distinctiveness that distinguishes it from “anthropological ethnography”?
If this sort of interdisciplinarity marks organizational ethnography, should we, in telling a history of organizational ethnography, be looking to sources additional to the anthropological ones Morey and Luthans engaged? Such is the implication of the essays by Schein, Wright, Van Maanen, and Greenwood. In other words, a reader who is considering the place, historically, of ethnography in organizational studies would have to look not only to anthropology, but also to sociology, its companion discipline, and their historically shared method and methodological orientation (despite sociology's heavy embrace of the quantitative in recent years, as Bechky notes). All the more so given the light shed by Sue Wright and John Van Maanenon Elton Mayo's position in the Hawthorne Studies research – a less heroic one than the received wisdom accords him, as John's essay title suggests. This is not to detract from the chief purpose of Morey and Luthans’ essay: clearly, anthropological researchers made had notable contributions to organizational studies, and, just as clearly, these were on the whole eclipsed by attention to psychology and social psychology, in particular. But Wright, Van Maanen, and Greenwood call our attention to the fact that other histories examining anthropological contributions to organizational studies could also be told, as could histories of the contributions of ethnographers and ethnographies, which would expand the terrain beyond anthropology.
Second, in trying to understand the relationship between anthropological studies of organizations and organizational studies ones, we might consider what a taxonomy of organizational ethnographies might show: what counts, and why (not)? Bechky's essay points us to some extent in this direction. Today, studies of work practices – how does the work of X get done? – might well be a distinctive grouping. Research by Stephen Barley, Davide Nicolini, Julian Orr, Lucy Suchman, and others would be contemporary examples, alongside earlier sociological analyses of doctors, managers, etc. (Becker et al., 1961; Dalton, 1959). These works nudge up against ethnomethodological and science studies accounts. Then, there are studies that highlighted the organizing of work, alongside the work itself, 1950s-1960s era studies of bureaucracies chief among these (e.g. Blau, 1963/1953; Crozier, 1964; Kaufman, 1960; Selznick, 1949, 1957). Next, we have studies that expanded into organizational identity and culture and the communication of meaning (e.g. Ingersoll and Adams, 1992; Vaughan, 1996; Yanow, 1996; Ybema, 2010). Another category might be the equivalent of “village” studies: Kondo and Dorinne (1990) on workplaces in Japan, Rosen (2000) on New York ones; Kunda (1992) and Schein (2003) on DEC; Van Maanen (1991) on Disneyland. The taxonomy becomes a bit forced – the works overlap – but the exercise may be useful nonetheless in pointing to another potential hallmark of organizational ethnography: the research is more “problem-driven” than site-driven. Even in that last group of studies, researchers were more interested in explaining some organizational phenomenon – power, or the use of “culture”, or socialization to a role; the choice of setting was subordinate (although invariably, theoretical focus and setting intertwine, the latter influencing the development of the former much as the former influences the selection of setting). The writing rests on thickly narrated descriptions of organizational settings, acts, persons, and so on; but descriptive material is purposed for theoretical insight. Even when the researcher is on location as researcher, rather than as consultant, the research seeks to “solve” a problem, albeit more commonly one generated by the theory and the researcher than by the members of the setting studied – and in this light, Wright's discussion of the definition and source of “problem” in this kind of research is of great interest.
Third, the theory-setting connection links to the challenge that Ed Schein throws at us in terms of practicing ethnographic research. This can be done in keeping with either realist-objectivist methodological presuppositions or constructivist/intersubjectivist-interpretivist ones. In asking if we can truly achieve a good understanding of organizational life without recognizing that any entry into an organization is an intervention into a system, Ed directly challenges the former: the intervening researcher is not, and cannot be, external to that which is being studied, the very definition of “objectivity”. And as we know about systems that their parts are interdependent, we cannot know how that intervention is going to play out, affecting the character of what we learn and thereby the knowledge claims we can advance. Interpretive approaches to ethnography are much more comfortable with these arguments: having given up on the idea that external, “objective” observation is possible, such ethnographers are much more aware of and reflective about their “positionality” – what in their background and/or identities they bring to the research table, where they are situated within the organization, and how both affect their knowledge claims.
Ed's concern about the relationship between ethnography and “clinical research” has been more actively on my mind since I was asked last year by a Netherlands colleague for advice for his PhD student who, after being on site for a few weeks doing field research, was asked by organizational members to report on her findings. They were, in effect, putting her in the position of clinical consultant, something that made me very uncomfortable on her behalf given the lack of training for that in the general graduate curriculum, the lack of an initial contract, formal or informal, to give such feedback, and so on. Taking Ed's concerns to heart means that graduate programs with a focus on organizational ethnography need to consider adding another dimension to their curriculum: clinical training in what it means to intervene and to help (e.g. the courses available at the National Training Laboratories Institute; see www.ntl.org/inner.asp?id=308&category=3 accessed 21 August 2012).
Davydd Greenwood takes this challenge further (albeit more in other writings than in his essay here): in his view, it is unethical to practice ethnography without partnering with situational members and putting one's academic skills to their service (and in the process, learning from them as well). Otherwise, we continue the quasi-colonial practices (my words, not his) suggested by the language of “my informants”, “my subjects”, “my research”, objectifying situational members rather than “I-Thou-ing” them in Buberian fashion. Taking his arguments to heart would move researchers more into the realm of (participatory) action research (see Greenwood and Levin, 2007; Sykes and Treleavan, 2006), still a contested domain on methodological grounds for many social science fields (because it moves so firmly away from any pretense at external, objective research) but fully within the realm of interpretive science (see Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2013).With the growth of attention to organizational ethnography, perhaps it is time for us to (re-)engage some of these issues.
In concluding, I want to revisit the direction of borrowing set up by the paper that spawned these comments. To see organizational studies as borrowing ethnography from anthropology forever accords methods legitimacy to the latter. How often have I heard organizational studies scholars presenting ethnographic work begin apologetically with the phrase, “I am not an anthropologist, but ….”?! Anthropology has its own disciplinary difficulties, as Davydd Greenwood's essay makes clear (see also Greenwood, 2013). Historian of anthropology Oscar Salemink (2003) has already noted that ethnography is not the sole property of anthropology, having begun as an activity of colonial administrators and others (p. 2). The matters taken up in this collection of essays, then, concern not only disciplinary histories, per se, but the constitutions of disciplines as sciences. It would be far more useful, it seems to me, to stake our own claim to ethnographic turf and develop “organisational (studies) ethnography” in its own right. That, for me, is a major thrust of the original essay and the commentaries, and of this journal: to look to ethnography's histories within organizational studies – pace many such claims, it is decidedly not new! – and to elaborate the specific character of an anthropological and ethnographic sensibility when carried out in studies of organizations and the contributions it can make to such study.
Dvora YanowCommunication, Technology, and Philosophy Department, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Where many faculty members, as Davydd noted (personal communication, 13 August 2012), were “interested in organizations and interaction”, including Harvey Sarles (a student of Birdwhistell), with whom he studied, and F.L.W. Richardson (an adjunct professor who was an organizational specialist). Their network extended to “a group that included Bateson, Trager, Hockett, Chapple, and others”. Several of these are mentioned in the 1987 article.
The author thanks Peri Schwartz-Shea for comments on the draft, Mike Rowe for supporting and implementing the idea to reprint the 1987 article and the development of this compendium of comments, and all the authors whose essays appear here – you made the enterprise a pleasure to carry out!
About the author
Dvora Yanow, Visiting Professor in Wageningen University's Faculty of Social Sciences, Communication, Technology, and Philosophy Department, is a policy/political and organizational ethnographer and interpretive methodologist whose research and teaching are shaped by an overall interest in questions of the generation and communication of knowing and meaning in organizational and policy settings. Current research includes state-created categories for race-ethnic identity, immigrant integration policies and citizen-making practices, research regulation (ethics board) policies, practice theory and the life cycle, and science/technology museums and the idea of science. Her most recent book, Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes (Routledge, 2012), with Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, is the first volume in their co-edited Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods. Dvora Yanow can be contacted at: Dvora.Yanow@wur.nl
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