Institutional Ethnography (IE) is a distinctive mode of inquiry, which seeks to understand how what actual people do and experience is organized in relation others. Epistemologically, IE is distinguished from other sociological approaches by its commitment to beginning inquiry with what people know and have experienced. A people's actions are never taken up without recognizing where and how they coordinate with others. That is what adds up to 'the social' for institutional ethnography. Ontologically, then, IE resists treating the social as “out there” to be researched; rather, the social is understood to be put together in the coordinated activities of actual people at particular historically-situated moments where activities include what is done in language as well as thinking and imagining.

IE was developed by Dorothy E. Smith and her students in the context of the North American women’s movements of the 1970s and 80s as a “sociology for women” (Smith, 1987); more recently, Smith (2005) has described IE as a “sociology for people” (Smith 2005). Institutional ethnographies are designed to explicate the puzzles of people’s everyday lives. People are not the objects of an IE analysis, and institutional ethnographers actively resist the processes of objectification that typify social science research. In an IE study, the objects of analysis are the objectified relations of governance or social coordination that connect us to one another and – in various and contradictory ways – give shape to our lives.

Research always begins with what people know and have experienced. That is, it begins in the actual practices and activities of people at particular moments in time and in particular local settings. Researchers pay attention to how people’s thoughts and actions are coordinated with the thoughts and actions of others. Analytically, the aim is to discover how material relations – the actual things people do, think and say in coordination with others – are organized or put together in the ways that they are. To actualize IE’s analytic aims one does not limit her researching to recording what people say and do. Rather, what people say and do anchors an investigation of methods of coordination that link and transcend individual people participating in a research study. IE researchers seek discover how particular ways of knowing or doing are mediated by people’s everyday engagement with an array of texts and textually-mediated processes (e.g., music videos, online newsfeeds, print media, radio, measures, indices, scales, theories, systems of classification, administrative reports, public discourse, policy, legislation, application forms other ordinary workplace texts). Ultimately, the goal is to produce knowledge that is useful to people, helping them to address the concerns and issues they’ve identified in conversation with researchers.

Our Division provides a place for those using IE to extend and elaborate it, and to explore its usefulness as a method of inquiry. We regularly hold workshops in conjunction with the meetings of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, where we welcome both novice and more “seasoned” participants’ contributions.

Division mission statement last edited in December 2016 by Dorothy E. Smith, University of Victoria, Institutional Ethnography Division Founding Member and Naomi Nichols, McGill University, Institutional Ethnography Division Chair, 2015-2017.

Recommended reading:

Adams, LaNysha

Adams, L. (2015). An Institutional Ethnographic Account of Mandatory Professional Development in New Mexico.

Braimoh, Jessica

Braimoh, J. (2015). A Service Disparity for Rural Youth: Producing Service Decisions in the Urban Youth Centre and its Rural Branch. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 42(2), 31-54.

Brulé, Elizabeth

Brulé, E. (2015). Voices from the Margins: The Regulation of Student Activism in the New Corporate University. Studies in Social Justice, 9(2), 159-175.

Brunson, Jeremy

Brunson, J. L. (2008). The practice and organization of sign language interpreting in video relay service: An institutional ethnography of access (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Campbell, Marie

Campbell, M. & Rankin, J. (Forthcoming, 2017). Nurses and Electronic Health Records in a Canadian Hospital: Examining the Social Organisation and Programmed Use of Digitised Nursing Knowledge. Sociology of Health and Illness.

Campbell, M. (2015). Intersectionality, Policy-Oriented Research and the Social Relations of Knowing. Gender, Work & Organization.

Rankin, J., & Campbell, M. (2014). Care and gender in nurses’ institutionally organized work. Moral boundaries redrawn. The significance of Joan Tronto’s argument for political theory, professional ethics, and care as practice. Herent: NV Peeters SA, 153-173.

Hamilton, P., & Campbell, M. (2011). Knowledge for re-forming nursing's future: Standpoint makes a difference. Advances in Nursing Science, 34(4), 280-296.

Campbell, Marie, and Elena Kim. "Working across Boundaries: Exploring the Relations of Researching Gender and Development." Women & Therapy 34.3 (2011): 261-278.

Campbell, M. L., & Teghtsoonian, K. (2010). Aid effectiveness and women’s empowerment: Practices of governance in the funding of international development. Signs, 36(1), 177-202.

Hamilton, P., Mathur, S., Gemeinhardt, G., Eschiti, V., & Campbell, M. (2010). Expanding what we know about off-peak mortality in hospitals. Journal of Nursing Administration, 40(3), 124-128.

Rankin, J., & Campbell, M. (2009). Institutional ethnography (IE), nursing work and hospital reform: IE's cautionary analysis. In Forum qualitative sozialforschung/forum: Qualitative social research, 10(2).

Rankin, J., & Campbell, M. (2006). Managing to nurse: Inside Canada's health care reform. University of Toronto Press.

Campbell, M. (2003). Dorothy Smith and knowing the world we live in. J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare, 30(1), 3-22.

Campbell, M., & Gregor, F. (2002). Mapping social relations: A primer in doing institutional ethnography. University of Toronto Press.

Campbell, M. (2001). Textual accounts, ruling action: the intersection of knowledge and power in the routine conduct of community nursing work. Studies in Cultures, Organizations and Societies, 7(2), 231-250.

Campbell, M. (2000). Participatory research on health care for people with disabilities: exploring the social organization of service provision. Research in Social Science and Disabilities, 1(1), 131-154.

Campbell, M., Copeland, B., & Tate, B. (1998). Taking the Standpoint of People with Disabilities in Research: Experiences with Participation. Canadian Journal of Rehabilitation, 12(2), 95-104.

Campbell, M. L., & Manicom, A. (1995). Knowledge, experience, and ruling relations: Studies in the social organization of knowledge. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kim, E., & Campbell, M. (2014). Peacebuilding and violence against women: tracking the ruling relations of aid in a women’s development NGO in Kyrgyzstan. In Kapoor, D., & Choudry, A. (Eds.), NGOization: complicity, contradictions and prospects. London: Zed Books.

Campbell, M., & Kim, E. (2011). Working across Boundaries: Exploring the Relations of Researching Gender and Development. Women & Therapy, 34(3), 261-278. New York: Routledge.

Campbell, M., & DeVault, M. (2011). Dorothy E. Smith. In Ritzer & Stepnisky (Eds.), New Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists, 268-286. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Campbell, M. (2010). Institutional Ethnography. In Bourgeault, DeVries, & Dingwall (Eds.), Sage Handbook of Qualitative Methods in Health Research, 497-512. London: Sage.

Campbell, M. (2008). (Dis)continuity of Care: Discovering the Ruling Relations of Home Support. In DeVault, M. (Ed.), People At Work: Life, Power, and Social Inclusion in the New Economy, 266-288. NYU Press.

Crist, Stephanie

Crist, S. (2011). "It's the Resources": Work, Governance, and the Institutionalization of an Emergency Food Network (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Dale, Craig

Dale, C. M., Angus, J. E., Sinuff, T., & Rose, L. (2016). Ethnographic Investigation of Oral Care in the Intensive Care Unit. American Journal of Critical Care, 25(3), 249-256.

Dale, C. M. (2013). Locating Critical Care Nurses in Mouth Care: An Institutional Ethnography (Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto).

Devault, Marjorie

Taylor, S. J., Bogdan, R., & DeVault, M. (2015). Introduction to qualitative research methods: A guidebook and resource. John Wiley & Sons.

DeVault, M. L. (2014). Mapping Invisible Work: Conceptual Tools for Social Justice Projects. Sociological Forum, 29(4), pp. 775-790.

DeVault, M. (2013). Institutional Ethnography A Feminist Sociology of Institutional Power. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 42(3), 332-340.

DeVault, M. L., & Gross, G. (2011). Experience, Talk, and Knowledge. Handbook of feminist research: Theory and praxis, 206.

DeVault, M. L. (2008). People at work: Life, power, and social inclusion in the new economy. NYU Press.

DeVault, M. L. (2006). Introduction: What is institutional ethnography. Soc. Probs, 53, 294.

DeVault, M. L., & McCoy, L. (2002). Institutional Ethnography: Using Interviews to Investigate Ruling Relations. In Gubrium, J., & Holstein, J. (Eds), Handbook of Interview Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Diamond, Timothy

Diamond, T. (1992). Making Gray Gold: Narratives of Nursing Home Care. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dunn, Mary

Dunn, M. E. (2016). Reclaiming Opportunities for Effective Teaching: An Institutional Ethnographic Study of Community College Course Outlines. New York: Lexington Books.

Eastwood, Lauren

Eastwood, L. E. (2002). The social organization of policy: An institutional ethnography of the United Nations Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Fast, Olive

Fast, O. (2016). The Social Organization of the Staffing Work of Nurse Managers: A Critique of Contemporary Nursing Workload Technologies (Doctoral dissertation, University of Calgary).

Flad, Jennifer

Flad, J. (2010). Advocating work: An institutional ethnography of patients' and their families' experiences within a managed care health system (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Goldman, Jan & Maret, Susan.

Goldman, J., & Maret, S. (2016). Intelligence and Information Policy for National Security: Key Terms and Concepts. Rowman & Littlefield.

Grace, Daniel

Grace, D., Egan, M., & Lock, K. (2016). Examining local processes when applying a cumulative impact policy to address harms of alcohol outlet density. Health & place, 40, 76-82.

Grace, D. (2015). Criminalizing HIV transmission using model law: Troubling best practice standardizations in the global HIV/AIDS response. Critical Public Health, 25(4), 441-454.

Grace, D., McGill, E., Lock, K., & Egan, M. (2014). How do Cumulative Impact Policies work? Use of institutional ethnography to assess local government alcohol policies in England. The Lancet, 384, S34.

Grace, D. (2013). Transnational institutional ethnography: Tracing text and talk beyond state boundaries. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 12(1), 587-605.

Grace, D. (2013). Legislative epidemics: the role of model law in the transnational trend to criminalise HIV transmission. Medical humanities, 39(2), 77-84.

Grace, D. (2012). This is not a law: the transnational politics and protest of legislating an epidemic (Doctoral dissertation, University of Victoria).

Grahame, Kamini

Grahame, K. M. (1998). Feminist organizing and the politics of inclusion. Human Studies, 21(4), 377-393.

Griffith, Allison

Griffith, A. I., & Smith, D. E. (2005). Mothering for schooling. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Gross, Glenda

Gross, G. (2013). "My pedagogy is where so much of my feminism happens": The Social Organization of Feminist Educators' Work in the Corporatizing Academy (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Hewson, Sandra

Hewson, S. M. (2013). Control, shift, insert: living and enacting policy in teachers' day/night work.

Høgsbro, Kjeld

Høgsbro, K. (2015). Evidence and research designs in applied sociology and social work research. Nordic Social Work Research, 5(sup1), 56-70.

Høgsbro, K., & Burholt, A. (2015). The dementia problematic. An institutional Ethnography of a life-world and a professional service (DK). Aalborg Universitetsforlag.

Høgsbro, K., et al. (2013). The social aspects of ADHD (DK). Aalborg Universitetsforlag.

Høgsbro, K., Eskelinen, L., Fallov, M., Mejlvig, K., & Berger, N. (2012). When limits are challenged – Staff mental workload and pedagogical challenges in residential care homes for people with general learning disabilities and developmental and behavioral disorders (DK/E). AKF/Aalborg University.

Høgsbro, K. (2010). SIMREB – Towards a Systematic Inquiry into Models for Rehabilitation. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 12(1), 1-18.

Høgsbro, K. (2008). Qualitative methods in research and evaluations (DK). AKF.

Høgsbro, K. (2007). Etiba. A research based evaluation of rehabilitation methods offered to pre-school children with autism with a special focus on ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) (DK/E). MarcelisborgCentret/AKF.

Høgsbro, K., Brandt, P., Ebsen, F., Thomsen, O., & Nordentoft, M. (2003). The users, the professionals and the authorities (DK/E). AKF Forlaget.

Høgsbro, K., Bovbjerg, K., Smith, L., Kirk, M., & Henriksen, H. (2003). Hidden life-worlds (DK/E). AKF Forlaget.

Høgsbro, K. (2002). Rehabilitation of people with traumatic brain injury at Kolonien Filadelfia (DK/E). AKF Forlaget.

Høgsbro, K., Kirkebæk, B., Blom, S., & Danø, E. (1999). Adolescence, personal development and disability – Experiences from a developmental program for 23 youngsters supporting their transition to a life as autonomous grownups (DK). Samfundslitteratur.

Liang, Li-Fang

Liang, L. F. (2015). The distortions of care needs and medical professionalism: The ruling practices of migrant labor policy in Taiwan. Journal of aging studies, 34, 29-37.

Liang, L. (2010). Constructing migrant care labor: A study of institutional process and the discourse of migration and work (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Lirette, Tricia

Lirette, P. R. (2012). Child care accreditation in Alberta: An institutional ethnography (Doctoral dissertation, University of Alberta).

Luken, Paul

Luken, P. C., & Vaughan, S. (2006). Standardizing Childrearing Through Housing. Social Problems, 53(3), 299-331

Mykhalovskiy, Eric

Mykhalovskiy, E. (2016). Institutional Ethnography and Activist Futures. In Third ISA Forum of Sociology.

Mykhalovskiy, E. (2016). Making science count: significant risk, HIV Non-disclosure and the science-based criminal law reform: A reflexive analysis. In Stanton, C. & Quirk, H. (Eds.), Criminalising contagion: Legal and ethical challenges of disease transmission and the criminal law. Cambridge University Press.

Mykhalovskiy, E. (2011). The problem of ‘significant risk’: Exploring the public health impact of criminalizing HIV non-disclosure. Social Science & Medicine, 73(5), 668-675.

Mykhalovskiy, E. (2008).  Beyond decision making: Class, community organizations and the healthwork of people living with HIV/AIDS. Contributions from institutional ethnographic research. Medical Anthropology: Cross Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, 27(2), 136-63.

Mykhalovskiy, E., & Church, K. (2006). Of T-shirts and ontology:  The pedagogical legacies of George Smith.  In Kinsman, G. et al. (Eds.), Sociology for changing the world: Social movements/social research. Toronto: Fernwood.

Mykhalovskiy, E., & Farrell, K. (2005). ‘Nothing happens in medical school that prepares you for working with anyone who’s different:’ Exploring informal learning and the development of socio-clinical knowledge amongst family physicians. Research in the Sociology of Health Care, 23, 161-183.

Mykhalovskiy, E., McCoy, L., & Bresalier, M. (2004). Compliance/Adherence, HIV/AIDS and the critique of medical power. Social Theory and Health, 2(4):315-340.

Mykhalovskiy, E. (2003). Evidence-based medicine: Ambivalent reading and the clinical recontextualization of science. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 7(3), 331-352.

Mykhalovskiy, E. & L. McCoy. (2002). Troubling ruling discourses of health: Using Institutional Ethnography in community-based research. Critical Public Health, 12(1), 17-37.

Mykhalovskiy, E. (2001). Troubled hearts, care pathways and hospital restructuring: Exploring health services research as active knowledge. Studies in Cultures, Organizations, and Societies, 7(2), 269-296.

Ng, Roxana

Ng, R. (2000). Restructuring gender, race, and class relations: The case of garment workers and labour adjustment. Restructuring Caring: Labour, discourse, state practice, and everyday life, 226-245.

Nichols, Naomi

Nichols, N., Gaetz, S., & Dyck, M. (Forthcoming, 2016). Both Sides Now: The Social Organization of Community-Academic Collaboration. In L. Bisaillon (Ed.), The Impact of Policy on Everyday Life: The Policy Stories That People Tell. The Netherlands: Springer.

Nichols, N. & Braimoh, J. (2016). Community Safety, Housing Precariousness and Processes of Exclusion: An institutional ethnography from the standpoints of youth in an "unsafe" urban neighbourhood. Critical Sociology. DOI: 10.1177/0896920516658941

Nichols, N. (2016). Investigating the Social Relations of Human Service Provision: Institutional ethnography and activism. Journal of Comparative Social Work, Special Edition on Institutional Ethnography, 11(1), available at: <

Nichols, N. (2016). Development in Context: Housing Instability, Homelessness, and Youth Work. In Mizzi, R., Rocco, T., & Shore, S. (Eds.) Disrupting Adult and Community Education: Teaching, Learning, and Working on the Periphery. Albany: SUNY Press.

Nichols, N., Mistry, N., Ford-Jones, L.E., Fridman, M., & Ramadan, K. (2015). The Social Organization of Family Health Work: An institutional ethnography. Journal of Critical Public Health, 27. DOI:10.1080/09581596.2015.1119804

Nichols, N. (2014.) Youth Work: An institutional ethnography of youth homelessness. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

Nichols, N. (2014). Research and Development Work at an Ontario Youth Shelter. In Griffith and Smith (Eds.) Under New Public Management: Institutional Ethnographies of Changing Front-line Work. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Nichols, N. (2013). Nobody “Signs out of care:” Exploring Institutional Links Between Child Protection and Homelessness. In Gaetz, O’Grady, Buccieri, Karabanow & Marsolais (Eds.), Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice. Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

Nichols, N. & Griffith, A.I. (2009). Talk, texts and educational action: An institutional ethnography of policy in practice. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(2), 241-255.

Nichols, N. (2009). Strange Bedfellows: A Transformative Community-Based Research Project Inspired by Hannah Arendt and Dorothy E. Smith. Theory and Action, 2(2), 61-73.

Nichols, N. (2008). Gimme Shelter! Investigating the Social Service Interface from the Standpoint of Youth. Journal of Youth Studies, 11(6), 685-699.

Nichols, N. (2008). Understanding the Funding Game: The textual coordination of civil sector work. The Canadian Journal of Sociology, 33(1), 61-88.

Norstedt, M.

Norstedt, M., & Breimo, J. (2016). Moving Beyond Everyday Life in Institutional Ethnographies: Methodological Challenges and Ethical Dilemmas. Forum: Qualitative Social Researc, Socialforschung, 17(2).

Norstedt, M. (2015). Arbeidsliv och funksjonshindre. Institusjonelle paradoxer. I Widerberg, K. (red.) I hjertet av velferdsstaten. En invitasjon til institusjonell etnografi. Oslo: Cappelen Damm.

Norstedt, M. (2011). Berättelser om stroke och arbetsliv. Att upptäcka styranderelationer. Lund: Media-Tryck, Lunds universitet, Sociologiska institutionen.

Ridzi, Frank

Ridzi, F. M. (2003). Processing private lives in public: An institutional ethnography of front-line welfare intake staff post welfare reform (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Smith, Dorothy

Smith, D. (Forthcoming, 2016). Exploring words as people's practices. In Lynch, J., Rowlands, J., Gale, T., & Skourdoumbis, A., (Eds), Diffractive readings in practice: Trajectories in theory, fields and professions. London, Routledge.

Smith, D., & Turner, S. (Eds.). (2014). Incorporating texts into institutional ethnographies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Smith, D. (Ed.). (2006). Institutional Ethnography as Practice. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Smith, D. (2005). Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

Smith, D. (2005). Feminism and Marxism–A Place to Begin, A Way to Go. Contemporary Sociological Thought: Themes and Theories, 225-232.

Smith, D. (1999). Writing the Social: Critique, Theory, and Investigations. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Smith, D. E. (1996). Telling the Truth after Postmodernism 1. Symbolic Interaction, 19(3), 171-202.

Smith, D. (1990). Texts, facts and femininity: Exploring the relations of ruling. New York: Routledge.

Smith, D. (1990). Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Smith, D. (1987). The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Smith, D. E., & David, S. J. (1975). Women look at psychiatry. Press Gang Publishers.

Smith, George

Smith, G. W. (1990). Political activist as ethnographer. Social Problems, 37(4), 629-648.

Solomon, Brenda

Solomon, B. M. (1999). An illusion of difference: Reconstituting women on welfare into the working poor (Doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University).

Talbot, Debra

Talbot, D. (2016). Evidence for no-one: Standards, accreditation and transformed teaching work. Teaching and Teacher Education, 58(2016), 80-89.

Talbot, D. (2016). To be numerate is to be someone…': Tracing the doings of students labelled 'at risk'. Australian Educational Researcher, 43(4), 419-436.

Talbot, D. (2015). Tracing complexities of teacher professional learning to evidence of transformed practice. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Sydney).

Turner, Susan

Turner, S. M. (2001). Texts and the institutions of municipal government: The power of texts in the public process of land development 1. Studies in cultures, organizations and societies, 7(2), 297-325.

Verma, Anjuli

Verma, A. (2016). The Great Experiment: California’s Prison Realignment and the Legal Reform of Mass Incarceration. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, Irvine).

Verma, A. (2015). The Law-Before: Legacies and Gaps in Penal Reform. Law & Society Review, 49(4): 847-882.

Widerberg, Karin

Widerberg, Karen (Ed.) (2015). I hjertet av velferdsstaten. En invitasjon til institusjonell etnografi. (In the Heart of the Welfare State. An Invitation to Institutional Ethnography) Oslo: Cappelen Damm.

Widerberg, Karin (2016). Dorothy E. Smith. In Stones, R (Ed.) Key Sociological Thinkers. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Widerberg, Karin (2015). En invitasjon til institusjonell etnografi (An invitation to institutional ethnography) In Widerberg, Karin (Ed.): I hjertet av velferdsstaten. En invitasjon til institusjonell etnografi. Oslo: Cappelen Damm.

Widerberg, Karin (2015). Akademia. Om styring i den akademiske hverdag (Academia. On ruling in academic every day work). In Widerberg, Karin (Ed.): I hjertet av velferdsstaten. En invitasjon til institusjonell etnografi. Oslo: Cappelen Damm.

Widerberg, Karin (2014) In the best of interests? New public management, the welfare state, and the case of academic work—an ethnographic exploration. In Blok, Anders and Gundelack, Peter (Eds.) The Elementary Forms of Sociological Knowledge. Copenhagen: Dept. of Sociology, University of Copenhagen.

Widerberg, Karin (2014) Timeregneskapets Akademia. En institusjonell etnografisk studie av et stryringsinstrument. (The counting of hours in Academia. An institutional ethnographic study of an instrument for ruling). In Finstad, Liv and Lomell, Heidi Mork (Eds.) Motmaele. Oslo: Novus Forlag.

Widerbeg, Karin (2011). Methods of Inquiry - Feminist Approaches in Social Sciences: Sustainable Methods in Post-colonial Times?. In Soininen, Maritta and Sainsbury, Diane (Eds.) n, makt, nation. Stockholm: Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Stockholms universitet.

Widerberg, Karin (2007). Institusjonell etnografi – en ny mulighet for kvalitativ forskning? (Institutional ethnography – a new chance for qualitative research). Sosiologi i dag 37(2).

Widerberg, Karin (2006). Tiredness in the Light of Institutional Ethnography. Sociologisk Foskning 3.

Zurawski, Cheryl

Zurawski, C. D. (2012). The Work of Work-Related Learning: An Institutional Ethnography (Doctoral dissertation, University of Regina).