The use of organizational ethnography has grown significantly during the past decades. While language is an important component of ethnographic research, the challenges associated with language barriers are rarely discussed in the literature. The purpose of this paper is to open up a discussion on language barriers in organizational ethnography.Design/methodology/approachThe author draws on her experience as a PhD student doing an organizational ethnography of an emergency department in a country where she initially did not speak the local language.FindingsThe paper examines the author's research process, from access negotiation to presentation of findings, illustrating the language barriers encountered doing an ethnography in parallel to learning the local language in Sweden.Research limitations/implicationsThis paper calls for awareness of the influence of the ethnographer's language skills and shows the importance of discussing this in relation to how we teach and learn ethnography, research practice and diversity in academia.Originality/valueThe paper makes three contributions to organizational ethnography. First, it contributes to the insider/outsider debate by nuancing the ethnographer's experience. Second, it answers calls for transparency by presenting a personal ethnographic account. Third, it contributes to developing the methodology by offering tips to deal with language barriers in doing ethnography abroad.
Journal of Organizational Ethnography – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jul 29, 2021
Keywords: Ethnography abroad; Fieldwork; Language barrier; Outsider; Foreign; Cross-language research