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Investigating leadership ethnographically: Opportunities and potentialities

Sutherland, Neil



© 2016, The Author(s). Whilst recent years have seen increasingly ethnographic-focussed writings in Organisation Studies, similar developments have not been mirrored within Leadership Studies, where the field is still dominated by positivistic approaches. Various theorists have noted problems with this, often pointing toward ethnography as a way of investigating leadership from new angles. However, to date it remains underrepresented. Potentially, this could be due to the fact that leadership is an ill-defined concept, and this paper suggests developing a clearer understanding of the phenomenon – building on the work of Smircich and Morgan and Fairhurst. 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 leadership practice.


Sutherland, N. (2018). Investigating leadership ethnographically: Opportunities and potentialities. Leadership, 14(3), 263-290.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2016
Online Publication Date Nov 12, 2016
Publication Date Jun 1, 2018
Journal Leadership
Print ISSN 1742-7150
Electronic ISSN 1742-7169
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 3
Pages 263-290
Keywords leadership, ethnography, discourse, language, meaning-making
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : © 2018. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications