Deadline tomorrow! PhD course in ethnography

PhD Course: Doing ethnography of reforms in public organizations 

The PhD course is founded by The Ethnographic Research into Public Sector Reforms (The Danish Council for Independent Research, Culture and Communication) at Center for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University in collaboration with University of Liverpool

Aim of course:

The aim of the PhD course is to bring together PhD students with disciplinary backgrounds such as anthropology, sociology, political science, public management, and business administration who share an ethnographic approach to the study of public sector reform and development. In doing that, we are part of an emerging trend to study politics, policy implementation, and public administration through ethnographic fieldwork. This approach has long been used by scholars of international development (Mosse 2004; Scott 1998), but only recently have political science and public administration turned to ethnography (Auyero & Joseph 2007). These works highlight a growing scholarly interest in understanding political and administrative systems by exploring the everyday practices of their multiple actors. Further, these studies demonstrate that the ethnographic research methods are well suited to examine both organizational contingencies and the processes through which micro-actions relate to, feed into, and ultimately transform macro-level structures. In the PhD course, we will examine and theorise the shared and country-specific ways in which the reform pace influence the work life and service delivery of public employees.

 Course objective:

The course is primarily targeting PhD students, who have applied or are going to apply ethnographic methods to study public organizations. In this course, we have a particular focus on ethnographies of political and administrative reforms and their implications for everyday practices. That is how new demands are perceived, translated and enacted in various local, organizational settings. The overall objective of the course is to assist the PhD students to:

  • Identify and discuss (potential) benefits and challenges applying an ethnographic approach to studies of reforms in public organizations.
  • Unpack field work material and identify potential analytical issues and how to contextualize these.
  • Discuss the development of analytical concepts and ideas.
  • How to write academic texts on the basis of ethnographic field work.

ECTS:  5 ECTs if all days are followed

Deliverables: Submission of up to 10 pages description of PhD project and subsequent assignment based on workshops at day 3

Dates: 29th-31st August 2017

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 6th June 2017. Please note, that there is a limited amount of participants in this course (16 students). Therefore, please send an abstract of no more than 200 words to Bagga Bjerge: Based on the submitted abstracts, 16 participants will be chosen by the organizers of the workshop.

Venue: Manchester, United Kingdom

Preparation for the course:

Prior to the course participants are requested to submit a description of their ideas of and reflections on how to apply ethnographic methods in their study or a description based on their actual experiences of applying these methods and the data collected (up to ten pages). Within 14 days after the PhD course, the students are required to hand in an assignment based on insights and inspirations gained from the course.

Day 1

Head of session: Mike Rowe, University of Liverpool, Liz Turner, University of Liverpool, Nina Holm Vohnsen, Aarhus University, Bagga Bjerge, Aarhus University,

Considering the present speed of reform in public organizations it is reasonable to say that legislative change and organizational reconfiguration have turned into a permanent condition for many public organizations. As a result, in many areas of intervention (e.g. policing, social work, tax inspection, and education) the work lives of public employees are characterized by the need to reconcile and adapt to competing programs and constantly revised legislation. The literature in anthropology, political science, and public administration all stress that the cooperation of public employees is vital for the implementation of national legislation and reforms. Yet little has been written about how public sector employees learn about the content of new acts and reforms; and how they navigate the various demands made of them and deliver their services within the framework of public organizations characterized by such perpetual change. Thus, the focus of this session is on the benefits and challenges of applying ethnographic methods, when studying political and administrative reforms in public organizations in the everyday practices of public sector employees. Further, by taking our point of departure from the PhD students´ papers, the sessions also focus on and identify potential analytical issues and how to contextualize these drawing on the readings for the course as well as supplementary literature. By thorough reading and feed-back from peers as well as senior researchers, the session aims to discuss the development of analytical concepts and ideas of each paper.


Day 2

On the second day, there are two workshops.

Starting out in the Field

Head of session: Mike Rowe, University of Liverpool, David Weir, Edge Hill University, Bagga Bjerge, Aarhus University

For those students at an early stage in their thinking and planning, this workshop will consider the familiar hurdles of ethical approval, gaining access and the little considered practicalities of venturing into unfamiliar terrain.  Supported by experienced researchers, the principal aim of the session is to dispel some familiar anxieties and instill some of the sense of excitement that we feel as practitioners every time we are privileged to share someone else’s space and thoughts.

 Theorising from data

Head of session: Nina Holm Vohnsen, Aarhus University, Manuela Nocker, University of Essex, Liz Turner, University of Liverpool

For those students who have begun or completed their fieldwork, this workshop will consider approaches to analysis of your fieldnotes, interviews, secondary materials and other data.  Supported by experience researchers, the session will discuss different approaches to analysis.  Some are more systematic, some are more intuitive.  We will explore the process of making sense of your data, connecting with theory and developing your own contribution to knowledge.  We will also discuss the challenges of then presenting that deep and rich understanding as a written text, a thesis.

 Day 3

On the third day, there is one workshop.

 Writing Workshop

Head of session: Mike Rowe, Matthew Brannan and Manuela Nocker, Editors of the Journal of Organizational Ethnography

This session is a writing workshop in which PhD students and other participants are invited to discuss their experiences of writing for, submitting to and receiving feedback from journals (as distinct from writing a thesis).  While the discussion is intended as an opportunity to learn about the processes of writing for publication, we will also seek to develop support for students through peer review and feedback on written submissions to the workshop.  In the spirit of encouraging experimentation, we will also consider the potential that the increasing use of on-line access has for publishing in new formats in academic journals.  Specifically, we will explore the use of sound and moving images embedded in texts.

Head of sessions:

Dr Mike Rowe, Management School, University of Liverpool

Dr Liz Turner, Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, University of Liverpool

Professor David Weir, Business School, Edge Hill University

Dr Manuela Nocker, Business School, University of Essex

Dr Matthew Brannan, Management School, Keele University

Assistant Professor Nina Holm Vohnsen, Anthropology, Aarhus University

Associate Professor Bagga Bjerge, Center for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University

 Additional information

There is no fee for PhD students. The PhD course is run before and parallel with the 12th Annual Ethnography Symposium: Politics and Ethnography in an Age of Uncertainty in association with the Journal of Organizational Ethnography and Ethnographic Research into Public Sector Reforms, Aarhus University. PhD students are encouraged to participate in the symposium free of charges. For further information on the Symposium see:

 Readings (app. 200 pages)

Auyero, J. and Joseph, L. (2007). Introduction: Politics under the Ethnographic Microscope, in Joseph, L., Mahler, M., and Auyero, J. (Eds.): New Perspectives on Political Ethnography, New York: Springer: 1-13.

Bjerge, B. (2012). Structural Reform as New Public Management Policy. Three Dilemmas in Danish Substance Misuse Treatment, in Hellman, M., Roos, G., and Wright, J. v. (Eds.): A Welfare Policy Patchwork – Negotiating the Public Good in Times of Transition. Stockholm, NVC: 181-201.

Bjerregaard, T. (2011). Co-existing institutional logics and agency among top-level public servants: A praxeological approach. Journal of Management and Organization 17(2): 194-209.

Boll, K. (2015). Deciding on Tax Evasion: Front Line discretion and Constraints. Journal of Organizational Ethnography. 4: 193-207.

Ferdinand, J., Pearson, G., Rowe, M., and8 Worthington, F. (2007). A different kind of ethics. Ethnography, 8(4): 521-544.

Mosse, D. (2004). Is good policy unimplementable? Reflections on the ethnography of aid policy and practice. Development and Change, 35(4), 639-671.

Rhodes, R. A. W. (2011). Everyday Life in British Government. New York: Oxford University Press. Chapter 1.

Stevens, A. (2011). Telling Policy Stories: An Ethnographic Study of the Use of Evidence in Policy-making in the UK. Journal of Social Policy, 40(2): 237-255.

Tsoukas, H. & Chia, R. C. H. (2002). On organizational becoming: rethinking organizational change. Organizational Science, 13(5): 567-582.

Turner, E. and Rowe, M. (forthcoming), ‘Police culture, talk and action: exploring narratives in ethnographic data’, European Journal of Policing Studies

Vohnsen, N. H. (2015). Street-level planning; the shifty nature of `local knowledge and practice´. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 4(2): 147-161.