A Multi-Sited Ethnography of Policy Implementation and Governance


This case explains key features of multi-sited ethnography, providing insights into the enactment of policy and politics within and across a range of public administration spaces. Offering reflections on the ethnographic experience of “being there,” the case discusses gaining access, defining a field, ethical behavior, data analysis, and presenting findings. The first site is a Parliamentary building of historic significance but used in a modern policy context. Politics is not overt, but power is exerted and discourse is highly political and the formal space is exclusive. In a town hall, stable physical boundaries delineate relationships between elected decision makers, their representatives, and observers. A history of who has been permitted to speak, and thus exert political power, is evident in the architecture. In contrast, a community space is more fluid, again influenced by history but also by neoliberal welfare reform policy. Here, the space is structured less by architecture and more by oral history and local knowledge that interacts in tension with an administrative Geographic Information System (G.I.S.). The G.I.S. map conveys order and precision, but politics is in evidence, and it is unclear who has the power to reinforce the liminal boundary. The different sites are analyzed using spatial theory and theories of governing at a distance to show how processes of inclusion and exclusion operate and to argue that governing also takes place at close range. Unpredictable policy effects are achieved variously by means of seduction, enrolment, and coercion that feature in these otherwise disparate spaces.

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