Insider or Outsider? Exploring the Fluidity of the Roles Through Social Identity Theory

Signe Bruskin

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the fluidity of the fieldwork roles “insider” and “outsider.” The paper aims to move the discussion of insiders from an a priori categorized status and contribute to the literary insider–outsider debate by unfolding the micro process of how the role of an insider is shaped in situ. Grounded in empirical examples, the paper illustrates how the researcher’s role is shaped through interactions with organizational members and by context.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on an ethnographic study in an IT department of a Nordic bank and draws on empirical material generated through a combination of data: shadowing, interviews, observations and documents. Excerpts from fieldnotes are included to invite the reader into “the scenes” played out in the field and are analyzed in order to illustrate the shaping of roles in situ.
Findings – The study finds that, independent of the researcher’s role as sponsored by the organization, the interactions with organizational members and context determine whether the researcher is assigned a role as insider or outsider, or even both within the same context.
Originality/value – The paper contributes with a new discussion of how the roles of insiders and outsiders are fluid by discussing the shaping of the roles in situ. By drawing on relational identity theories, the paper illustrates how interactions and context influence the researcher’s role, grounded in empirical examples. In addition, the paper discusses what the assigned roles enable and constrain for the ethnographer in that
particular situation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)159-170
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 11 June 2018.


  • Social identity theory
  • Outsider
  • Fieldwork
  • Roles
  • Insider
  • Sponsored research

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