Analyzing Isomorphism in Nongovernmental Organizations: Ethical Dilemmas in Ethnographic Fieldwork


In this case, I describe and discuss methodological decisions made during my research for my PhD dissertation on professionalization and bureaucratization of nongovernmental organizations. With the aim of studying which factors promote or inhibit structural isomorphism, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in five organizations. In this case, I reflect on the ethical and practical problems that I faced. I then provide a list of practical recommendations and solutions to overcome obstacles that organizational ethnographers frequently find in their research. These obstacles have to do with selecting a research topic, selecting case studies, designing a flexible research plan, elaborating a contingency plan, negotiating with gatekeepers, accessing organizations through the “back door,” defining the role of the ethnographer in the studied organization, and preserving informants’ confidentiality.

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