Examining the Institutional Ethnographer’s Toolkit.


  • J.L. Deveau Unversity of New Brunswick




Institutional ethnography (IE) is a method of inquiry advocated by Canadian sociologist Dorothy E. Smith and a wide range of researchers working in sociology, social work, education, nursing, political organizing, social policy, women’s organizations, and so on. Institutional ethnographers do not cede authority to ideas established in the literature. Instead, they rely on people’s experience as the point of entry into inquiry exploring connections among local settings of people’s everyday lives, institutional processes, and translocal ruling relations. Smith’s concept of ‘ruling’ is derived from Marx. IE relies on a theorized way of exploring ruling practices—as people’s social activities organized through texts, language and expertise. This article defines some of the concepts of which newcomers to institutional ethnography need to develop a working knowledge, namely: epistemology (and epistemological shift), ontology (and ontological shift), social organization, social relations, ruling relations, the role of texts in ruling relations, ideology, problematic, discourse, experience as data, interviewing, and data collection.

Author Biography

J.L. Deveau, Unversity of New Brunswick

J.L. Deveau graduated from the University of New Brunswick in October, 2008. His doctoral research focused on investigating workplace accommodation for disabled employees in the Canadian federal public service.