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2023/2024  BA-BHAAV2308U  Organizational ethnography research methods

English Title
Organizational ethnography research methods

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Bachelor
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Max. participants 40
Study board
Study Board for BSc in Economics and Business Administration
Course coordinator
  • Coordinator
    Karen Boll - Department of Organization (IOA)
  • Primary instructor
    Robin Smith - Department of Organization (IOA)
Main academic disciplines
  • Methodology and philosophy of science
  • Organisation
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 08-02-2023

Relevant links

Learning objectives
The aim of the course is that the students:
  • Acquire the skills to design an ethnographic study in an organization.
  • Write interview questions, plan and map-out interviews, shadow, and participant observation.
  • Know the practical components of qualitative ethnographic field research and reflect on them.
  • Adopt the norms and ethics of social science research.
  • Distinguish between different methodologies and identify which fit your research project.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of methodological approaches and concepts and how to apply them to a real-world setting.
Organizational ethnography research methods:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 10 pages
Assignment type Written assignment
Release of assignment The Assignment is released in Digital Exam (DE) at exam start
Duration 72 hours to prepare
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Winter
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Description of the exam procedure

The exam is an open-book written assignment at home. The students will receive a case in which there is a research question about a specific organization. The written assignment is a reflection essay responding to this question. The student will be asked to use the syllabus to construct a plan for a solid research study using the tools and methods they learned in the course, including what problems they imagine may arise in executing the study, and how they would address those hurdles given the tools they have acquired.

Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

Organizational ethnography research methods will teach you the tools for conducting ethnographic qualitative field research with a specific focus on studying organizations ethnographically – through practical methods, training, and project design for you to learn how to accumulate solid fieldwork data.


The methods learned during the course are suited for collecting data for a business project such as the bachelor project. Moreover, there is an increased interest in in-house ethnographic research to solve consumer and business problems in both the private and public sectors, and so this course provides a valuable toolbox of research methods to carry with you into different work contexts.


You will gain hands-on experience collecting ethnographic data and analyzing qualitative field notes. You will learn to develop a realistic research design and how to confidently execute it. The course covers foundational concepts in sociology and anthropology research methods such that you can critically think through your project design and how you would implement it, step-by-step, in a business or organization context.


This means exploring research design conceptually, identifying a research interest and bounding with basic social science concepts, conducting some interviews and participant observation, taking notes that are usable afterwards, and how to use these notes for analysis in a future business project or consultancy. Weekly lecture topics will include: defining ethnography; identifying research topics and research design; negotiating access; bounding the study; introducing grounded theory; introducing participant observation; drafting interview questions; how to conduct a good interview; shadowing; research ethics, trust, data management, and informed consent; writing good and usable field notes; how to integrate field notes and literature; and how businesses use ethnography to trouble-shoot emergent issues.

Description of the teaching methods
Highly interactive teaching; short lecture modules mixed with exercises, group discussions, and group work. The course is based on a high level of student participation that includes being prepared with the readings and activities and being active in presenting and discussing.

The course consists of lectures plus group exercises to think through the day’s lesson and practice interviewing and research skills. During the course, you will design your own mini data collection/research project and collaboratively implement it to familiarize yourself with the practical methods of organizational ethnography. You will be asked to write a short reflection essay on this process of qualitative data gathering, identify what you struggled with, and offer solutions to these problems based on the readings and your experiences. You will receive feedback on this essay from the lecturer. The content of this essay will reflect the content of the final exam. The goal is that you will find a topic that you will be excited to explore in an independent business project for your BA thesis, or if not, then be able to reflect on what you learned so that you can use this later in your career.

The core text for this course is: Lareau, Annette. 2021. Listening to people: A practical guide to interviewing, participant observation, and writing it all up. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. One to two of its chapters will be assigned per week according to the lecture topic. Sometimes this may be supplemented with other articles, chapters, podcasts, and/or YouTube videos.
Feedback during the teaching period
Every session will feature exercises of short writing reflections on the reading, discussions, and ongoing research. The exercises are designed to help students focus on and deepen their understanding of the reading and how it relates to the practice of ethnographic field research. The students are expected to ask questions and challenge the readings. There will be role playing for interview and participant observer to think through research challenges, and other practical activities. Moreover, lectures will provide individual feedback on student work.
Student workload
In class activities (participation in lectures) 38 hours
Preparation for lectures 100 hours
Preparation for exam 40 hours
Field activities 28 hours
Expected literature

Lareau, Annette. 2021. Listening to people: A practical guide to interviewing, participant observation, and writing it all up. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Core text book)


The core text book will be supplemented with articles, often only short excerpts: 


Baer, Drake. 2014. Here’s why companies are desperate to hire anthropologists. Business Insider https:/​/​www.businessinsider.com/​heres-why-companies-aredesperateto-hireanthropologists-2014-3


Bjerregaard, Toke. 2011. Studying institutional work in organizations: Uses and implications of ethnographic methodologies. Journal of Organizational Change Management 24(1): 51-64. (12 pages)


Burawoy, Michael. 2009. The extended case method: Four countries, four decades, for great transformations, and one theoretical tradition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (short excerpts)


Czarniawska, Barbara. 2014. Why I think shadowing is the best field technique in management and organization studies. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management 91(1): 90-93. (3 pages)


Davis, John and Wilfred Dolfsma (Des). The Elgar companion to social economics. Second edition. (short excerpts)


Kaplan, Spencer. ‘Bringing your full self to work’: Fashioning LGBTQ bankers on Wall Street. Anthropology of Work Review 42(1).


Killick, Anna. 2020. Rigged: Understanding ‘the economy’ in Brexit

Britain. Manchester: Manchester UP. (short excerpts and practical exercises)


Ladner, Sam. 2014. Practical ethnography: A guide to doing ethnography in the private sector. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press Inc. (short excerpts)


Madsbjerg, Christian, and Mikkel B. Rasmussen. 2014. An anthropologist walks into a bar. Harvard Business Review https:/​/​hbr.org/​2014/​03/​an-anthropologist-walks-into-a-bar


O’Reilly, Karen. 2009. Key concepts in ethnography. SAGE Publications Ltd. (short excerpts)


Shah, Alpa. 2017. Ethnography? Participant observation, a potentially revolutionary praxis. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(1): 45-59. (13 pages)


Suddaby, Roy. 2006. From the editors: What grounded theory is not. Academy of Management Journal 49(4): 633-642. (8 pages)


Tett, Gillian. Anthro-vision: A new way to see in business and life. Avid Reader Press. (short excerpts)


Vad Karsten, Mette Marie. 2019. Short-term anthropology: Thoughts from a fieldwork among plumbers, digitalisation, cultural assumptions, and marketing strategies. Journal of Business Anthropology 8(1): 108-125. (16 pages)


Wang, Tricia. The human insights missing from big data. TED Talk: https:/​/​www.ted.com/​talks/​tricia_wang_the_human_insights_missing_from_big_data?language=en

Last updated on 08-02-2023