Potentials and Challenges of Comparison in Organisational Ethnography

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:21
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Christian ROGLER, University of Vienna, Austria
Producing a “fine-grained” (organisational) ethnography traditionally follows a holistic approach that entails 1) a prolonged stay in the field, ideally for one year or more and 2) the unity of the ethnographer as the person who records, interprets and writes up his/her own material. Accordingly, doing a comparative ethnographic study of two or more sites becomes a challenging and time consuming process – one that is aggravated by current trends of the projectification of academic research and the increasing time limitation of academic employment contracts. My presentation will discuss potentials and challenges of such an approach based on my experience of doing a comparative ethnographic study of two university departments in two different countries over a period of three years. It will address the following issues:

1) How can a comparison based on ethnographic research of two organisations which are characterised by (at least partially) profoundly differing features generate insights into large-scale social phenomena of public policy reform? In this respect, I will argue against a comparison that defines characteristics in advance to then compare them, and suggest reading one site through the other instead.

2) Comparing two sites by reading one through the other holds the risk of the analysis becoming mastered by the contrast, i.e. differences becoming absolutes instead of being positioned in a broader (global) continuum. My presentation will elaborate my solution of this challenge by focusing on areas of activities in these sites rather than the two sites themselves.