Archival Ethnography

Authored by: Stephanie Decker , Alan McKinlay

The Routledge Companion to Anthropology and Business

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  June  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138496422
eBook ISBN: 9781003052456
Adobe ISBN:


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Archival ethnography describes a methodology of historical research based on archives – public, private, organizational – that considers the archive as a site for fieldwork. This entails an ethnographic sensibility that focuses on observation of quotidian details as well as a focus on practices and what is not immediately obvious. Some, but by no means all, historical archives are rich and detailed enough to provide extensive records on past practices, events, and people, their communications and interactions. By elaborating this approach, we seek to clarify the elements that set archival ethnography apart from other forms of archival research: 1. The archive as a research site; how the creation, maintenance, and forms of accessibility as well as the search strategy affect what data can be collected and how it is interpreted in context. 2. A focus on social documents over narrative sources; prioritizing accounts that are informal, close in time and place, and relatively uncensored yet more difficult to interpret than the polished accounts found in memoirs, speeches, and histories. 3. An analytical approach to searching, identifying, and interpreting records that engages with ethnographic theory and historical methods influenced by ethnography, such as microhistory and subjunctive history. We believe this rich qualitative technique opens up the past as a site for organizational research.

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