Gifts, Reciprocity and Ethically Sound Ethnographic Research: A Reflexive Framework

Anna Kirkebæk Johansson Gosovic*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Purpose: Within organizational ethnography, getting access to relevant field sites often requires us to draw on personal and professional networks. Likewise, externally funded research is no longer a rarity. The question is what such financial and social ties mean for our research practices as organizational ethnographers and for our interactions with and descriptions of the field. The purpose of this paper is to address this question and to develop our understanding and practice of organizational ethnography by expanding the methodological literature on research ethics as well as our tools to evaluate research quality.
Design/methodology/approach: Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a multinational pharmaceutical corporation, and building on previous literature on ethics and quality in qualitative research, this paper introduces a reflexive framework for understanding our personal and financial entanglements in the field and the possible impact of such entanglements on our research findings and representation of informants and events.
Findings: Drawing on anthropological theory of reciprocity and gift-giving, the paper argues that social and financial entanglements with the field will urge the ethnographer to reciprocate; e.g. by thinking twice about unflattering representations and criticism of those with whom we are entangled. However, the paper further argues that such reflections are an important part of conducting ethically sound ethnographic research.
Originality/value: Rather than subscribing to an illusion of independent research, this paper demonstrates how we as organizational ethnographers get entangled with the fields that we study and what implications this might have for our practices and representations of these fields.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)66-79
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 24 October 2019


  • Research quality
  • Ethnography
  • Qualitative research
  • Reciprocity
  • Research ethics

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