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2023/2024  KAN-CCMVV2317U  Organizational ethnography: Practical fieldwork methods

English Title
Organizational ethnography: Practical fieldwork methods

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
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 cand.merc. and GMA (CM)
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 16-02-2023

Relevant links

Learning objectives
The aim of the course is that the students:
  • Acquire the skills to design a qualitative business project.
  • Write interview questions, plan and map-out interviews, shadow, and participant observation.
  • Know the practical components of qualitative field research and practice 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.
  • Apply research concepts to practice.
Organizational ethnography: Practical fieldwork methods:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 15 pages
Assignment type Written assignment
Release of assignment The Assignment is released in Digital Exam (DE) at exam start
Duration 2 weeks 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 will teach you the tools for conducting qualitative social science research studies with a specific focus on studying organizations ethnographically – through practical methods, training, and project design for you to accumulate solid qualitative data for use in a business or research project. The ethnographic method is an entrepreneurial knowledge skill set for solving today’s organizational challenges. The course trains you to think analytically with qualitative methods.


Ethnographic methods allow you to capture the complexity of everyday businesses. The skills you will acquire in this course will prepare you for business research and analysis. 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 will provide a valuable toolbox of research methods to carry with you into different work contexts.


You will gain hands-on experience collecting qualitative and ethnographic data and analyzing field notes. These tools will prepare you for doing an independent business project or, for instance, conducting qualitative analysis in a strategy consulting company. You will learn to develop a realistic research design and how to confidently execute it.


The course covers foundational concepts in qualitative social science research methods such that you can critically think through your project design and how you will implement it, step-by-step in a business context. This means exploring research design conceptually, identifying a research interest and bounding it in theoretical terms, conducting some interviews and participant observation, taking notes that are usable afterwards, and how to use these notes for analysis in a future research paper or consultancy. Weekly lecture topics will include: defining ethnography; identifying your research topic 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-business project and collaboratively implement it to familiarize yourself with the practical methods of organizational ethnography. You will be asked to write 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 project for your BA or MA 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. This will be supplemented with 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 will feature. Moreover, lectures will provide individual feedback on student work.
Student workload
In class activities (participation in lectures) 33 hours
Preparation for lectures 100 hours
Preparation for exam 40 hours
Field activities 33 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: 


Astuti, Rita. 2017. Taking people seriously. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(1): 105-122.


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.


Bruni, Attila. 2006. Access as trajectory: Entering the field in organizational ethnography. M@n@gement 9(3): 137-152.


Burawoy, Michael. 2013. Ethnographic fallacies: Reflections on labour studies in the era of market fundamentalism. Work, Employment, and Society 27(3): 526-536.


Burawoy, Michael. 2009. The extended case method: Four countries, four decades, for great transformations, and one theoretical tradition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (excerpts, e.g.: Epilogue: 10 pages)


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.


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


Granqvist, Nina et al. Chapter 17: Doing qualitative research on emerging fields and markets. In: Raza Mir and Sanjay Jain (Eds). The Routledge companion to qualitative research in organization studies. Routledge. 263-278.


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 exercises)


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


Neyland, Daniel. 2007. Organizational Ethnography. SAGE Publications Ltd. (excerpts)


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.


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


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.


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


Walford, Geoffrey. 2009. The practice of writing ethnographic field notes. Ethnography and Education 4(2): 117-130.

Last updated on 16-02-2023