Navigating the Politics of Fieldwork Using Institutional Ethnography: Strategies for Practice

Laura Bisaillon, Janet Rankin


Discussion and analysis of characteristics and tensions associated with fieldwork in two projects using institutional ethnography is the focus of this article. Examined in comparison with each other, the first exemplar explores the organization of the Canadian immigration system and the mandatory medical screening for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) of immigrants within this. The second exemplar looks at how nurses' work in a selection of Canadian hospitals is organized. The argument made is that the politics of deliberately maintaining a standpoint on the side of a set of people (immigrants with HIV and nurses)—where inquiry begins from the experiential knowledge and concerns with the world of these constituents—gives rise to challenges to which the researcher must contend and adapt. Mobilizing examples from our fieldwork, we explore several such challenges and explain the research decisions we made in the face of these. In this article, we present insights and practical strategies for researchers who are preparing to use institutional ethnography as a strategy for critical social inquiry.



critical methods; epistemology; fieldwork; HIV/AIDS; institutional ethnography; nursing; social organization; sociology; standpoint

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Copyright (c) 2012 Laura Bisaillon, Janet Rankin

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