43. Institutional ethnography: a sociology with and for the people

1) Dr Morena Tartari*
Dr Morena Tartari, Research Fellow (PI), University of Padua
morena.tartari@unipd.it [this will be my affiliation from September 1st, 2022]

2) Dr Órla Meadhbh Murray**
Research Associate, Imperial College London

Institutional Ethnography (IE) is a sociological approach to research developed by the Canadian sociologist Dorothy Smith (1926-2022) (Smith, 1987, 1990a, 1990b, 2005; Smith and Griffith, 2022). It is a well-established research approach in Canada and the US, with more recent networks of scholars emerging in the Nordic countries, Europe, Taiwan, Australia, and the UK and Ireland (Reid and Russell, 2018; Stanley, 2018; Lund and Nilsen, 2020; Murray, 2020; Luken and Vaughan, 2021). This session aims to celebrate the legacy of Dorothy Smith and support the emerging network of IE scholars in Europe by highlighting the value of IE for different academic fields and beyond, including policymakers, activists, other practitioners.

IE is not simply an ethnography of institutions; it is a distinctive approach to research with a specific social ontology, focused on how texts and language organise people’s everyday/everynight lives. Influenced by ethnomethodology, Marx’s materialism, and feminist activism IE aims to provide a ‘sociology for people’ (Smith, 2005; Smith and Griffith, 2022), investigating how things work and identifying ways to affect change. In IE, ‘institutional’ refers to clusters of text-mediated relations which are organized around particular ruling functions such as education, health care, and law (Smith, 2005). IE research often do bureaucratic ‘mapping’ whereby discourses are analysed as social relations rooted in materially replicable texts. 

This session invites contributions which explore both methodological aspects of IE and showcase IE empirical research across topics and themes, including gender, social inclusion, inequalities, citizenship, community development, social resilience. Such work is likely to span thematic areas and theoretical/conceptual backgrounds, including sociology of education, sociology of health, sociology of law, sociology of family, sociology of work and professions, feminist sociology, intersectionality and decoloniality.

We are interested in papers which focus on the study of people’s needs and actualities concerning different kinds of institutions, and those who focus on how IE can generate social change. 

We invite contributors to think about how IE helps to uncover the hidden work of people within institutions and organizations. We are interested in researchers who mix IE with other theories and methodologies, including specific text analysis or creative/participatory methods. We wish to showcase and explore how IE has been used beyond the North American context, considering the challenges and opportunities this presents. Overall, we will consider how IE differs from other forms of ethnographies and the possibilities this provides researchers and users of IE research in trying to understand how thing works and how we might generate change.

Conference contributions are expected to address the following questions:

  • How does IE analyse the (hidden) work of people within institutions and organizations?  
  • How do Institutional Ethnographers combine IE with other theories and methodologies? 
  • Which methods are being used by Institutional Ethnographers, particularly around text analysis and creative or participatory methods?
  • How has Institutional Ethnography been used beyond the North American context? What challenges and opportunities does this present for Institutional Ethnographers? 
  • In what ways is IE different from other forms of ethnography? 

Keywords. Keywords should be substantive rather than disciplinary, specifying as clearly as possible the focus of interest.

  • social inclusion
  • inequalities 
  • gender
  • social change
  • organizations
  • policy making
  • Institutional Ethnography

Sub-disciplines or cross-disciplinary areas of concern.

  • Sociology of education
  • Sociology of health
  • Sociology of law
  • Sociology of family
  • Sociology of work and professions
  • Feminist sociology
  • Intersectionality

Luken, P.C. and Vaughan, S. (eds) (2021) The Palgrave Handbook of Institutional Ethnography. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lund, R.W.B. and Nilsen, A.C.E. (eds) (2020) Institutional Ethnography in the Nordic Region. London: Routledge.

Murray, Ó.M. (2020) ‘Text, process, discourse: doing feminist text analysis in institutional ethnography’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, pp. 1–13. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2020.1839162.

Reid, J. and Russell, L. (eds) (2018) Perspectives On and From Institutional Ethnography. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.

Smith, D.E. (1987) The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Smith, D.E. (1990a) Texts, Facts, and Femininity: Exploring the Relations of Ruling. London: Routledge.

Smith, D.E. (1990b) The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Smith, D.E. (2005) Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People. Oxford: AltaMira Press.

Smith, D.E. and Griffith, A.I. (2022) Simply Institutional Ethnography: Creating a Sociology for People. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Stanley, L. (2018) Dorothy E. Smith, Feminist Sociology & Institutional Ethnography. Edinburgh: X Press.

Short bio
*Morena Tartari is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology of the University of Southampton (UK). She holds a PhD in Sociology, completed in 2012 at the FISPPA Department of University of Padua. From 2019 to 2021 she was a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow (MSCA-IF) at the University of Antwerp (Belgium). She is a 2021 STARS-Grants Awardee, University of Padua (Supporting Talent in ReSearch@University of Padua Programme). Her research focuses mainly on family, gender and inclusion by a sociological perspective that intertwines Institutional Ethnography and different qualitative methods.

** Órla Meadhbh Murray is a Research Associate at Imperial College London’s Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship. Her research focuses on feminist sociology, specifically Institutional Ethnography, audit culture, and intersecting inequalities in UK universities. She is currently writing a monograph – Abolish Audit: A Feminist Institutional Ethnography of UK Universities – based on her PhD thesis and running Institutional Ethnography training workshops as part of the UK and Ireland Institutional Ethnography Network.

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