Awkward Ethnography: An Untapped Resource in Organizational Studies

Beate Sløk-Andersen*, Alma Persson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Purpose: This article explores the analytical gains of what we refer to as “awkward ethnography.” How might our understanding of organizational phenomena benefit from those unexpected moments when our observations are laughed at, when our questions cause discomfort, or when we feel like a failure? While such instances seem to be an inherent aspect of organizational ethnography, they are often silenced or camouflaged by claims of intentionality. This article takes the opposite approach, arguing for the analytical value of awkwardness.
Design/methodology/approach: The authors draw on their respective ethnographic fieldwork in the Danish and Swedish armed forces. Based on observations, participation and interviews in two military units, the analysis focuses on situations that rarely find their way into final research publications. These will be explored as analytically productive material that can provide crucial insights into the organizational context studied.
Findings: The authors’ analysis demonstrates that awkward situations that arise during ethnographic work not only bring about unforeseen insights; they also enable vital analytical opportunities for discovering silent knowledge in the organization which researchers might otherwise not have considered to inquire about or understood the gravity of.
Research limitations/implications: Implied in the suggested methodological approach for ethnographers is an acceptance of awkward situations as productive encounters. This means doing away with ideals for (ethnographic) knowledge production steered by notions of objectivity, instead embracing the affective dimensions of fieldwork.
Originality/value: This research addresses a key, and often silenced, aspect of ethnographic fieldwork, and stresses the unique value of the unintended and unexpected when doing ethnography.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)65-78
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 11 December 2020.


  • Organizations
  • Ethnography
  • Fieldwork
  • Methodology
  • Affect
  • Analytical process
  • Awkwardness
  • Failure

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