Small Places, Big Stakes: “Meetings” as Moments of Ethnographic Momentum

Christina Garsten, Adrienne Sörbom

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    Ethnographic fieldwork in organizations – such as corporations, state agencies, and international organizations – often entails that the ethnographer has to rely to a large extent on meetings as the primary point of access. Oftentimes, this involves doing fieldwork in workshops, at ceremonies, and at other staged, formal events. In addition, such fieldwork tends to be both multilocal, mobile, and discontinuous. It may not provide as much of a flavour of the different local sites and a sense of ‘being there' as one would wish for. The tendency in anthropology to favour the informal, the ‘genuine' or ‘authentic' as well as the spontaneous, may leave one with a lingering feeling of having to make do with second-rate material, i.e. the formal, the superficial, and the organized. To a large extent, the staged character of the social events that are accessible to the ethnographer suggests that s/he has been left of much of ‘what is really going on', and ‘what people are really up to.' Meetings, however, as organized and ritualized social events, may provide the ethnographer with a loupe through which key tenets of larger social groups and organizations, and big issues, may be carefully observed. In formal meetings, political priorities, economic values, and social priorities are often condensed, played out and negotiated, turning meetings into strategic sites from which to observe the organization at large. The paper is based on experiences from fieldwork in corporations, think thanks, and international organizations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2014
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    EventThe American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting 2014 - Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, United States
    Duration: 2 Dec 20147 Dec 2014
    Conference number: 113


    ConferenceThe American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting 2014
    LocationMarriott Wardman Park
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityWashington, DC
    Internet address

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