Ethnographie [Methoden der empirischen Sozialforschung]

In den letzten Jahren erfreut sich die Ethnographie einer zunehmenden Beliebtheit. Über die Grenzen der Ethnologie ist die Ethnographie nun in Soziologie, Politikwissenschaft und Ökonomie, als Unternehmensethnographie heimisch geworden. Somit stellen sich die Fragen, was unter einer Ethnographie verstanden wird, ob es ein gemeinsames Verständnis von Ethnographie gibt und welchem Forschungsinteresse die Ethnographie dient.

Eine Antwort darauf gibt Kees van der Waal:

“As my argument suggests, a merely descriptive study will not suffice when choosing a research question for an organizational ethnography. It may add to our knowledge to know the ‘what’, ‘how” and ‘who’ of an organizational setting, but in order to progress beyond taxonomy and description, the ‘why’ (or criticality) question also needs to be engaged with. In order to answer the question of why a set of relationships or symbolic understandings is the way it is, it needs to be set against the background of other factors and processes. In other words, it needs to be contextualized.


One should therefore not study an organization per se as an isolated entity. Additionally, the main point of interest would not so much be the form and function of an organization, but rather the organizational process as it unfolds between sets of actors, including other organizations. Core to the organizing process is the tendency to set up a governing ethos (organizational culture), rules for interaction and resource allocation, and the necessity to monitor these (Hirsch and Gellner, 2001: 3-4). In choosing a research question the boundaries of organizations and other social settings should not be taken as a given and homogeneity in the research setting should not be assumed.

As such, possible research questions in the ethnographic study of organizations might include the following:

  • What are the relationships between different actors in a specific organizational process?
  • What form dies the organizing process that is studied take and how does it change?
  • Why does this particular form of organizational interaction occur in this specific context?
  • How do relations of power and contestation emerge in organizational processes and how are these related to meaning (symbols and cultural forms)?
  • What are the effects of a specific organizational process on particular socio-economic relationships?”

(van der Waal, Kees (2010). Getting going. Organizing ethnographic fieldwork. In: Ybema, Sierk et al. (eds.). Organizational Ethnography. Studying the Complexities of Everyday Life. Los Angeles: Sage, pp.26-27,)