References on Ethnographic Research

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 some important citations related to the approach in other disciplines (including the source disciplines), the second lists citations related to the approach in Information Systems. You can use the Edit Find command in Netscape to look for a specific citation.

Please send additional references and/or short abstracts of items on this page (maximum 50 words) to the Section Editor at:

[Introduction] [Citations in Other Disciplines] [Citations in Information Systems]


Two books which give an excellent introduction to the ethnographic research method are those by Geertz (1973) and Van Maanen (1988). Both are written by anthropologists. Zuboff's (1988) book is regarded by many as the best and most insightful book that has ever been written about the impact of IT on organizations.

For an overview of ethnographic research in information systems, see Harvey and Myers (1995). Star's (1995) recent work is one of the first collections of essays to explore the range of cultural practices associated with the design and use of computing. An excellent empirical example of ethnography in information systems is Orlikowski's (1991) article.



Citations in Other Disciplines

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. 78-108.

Bucciarelli, L. "An Ethnographic Perspective on Engineering Design," Design Studies, 9, 1988, pp. 159-168.

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, Newbury Park, Sage Publications, 1989.

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, 1973.

Geertz, C. Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. New York, Basic Books, 1983.

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.



Citations in Information Systems

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.

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.

Davies, L.J. 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. and Myers, M.D. "Scholarship and practice: the contribution of ethnographic research methods to bridging the gap", Information Technology & People, (8:3), 1995, pp. 13-27.

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 available.

Holzblatt, K. and Beyer, H. "Making Customer-Centered Design Work for Teams", Communications of the ACM, (36:10), 1993, pp. 93-103.

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.

Myers, M.D. and Young, L. "The Implementation of an Information System in Mental Health: An Ethnographic Study," Proceedings of the 6th Australasian Conference on Information Systems, 27-29 September 1995.

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.

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 the authors).

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.

Pettigrew, A.M. "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.

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, 1994.

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. 111-134.

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.

Wynn, E. "Taking Practice Seriously", in Design at Work, J. Greenbaum, and M. Kyng (eds.), New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991.

Zuboff, S.In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York, Basic Books, 1988.

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Revised: February 05, 2004

This work was published in MISQ Discovery on May 20, 1997. This is the original archival version. It is currently maintained by Michael D. Myers. Corrections, clarifications, and suggested modifications should be directed to him at Serious problems should be referred to the Editor-in-Chief.