Charting new territory for organizational ethnography: insights from a team-based video ethnography of reinsurance trading in Lloyd’s of London

Michael Smets, Gary Burke, Paula Jarzabkowski, Paul Spee

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished Conference Paperpeer-review


An increasing interest in “bringing actors back in” and gaining a nuanced understanding of their actions and interactions across a variety of strands in the management literature, has recently helped ethnography to unknown prominence in the field of organizational studies. Yet, calls remain that ethnography should “play a much more central role in the organization and management studies repertoire than it currently does” (Watson, 2011: 202). Ironically, those organizational realities that ethnographers are called to examine have at the same time become less and less amenable to ethnographic study. In this paper, we respond to these calls for innovative ethnographic methods in two ways. First, we report on the practices and ethnographic experiences of conducting a year-long team-based video ethnography of reinsurance trading in Lloyd’s of London. Second, drawing on these experiences, we propose an initial framework for systematizing new approaches to organizational ethnography and visualizing the ways in which they are ‘expanding’ ethnography as it was traditionally practiced.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012
Event28th EGOS colloquium 2012 - Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 5 Jul 20127 Jul 2012


Congress28th EGOS colloquium 2012
OtherThe theme of the 28th EGOS Colloquium 2012 in Helsinki is Design!? The concept of design has been defined and used in a multitude of ways in a variety of academic fields, ranging from the classics of organizational design to studies on open sourcing and aesthetics.

At the Colloquium, we seek not only to problematize and rethink the various meanings of design, but also to promote discussion on new ways to view and to understand organizations and organizing on this basis.

The exclamation mark in Design!? denotes the need for organizational and other theorists to take actively into account different perspectives, to take a stand, and to suggest new and innovative ideas vis-à-vis existing work. The question mark, in turn, encourages problematization of established notions, conceptualizations and categorizations.

Organizational and other theorists need to render visible and question the taken-for-granted understandings that sustain and reproduce established boundaries in organizations and organizing – as well as in the ways in which researchers make sense of them.

In the harsh Northern climate, Helsinki, the Finnish capital, is emblematic of the social, practical and cultural aspects of Design!?

In the Finnish context, design is first and foremost about usefulness, rather than exclusiveness and glamour. Design is not something reserved for elites and connoisseurs. It is everywhere. Sometimes it fails to please the eye, but it usually works, plain and simple.

Bibliographical note

Journal of Organizational Ethnography Best Paper Award winner, European Group of organization studies.


  • organizational ethnography
  • video ethnography
  • reinsurance
  • Lloyd's


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