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Special Issue on 'Organisational Autoethnography: Possibilities, Politics and Pitfalls'

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Organizational Ethnography

This Special Issue acknowledges the growing interest in organisational autoethnography (AE).  This is reflected in a number of scholarly developments, including Herman’s (2017) ‘Organization Autoethnography’ text and  a new track ‘Autoethnography in a political mode’ at the 12th Annual International Ethnography symposium[1] being held in Manchester from August 29th to September 1st 2017.  Symposium participants are encouraged to submit their manuscripts to this Journal of Organisational Ethnography Special Issue.

This, however, is an open call and we invite anyone interested in organisational AE to contribute to what will be the first edited collection of journal articles focussing on this emerging research approach.  Beyond the symposium, we note the increasing number of articles on organisational AE in a broad range of journals (see for example, Boyle & Parry 2007; Grenier, 2015).  Additionally, there is an Increasing number of articles in leading business and management journals (e.g. Learmonth & Humphreys in Management Learning), and an increasing number of chapters in research books (e.g. Sambrook, 2015, 2016).

To date, there has been no Special Issue on organisational AE. However, it has always been important to this journal ever since we introduced it, in the inaugural issue (Doloriert & Sambrook 2012). Our article has been well cited demonstrating interest in this research approach. To date, 11 further AE related articles have been published across various issues in the Journal of Organizational Ethnography, with several others mentioning AE. This again reflects the growing awareness and attraction of novel research methods to examine and better understand complex cultural organisational issues.

Boyle and Parry (2007) contend that the prime focus of an organizational AE is to illuminate the relationship between the individual and the organization. As Herman (2017) suggests the individual’s relationship with the organisation is ubiquitous; “An organization was involved bringing you into the world, and an organization will be involved in burying you” [inprint].

The AE method allows for insightful and emotionally-rich readings of organizational life.  As we highlighted in the inaugural issue (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2012), we suggest organisational AE can occur within at least three strands:

i) Autoethnography within Higher Education organisations

This is increasingly popular, due not least to the convenience of researching one’s own organisation (see Sambrook et al., 2008; Doloriert & Sambrook, 2009; Doloriert & Sambrook, 2011). Contributions here explore a) the autoethnographer as a researcher/teacher/administrator etc. doing scholarly work, and/or b) as an employee working in an organisation (that happens to be HE). Many HE autoethnographies fit into both categories as the autoethnographer reveals their complex and multifaceted story (Humphreys 2005; Pelias, 2003; Jago, 2002; Haynes, 2006; Riad, 2007; Sparkes, 2007; Sambrook, 2010; Poulos, 2010; Sambrook et al, 2008; Medford, 2006; Ellis 2007; Etherington, 2007, Doloriert & Sambrook, 2009; Rambo, 2007; Duarte & Hodge, 2007; Scott, 2009; Sambrook, 2010; Krizek, 1998, Doloriert & Sambrook, 2011).

ii) Autoethnography within ‘previous/other life’ organisations

Autoethnographers sometimes write about their experiences elsewhere, particularly their work experiences prior to entering HE, although this could include work experiences simultaneously with HE. Examples of these types of organisational AE include Blenkinsopp (2007), Vickers (2007) and Zavattaro (2011).

 iii) Autoethnography as complete member research in other organisations

AE as complete member research is perhaps more difficult given the tensions and impracticalities of becoming a complete member researcher in an organisation other than the researcher’s own. Doloriert and Sambrook (2011) have observed recently there are several examples of works that show organisational AE (Van Maanen, 1998; Goodall, 1994), but only a handful that outwardly call themselves organisational AE (e.g. Yarborough & Lowe, 2007; Kempster et al., 2008; Kempster & Stewart, 2010). Opportunities arise through what Kempster et al. (2008) refer to as co-produced AE where at least one author is researcher and at least one other a practitioner working in an ‘other’ organisation (Kempster et al., 2008; Kempster & Stewart, 2010; Yarborough & Lowe, 2007; Boyle & Parry 2007).

With (at least) these three different forms of organisational AE in mind, the aims of this Special Issue are to:

  • Introduce early career researchers to the benefits and challenges of doing an AE
  • Demonstrate, despite its lack of generalisability and focus on the individual/self,  how AE can inform practice
  • Illustrate how AE can be employed in teaching both ethnography and business/management
  • Encourage and promote the dissemination of autoethnographic research

Autoethnographers not only investigate their own organisations (Learmonth & Humphreys, 2012) but collaborate with practitioners and students from other organisations, crafting  ‘co-produced’ AE (e.g. Kempster, Stewart & Parry, 2008) and/or ‘collaborative autoethnography’ (e.g. Chang, Ngunjiri & Hernandez, 2012). The range of other organisations on which to focus is expansive – from public sector, including health and social care (Roberts, 2007; Wainwirght, 2010; Jones, 2012; Jones & Sambrook, 2016) and the military (Hunniecut, 2017) to private organisations, including SMEs (Lindemann, 2017) companies (Kempster & Stewart, 2010) and third sector/social enterprises (Land & King, 2014). We envisage three key themes that each explores the possibilities, politics and pitfalls of AE as a growing and diverse method of organisational inquiry:

1. Organisational activism and organisational AE  

This theme is directly linked to the conference track and we are interested in what happens when reflexive ethnographers engage with their own practice as both scholars and organisational activists? How do they deal with politics and power in AE research, and particularly the power dynamics in their own organisations through their activist practice/activism? What can organisational activists learn from doing AE? Can autoethnographic reflection create more effective activist/political research engagement? What can be learned about self, others, organisational and societal/sociological levels? For example, what practical issues arise for the critical-activist scholar seeking to explore their activities as researchers, teachers and administrators/managers? (King, 2014; Reedy & King, 2016; Reedy, King & Coupland, 2016)  How powerful – or powerless – do they feel in exposing the often harsh realities of academic life?  What ways can AE aid the research process through a way of becoming aware of the underlying social and political dynamics involved in the research process? What lessons can be developed through these reflections for the wider academic and practitioner community?

2. The Ethics of organisational AE  

This theme builds on the precarious and perilous nature of AE relating to its ethical issues.  This encompasses relational ethics (e.g. Ellis, 2004), the ethics of ‘I’ (the researcher), as well as the researched (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2009; Wainwright & Sambrook, 2010). How do autoethnographers grapple with issues of consent, confidentiality when they are revealing so much of themselves and, by inference, their colleagues, family and friends? To what extent can Humphreys and Watson’s (2009) fictionalisation strategy address these intricate issues? What experiments have been conducted with alternative autoethnographic ways of doing research to attempt to protect researchers and the researched and what has been learned through the process?

3. Critical organisational AE

This theme is also linked to the conference track. Here we are interested in manuscripts that grapple with how scholars and practitioners are telling and showing AE from a critical perspective (King, 2015; King & Learmonth, 2015). What are the possibilities afforded by AE as a means of enquiry into the political, ethical and practical issues that arise through engaged forms of work. Some forms of AE, particularly evocative AE, have been accused of being insular and lacking in self-reflexivity (see Allen’s (1997) critique of Ellis (2007)), or offer naïve realism (Coghlan, 2007) that do not create wider sociological understandings (Sparkes, 2002). Some suggest that, by combining evocative with analytical AE (Learmonth & Humphreys, 2012), AE can provide (critical) ways of investigating the experiences, understandings and practices of engaged political ethnography. To what extent can autoethnographies be radical (Holman Jones, 2005), effecting organisational change?

Important deadlines:

We invite authors to submit their manuscripts by the end of October 2017. This is an open call to all potential authors.  However, authors presenting papers at the Ethnography Symposium in August 2017 thus have 1 month to revise conference papers before submission.

Prospective authors will be invited to review 2 manuscripts to enhance the cohesion and consistency of the Special Issue. Guest editors will moderate the reviews, integrate and add any further feedback and liaise with journal editors.

Initial accept/reject decisions (after reviews) will be made by end of January 2018.  Authors with accepted manuscripts will receive feedback at this time and final papers are due end of March 2018.

Final acceptance decisions will be made by end of April 2018

The deadline for submissions is June 2018, with publication in September 2018

The maximum length of papers is 8,000 words. Authors are advised to familiarise themselves with the journal author guidelines available in the “write for this journal” section on the homepage (


For further information or informal discussion, please contact the Guest editors:

Dr Clair Doloriert: [email protected]

Professor Sally Sambrook: [email protected]

Andrew Herrmann: [email protected]



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‘Autoethnography in a political mode’ – Daniel King (Nottingham Trent University), Patrick Reedy, (University of Hull), Clair Doloriert (Bangor Business School) conference stream at the 12th International Ethnography Symposium “Politics and Ethnography in an Age of Uncertainty”