Everywhere and nowhere at once: the challenges of following in multi-sited ethnography

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Abstract

Purpose: In multi-sited ethnography, “following” (of, e.g. persons, objects and events) is used as a device to structure fieldwork. The purpose of this paper is to problematize and substantiate the notion of following, illustrating that, when adopting a “following” strategy, the endless number of potential trails one could follow may lead a fieldworker to be both everywhere and nowhere at once. Design/methodology/approach: This paper is based on the experiences and insights derived from a multi-sited ethnography of the strategic collaborations that emerged after the Dutch healthcare reform of 2015. Fieldwork was conducted between 2015 and 2017, and consisted of participant observations, shadowing and interviews. Findings: An approach well suited to studying the contemporary problems that cut across organizational boundaries, multi-sited ethnography is both valuable and more challenging due to: (1) the continuous need to negotiate access, which stimulates the researcher to reflect on his or her positionality in the field; (2) the inevitable pressure it puts on a researcher to “unfollow” their field(s) and to regain critical distance and (3) its perplexing ability to highlight the lack of a whole, unveiling instead a plethora of perspectives across sites which may or may not align. Research limitations/implications: This paper ends with three key considerations for future multi-sited research endeavours. Originality/value: Although the metaphor of following can help to structure fieldwork, the practice of following in multi-sited ethnography is not as straightforward as it appears: there are countless potential “paths” to follow, and researchers themselves must decide which trails to choose and when to step back and “unfollow” their field(s).

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Volumeahead-of-print
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • Multi-sited ethnography, Organizational ethnography, Interorganizational collaboration, Following

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