Confronting the Digital: Doing Ethnography in Modern Organizational Settings

[We’re pleased to welcome Dr. A. Onajomo Akemu and Dr. Samer Abdelnour. Dr. Akemu recently published a guest editorial in Organizational Research Methods entitled, “Confronting the Digital: Doing Ethnography in Modern Organizational Settings,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Akemu reflects on the significance of the articles featured in this issue in the context of today’s political environment:]

ORM_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

We were motivated by practical challenges we faced during our ethnographic research. Work in modern organizations is undertaken using computer-mediated means, in ways that are unobservable using conventional fieldwork approaches such as interviewing and participant observation. As ethnographers, we know that the best ethnographic studies engage scholarly audiences when they paint credible, authentic accounts of organizational life. Our inability to directly observe our informants’ digitally-mediated work challenged us to reconsider how we follow the people and processes we study.

As we began exploring different ways of improving how we represent our informants’ lives, we were confronted with another challenge: what we observed in person was different than what we could “observe” digitally. We thus sought to write a paper to make sense of our experiences, to support researchers facing similar challenges, and offer suggestions for designing and undertaking fieldwork that crosses physical and digital sites.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Our research is innovative in the way we relate emergent theory about the unique attributes of digital artifacts (such as email and digital documents) to the enduring concerns of ethnography: authenticity, presence, and representation of informants. Though there is a growing body of literature on digital ethnography or netnography, we are not aware of any methods paper that explicitly problematizes the differences between informants’ physical and digital data, especially within organizations. We articulate these differences, identify two modes in which researchers can be co-present with informants, and then offer practical guidelines on how to improve authenticity in ethnographic studies. We hope that organizational ethnographers will recognize similar challenges in their own research, expand upon our proposals, and identify additional modes of being co-present with informants.

What is the most important/influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

The most influential paper we have read in the last year is an article by Gail Whiteman and William Cooper in the Academy of Management Discoveries (Whiteman, G., & Cooper, W. H. (2016). Decoupling rape. Academy of Management Discoveries, 2(2), 115–154). We liked the paper for at least three reasons. First, Whiteman and Cooper’s article is substantively and methodologically rich—an exemplar of qualitative research and abductive theorizing. Drawing on findings from a single site ethnography, Whiteman and Cooper advance our understanding of corporate social irresponsibility as not simply located at the level of an individual firm, but collectively enabled by systemic decoupling within a field of organizational actors. Second, though the central observation of the paper—the exploitation of vulnerable populations—is heartbreaking, the authors achieve a fine balance between narrative power and theoretical abstraction. Finally, the paper is well crafted and presented. By creatively using videos, pictures and sound in the paper, Whiteman and Cooper situate themselves at the heart of the research project while richly describing their ethnographic context to the reader.

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Exploring Mixed Methods in Organizational Sciences

work-4-680529-m Organizational Research Methods invites papers for a Feature Topic on Mixed Methods in the Organizational Sciences. Guest editors for this feature topic are Jose F. Molina-Azorin, Donald Bergh, Kevin Corley, and David Ketchen.

Topics include, but are not limited to:

– Philosophy of science issues related to mixed methods research

– Explanations of how mixed methods can help to carry out context specific research.

– Evaluations of how mixed methods can enhance organizational research by carrying out multilevel studies and bridging macro and micro inquiry

ORM_72ppiRGB_150pixW– Guidance on how mixed methods can simultaneously examine outcomes and process issues.

– Analysis of the implications and opportunities of mixed methods to bridge the science practice gap, emphasizing the relevance of mixed methods studies to practice.

– Development and validation of new measures using a mixed methods approach.

– Quality issues in mixed methods in organizational sciences.

Organizational Research Methods  welcomes empirical, conceptual, methodological and literature review papers.  The deadline to submit a 5 – 7 page proposal is June 30, 2014. All those interested are encouraged to read more by clicking here.

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What Really Drives the Research Design?

Kwok, Linchi (In press). “Exploratory-triangulation design in mixed methods studies:  A case of examining graduating seniors who meet hospitality recruiters’ selection criteria.” Tourism and Hospitality Research.

Qualitative vs. quantitative: which method is better? If they are equally valuable in social science, will the mixed methods approach (employing both qualitative and quantitative techniques) prove to be superior to a single method approach?

There is an on-going discussion surrounding the use of qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods in research studies. The biggest strength of the qualitative approach lies in its ability to yield descriptive, in-depth, and insightful data. As a result, frequency counts and numbers do not appear to be important in a qualitative study. Quantitative researchers, however, must rely on numbers to Untitleddraw conclusions. Mixed methods researchers suggest that research approaches should be mixed in the ways that offer the best opportunity to answer complex research questions.

While I agree there are many advantages of utilizing mixed methods in tourism and hospitality research, I argue that scholars should forget their research paradigms and allow the research question(s) to drive their research design. When designing a mixed methods study, researchers should think “outside the box” and be creative in collaborating qualitative and quantitative methods in different stages of the research process.

In this article, I introduce the exploratory-triangulation mixed methods approach to hospitality and tourism research by illustrating a specific empirical example of using such a design to answer tthrhree different but complementary questions on the same topic. Using the exploratory-triangulation mixed methods approach, hospitality recruiters’ selection criteria for entry-level managerial positions in college recruiting settings were explored and triangulated with the attributes of hospitality graduating seniors who receive job offers. It appears the exploratory-triangulation mixed methods approach allows researchers to examine a complex issue with different perspectives and thus provides a broader and a more complete picture of a phenomenon. The conclusions drawn from this exploratory-triangulation mixed method investigation also yielded stronger conclusions as compared to the qualitative or the quantitative results when reported separately.

I hoplinchi-kwok-2011_21e this paper will encourage more researchers to consider adopting the mixed methods approach in future studies and open up a discussion of using a variety of mixed methods designs in research. Researchers need not follow a typical research design. Rather, they need to be creative and let the research question(s) drive the research design.


Click here to read the paper in Tourism and Hospitality Research.

Linchi Kwok is an assistant professor of Hospitality Management in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University and a contributor to Management INK.

Do Mixed Methods Articles Have a Higher Impact?

Jose F. Molina-Azorin, University of Alicante, investigates this question in the article, “The Use and Added Value of Mixed Methods in Management Research”, published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Mixed Methods Research.

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