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'Studying Leadership Ethnographically: Reflections of a first-time ethnographer'

Sutherland, N



The last two decades have seen an increase in the number of ethnographic writings in Organisation Studies more generally, however, similar developments have not been mirrored within Leadership Studies, where – despite a recent interpretivist ‘shift’ - the field is still dominated by positivistic approaches. Various theorists have noted the wide-ranging problems associated with this, and have pointed toward ethnography as a way of opening up leadership research and investigating it from a new angle. However, to date it remains underrepresented. Potentially, this could be due to the fact that leadership is a largely ill-defined concept, meaning that being able to recognise it in action is a difficult task, compared with more detached methods. Therefore, this paper suggests that a first step may be developing a broader understanding of leadership – building on the work of Smircich and Morgan (1982) and Fairhurst (2007). That is, understanding leadership as constituted by meaning-making and reality definition, which is performed through discourse (or: intersubjective talk, communication, language and interaction) as well as being influenced by Discourse (or: extrasubjective frames of reference). This paper suggests that ethnographic methodologies are apt for studying both, and may be able to shed new light on the phenomenon.


Sutherland, N. (2015, December). 'Studying Leadership Ethnographically: Reflections of a first-time ethnographer'. Paper presented at International Studying Leadership Capacity Conference

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name International Studying Leadership Capacity Conference
Start Date Dec 13, 2015
End Date Dec 15, 2015
Acceptance Date Oct 10, 2015
Publication Date Dec 13, 2015
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords leadership, ethnography
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : International Studying Leadership Capacity Conference