This is a list of references on ethnographic research. After a brief introduction which suggests those works which are essential reading for newcomers to the field, the list is organized into two parts: the first part lists citations related to the approach in Information Systems, the second lists citations related to the approach in other disciplines. Please note that this list contains a few suggestions only and is not intended to be comprehensive. I encourage you to search Google Scholar, the AIS e-library and/or some other bibliographic database for a more complete and up-to-date list.
Avison, D.E. and Myers, M.D. "Information Systems and
Anthropology: An Anthropological Perspective on IT and
Organizational Culture," Information Technology &
People, (8:3), 1995, pp. 43-56.
Abstract: This paper considers the potential
role of anthropology as a source discipline for
information systems. Although anthropology has been
largely neglected in the IS research literature, it is
argued that important insights can be gained by adopting
an anthropological perspective on information systems
phenomena. The value of an anthropological perspective
is illustrated by looking at the relationship between
information technology and organizational culture. We
show that the concept of ‘culture’ has generally been
used rather narrowly in the IS literature, and argue
that a more critical, anthropological view of the
relationship between IT and organizational culture is
Barry, C. A. "Critical issues in the evaluating the
impact of IT on information activity in academic research;
developing a qualitative research solution," Library
and Information Science Research (17) 1995,
Benson, D.H. "A field study of end-user computing:
Findings and issues," MIS Quarterly, December,
1983, pp. 35-45.
Bentley, R., Rodden, T., Sawyer, P., Sommerville, I.,
Hughes, J., Randall, R. and Shapiro, D.
"Ethnographically-Informed Systems Design for Air Traffic
Control", CSCW '92. ACM 1992 Conference on
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Sharing Perspectives.
New York, ACM Press, 1992, pp. 123-129.
Davies, L.J. "Researching
the Organisational Culture Contexts of Information Systems
Strategy", in Nissen, H.E., Klein, H.K. and Hirschheim. R.
(eds.), Information Systems Research in the 1990's.
Amsterdam, Elsevier/North Holland, 1991.
and Nielsen, S. "An Ethnographic Study of Configuration
Management and Documentation Practices in an Information
Technology Centre", in Kendall, K.E., Lyytinen, K. and De
Gross, J. (eds.), The Impact of Computer Supported
Technology on Information Systems Development.
Amsterdam, Elsevier/North Holland, 1992.
Davies, L.J. and Nielsen, S. "Time as Cultural
Signifier in Documentation Practices", Australian
Journal of Communication, 20,1993, p.1.
Harvey, L. "A Discourse on Ethnography," in
Information Systems and Qualitative Research, A.S.
Lee, J. Liebenau and J.I. DeGross (eds.), Chapman and
Hall, London, 1997, pp. 207-224.
Harvey, L. "A genealogical exploration of gendered
genres in IT cultures," Information Systems Journal
(7:2), 1997, pp. 153-172.
Harvey, L. and
Myers, M.D. "Scholarship and practice: the contribution of
ethnographic research methods to bridging the gap",
Information Technology & People, (8:3), 1995, pp.
This paper assesses the contributions and limitations
of ethnography for IS research and practice. The paper
received the MCB University Press Award for Excellence
for the most outstanding paper published in the 1995
volume of Information Technology & People. A
PDF version of this paper is
and Beyer, H. "Making Customer-Centered Design Work for
Teams", Communications of the ACM, (36:10), 1993,
Hughes, J.A., Randall, D. and Shapiro, D. "Faltering
from Ethnography to Design", CSCW '92. ACM 1992
Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Sharing
Perspectives. New York, ACM Press, 1992, pp. 115-123.
Klein, H. K. and Michael D. Myers. "A
Set of Principles for Conducting and Evaluating
Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems,"
MIS Quarterly, Special Issue on Intensive Research
(23:1), 1999, pp. 67-93.
Absract: This article discusses the conduct
and evaluation of interpretive research in information
systems. While the conventions for evaluating
information systems case studies conducted according to
the natural science model of social science are now
widely accepted, this is not the case for interpretive
field studies. A set of principles for the conduct and
evaluation of interpretive field research in information
systems is proposed, along with their philosophical
rationale. The usefulness of the principles is
illustrated by evaluating three published interpretive
field studies drawn from the IS research literature. The
intention of the paper is to further reflection and
debate on the important subject of grounding
interpretive research methodology.
Lee, Allen, Richard Baskerville, Jonathan Liebenau and
Michael D. Myers. 1995. "Judging Qualitative Research in
Information Systems: Criteria for Accepting and Rejecting
Manuscripts," Proceedings of the Sixteenth
International Conference on Information Systems, 10-13
December 1995, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
One of the presentations above was concerned with the
evaluation of ethnographic research in information
systems. A summary of this presentation is
Lee, J.C., and Myers, M.D. 2004. "Dominant Actors, Political Agendas, and Strategic Shifts over Time: A Critical Ethnography of an Enterprise Systems Implementation," Journal of Strategic Information Systems (13:4), pp. 355-374.
Lee, D.J.C., and Myers, M.D. 2009. "Making Enterprise Systems Work: The Role of Organizational Defensive Routines," Pacific Asia Journal of the AIS (1:2), pp. 1-19.
Myers, M.D. "Critical Ethnography in Information
Systems," in Information Systems and Qualitative
Research, A.S. Lee, J. Liebenau and J.I. DeGross
(eds.), Chapman and Hall, London, 1997, pp. 276-300.
Abstract: In recent years there has been
growing interest in qualitative research methods and
their application to information systems. This paper
discusses the nature and applicability of one
qualitative approach to information systems research,
called critical ethnography. Critical ethnography,
informed by critical hermeneutics, is one of many
possible approaches to ethnographic research. A critical
ethnographic study of the development of an information
system in mental health is reviewed.
Myers, Michael D.
1999. “Investigating Information Systems with Ethnographic
Research,” Communication of the AIS,
Vol. 2, Article 23, pp. 1-20.
Abstract: Ethnographic research is one of
the most in-depth research methods possible. Because the
researcher is there for a reasonable amount of time -
and sees what people are doing as well as what they say
they are doing – an ethnographer obtains a deep
understanding of the people, the organization, and the
broader context within which they work. Ethnographic
research is thus well suited to providing information
systems researchers with rich insights into the human,
social and organizational aspects of information
systems. This article discusses the potential of
ethnographic research for IS researchers, and outlines
the most important issues that need to be considered for
those considering using this method.
A PDF copy of this paper is
Myers, Michael D. and Leslie W. Young. 1997. "Hidden
Agendas, Power, and Managerial Assumptions in Information
Systems Development: An Ethnographic Study,"
Information Technology & People, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp.
Abstract: A number of researchers have drawn
attention to the way in which information systems
development is an inherently political activity. This
paper, using the critical social theory of Jurgen
Habermas, discusses the development of an information
system in mental health. Using critical ethnography, the
authors revealed otherwise hidden agendas, power, and
managerial assumptions to be deeply embedded in the
project. This study raises broader questions about the
extent to which information systems can be seen as
Ngwenyama, O.K., Harvey, L., Myers, M.D. and Wynn, E.
"Ethnographic Research in Information Systems: An
Exploration of Three Alternative Approaches to
Ethnography," Proceedings of the Eighteenth
International Conference on Information Systems,
14-17 December, 1997.
Nyce, J. and Löwgren, J. "Towards foundational analysis
in human-computer interaction," in Thomas, P. (ed.),
The Social and Interactional Dimensions of Human-Computer
Interfaces. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,
1995, pp. 37-47.
Abstract: In this paper, we argue against
the tendency within HCI to reduce ethnography to an
analysis method for early phases of systems development.
To demonstrate the potential of ethnography to take
fundamental assumptions apart, we perform a recursive
analysis of participatory design (abstract provided by
Orlikowski, W.J. Information technology in post-
industrial organizations: An exploration of the
computer-mediation of production work, unpublished
PhD thesis, Faculty of the Leonard N. Stern School of
Business, New York University, New York, 1988.
Orlikowski, W.J. "Integrated Information Environment
or Matrix of Control? The Contradictory Implications of
Information Technology", Accounting, Management and
Information Technologies, (1:1), 1991, pp. 9-42.
"Contextualist Research and the Study of Organizational
Change Processes", in Mumford, E., Hirschheim, R.,
Fitzgerald, G. and Wood-Harper, A.T. (eds.), Research
Methods in Informations. Amsterdam, North Holland,
1985, pp. 53-78.
Prasad, P. "Systems of meaning: ethnography as a
methodology for the study of information technologies," in
Information Systems and Qualitative Research,
A.S. Lee, J. Liebenau and J.I. DeGross (eds.), Chapman and
Hall, London, 1997, pp. 101-118.
Preston, A.M. "The
'Problem' in and of Management Information Systems",
Accounting, Management and Information Technologies,
(1:1), 1991, pp. 43-69.
Randall, D., Hughes, J. and Shapiro, D. "Steps towards
a partnership: Ethnography and System Design," in
Requirements Engineering: Social and Technical Issues,
M. Jirotka and J. Goguen (eds.), London, Academic Press,
Randall, D., Hughes, J., O’Brien, J., Rodden,
T., Rouncefield, M., Sommerville, I. and Tolmie, P.
"Banking on the Old Technology: Understanding the
Organizational Context of 'Legacy' Issues,"
Communications of the AIS, (2:8), 1999, pp. 1-27.
This article was part of the "Focus Issue on Legacy
Information Systems and Business Process Change." The
following is taken from the Introduction to the focus
"In the lead article (Volume 2, Article 8), Randall,
Hughes, O'Brien, Rodden and Rouncefield, explore the
issue of 'legacy' through the use of a long-term
empirical investigation into how information technology
is employed in a major UK bank. The closeness of their
investigation into the day-to-day operations of the bank
from the perspectives of individual users (using
ethnographic techniques) identifies the embedded nature
of the technology and the impact of cultural,
organizational, and individual employees' legacy on
organizational and technical change. It is a fascinating
account of the practical difficulties involved in
managing large-scale change."
Ravishankar, M.N., Pan, S.L., and Myers, M.D. 2013. "Information Technology Offshoring in India: A Postcolonial Perspective," European Journal of Information Systems (22:4), pp. 387-402.
Ruhleder, K. and Jordan, B. "Capturing Complex,
Distributed Activities: Video-Based Interaction Analysis
as a Component of Workplace Ethnography," in
Information Systems and Qualitative Research, A.S.
Lee, J. Liebenau and J.I. DeGross (eds.), Chapman and
Hall, London, 1997, pp. 246-275.
Schultze, U. "A Confessional Account of an Ethnography
about Knowledge Work," MIS Quarterly (24:1), 2000,
Simonsen, J. and Kensing, F. "Using Ethnography in
Contextual Design," Communications of the ACM
(40:7), 1997, pp. 82-88.
Star, S.L. Cultures of
Computing. Oxford, Blackwell, 1995.
Star, S.L. "Steps toward an Ecology of Infrastructure:
Design and Access for Large Information Spaces,"
Information Systems Research (7:1), 1996, pp.
Suchman, L. Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of
Human-Machine Communication. Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 1987.
Suchman, L. "Making Work Visible," Communications
of the ACM, (38:9), 1995, pp. 56-64.
Wynn, E. Office conversation as an Information
Medium. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of
California, Berkeley, 1979.
"Taking Practice Seriously", in Design at Work, J.
Greenbaum, and M. Kyng (eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence
Zuboff, S. In the Age of
the Smart Machine. New York, Basic Books, 1988.
Agar, M. Speaking of Ethnography, Beverly
Hills, Sage Publications, 1986.
Atkinson, P., The ethnographic imagination: Textual
constructions of reality, London: Routledge, 1990.
Barley, S.R. "Technology as an Occasion for
Structuring: Evidence from Observations of CT Scanners and
the Social Order of Radiology Departments",
Administrative Science Quarterly, 31,1, 1986, pp.
Bucciarelli, L. "An Ethnographic Perspective on
Engineering Design," Design Studies, 9, 1988, pp.
Burgess, R.G. In the field: An introduction to
field research, London: Allen and Unwin, 1984.
Burgess, RG (ed.) Field research: A sourcebook and
field manual, London, Allen and Unwin, 1982.
Clifford, J. The Predicament of Culture:
Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature and Art.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E. Writing Culture: The
Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 1986.
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic
among the Azande, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1950.
Fetterman, D.M. Ethnography: Step by step, 2nd
edition. Newbury Park, Sage Publications, 1998.
The first edition of this book identified and
discussed major landmarks every ethnographer and
potential ethnographer encounters. The second edition
takes a step further into a new frontier -- the
Internet. The Internet is one of the most powerful
resources available to ethnographers. This edition
provides insights into the uses of the Internet,
including conducting searches about topics or sites,
collecting census data, conducting interviews by
"chatting" and videoconferencing, sharing notes and
pictures about research sites, debating issues with
colleagues on listservs and in on-line journals, and
downloading useful data collection and analysis
software. These tools are rapidly becoming indispensable
to ethnographers today. In addition to providing basic
steps in the process of doing ethnography, this edition
includes relevant links to the net. An overview of the
book and more links to ethnographic sites are
available on David Fetterman's web site.
Forester, J. "Critical ethnography: on field work in an
Habermasian way," in Alvesson, M., and Willmott, H.
(eds.), Critical Management Studies. London, Sage
Publications, 1992, pp. 46-65.
Geertz, C. The
Interpretation of Cultures. New York, Basic Books,
Geertz, C. Local Knowledge: Further Essays in
Interpretive Anthropology. New York, Basic Books,
Geertz, C. Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as
Author. Cambridge, Polity Press, 1988.
Hammersley, M., What’s wrong with ethnography?
Methodological explorations. London: Routledge, 1992.
Hutchins, E. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 1995.
Johnson, J.M. Doing field research, New York:
The Free Press, 1975.
Lewis, I.M. Social
Anthropology in Perspective. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1985.
Spradley, J.P. The ethnographic interview, New
York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1979.
Spradley, J.P. Participant observation, New
York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1980.
Van Maanen, J.
Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography. Chicago,
University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Wolcott, H.F. "How to look like an anthropologist
without really being one," Practicing Anthropology,
3 (2), 1980, p. 39.