Sustaining Stories: The Versatile Life of Sustained, In-house, Ethnographic Practice in a Global Software Company

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Abstract

Ethnographers, in a sense, play the role of story creators, storytellers, and, often, preservers of such stories. The narratives produced and the fieldwork from which they emerge make visible trajectories of practice—for both subjects and researchers—which can be traced both retrospectively and projectively. For “in-house” ethnographers engaged in the sustained work of making sense of and contributing to organizations, a unique challenge emerges: discovering and managing the retrospective and prospective meaning of their storytelling and its visibility. Here we reflect on the challenges and opportunities of sustaining ethnographic inquiry in a large global software company. Reflecting on close to ten years of participant observation, we outline some of our practices related to positioning, re-framing, and expanding the visibility of our work and our organizational roles; a dynamic that continues to shape our practice and its relevance within this corporate environment.

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