Institutional Ethnography (IE) is a distinctive mode of inquiry, which seeks to understand how what actual people do and experience is organized in relation to 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 to 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 across diverse disciplines. We regularly hold virtual and in-person workshops both apart from and in conjunction with the meetings of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, where we welcome everyone interested in IE.
Division mission statement edited in November 2023 by Katherine E. Koralesky, University of British Columbia, Institutional Ethnography Division Chair, 2023-2025. Division mission statement reviewed in November 2022 by Colin Hastings, Concordia University, Institutional Ethnography Division Chair, 2021-2023. No edits were made. Division mission statement 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.
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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).
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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).
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Griffith, A. I., & Smith, D. E. (2005). Mothering for schooling. New York: Routledge Falmer.
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, S. M. (2013). Control, shift, insert: living and enacting policy in teachers' day/night work.
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.
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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, P. R. (2012). Child care accreditation in Alberta: An institutional ethnography (Doctoral dissertation, University of Alberta).
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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.
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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.
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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
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Nichols, N. (2014.) Youth Work: An institutional ethnography of youth homelessness. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.
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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.
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