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


  • Laura Bisaillon University of Toronto
  • Janet Rankin University of Calgary



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


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.



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Author Biographies

Laura Bisaillon, University of Toronto

Laura BISAILLON, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Biomedical Ethics Unit of McGill University, Montreal. Her interdisciplinary program of research focuses critical attention on Canadian immigration medical practices, application of policy and the law, social organization of knowledge, and HIV and AIDS. Laura is currently investigating the organization of knowledge practices associated with decision-making about medical in/admissibility of immigrants with HIV to Canada.

Janet Rankin, University of Calgary

Janet RANKIN, RN, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. Her program of research explores the social organization of nursing work and nursing education. Using institutional ethnography, Janet is exploring how gendered forms of knowledge feature in contemporary nursing. The research focuses on nurses' work within a variety of objective, technologically generated modes of knowledge.




How to Cite

Bisaillon, L., & Rankin, J. (2012). Navigating the Politics of Fieldwork Using Institutional Ethnography: Strategies for Practice. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 14(1).



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