Ethnographic Case Studies

Ethnographic Case Studies


Hand holding a tray with colleagues' mugs
Our paper ‘Question Your Teaspoons: tea-drinking, coping and commercialisation across three planning organisations‘ won Best Paper award at the 2019 Ethnography Symposium.

A key aim of our work is to understand the day-to-day work of planners in the private and public sectors, exploring how planners work and negotiate between and across the public and private sectors.  There have been few studies of the working environment in which planners operate, and our research has addressed this by looking closely at daily life inside five different settings (two local authorities and three planning consultancies).

In exploring planners’ working lives, we have been examining how is work managed and prioritised, what skills and knowledge are used in relation to different tasks, and how planners negotiate the different organisational and policy changes confronting them.  Working ethnographically through embedded fieldwork, we were interested in how planners make sense of their work and the meaning that attaches to the professional decisions they make.

Quote: “Therese explains that when on secondment in local authorities, she always makes a point of accepting every cup of tea that is offered: ‘It’s a way to get to know people. I’d accept 500 cups of tea to fit in.’ [Fieldnote extract: 20/11/18]One of our initial, rather playful, focus points was looking at tea rituals in the planning office through a participant-led. Such micro-level practices are an interesting gateway to deeper reflection on the interface between the private and public sector. An article based on this work has been published in the Journal of Organisational Ethnography.

The ethnographic fieldwork involved shadowing planners in their offices, going on site visits, attending meetings with developers or government agencies, going to professional and business development events, and sitting in on planning committees and inquiries. This process has generated a rich set of fieldnotes, interview transcripts, and images.

Ethnography has enabled us to look in greater depth at planning work than can be achieved through a survey or interviews enabling us to hear the voice of planners better. A monograph is in preparation that will bring together our findings, reflecting on the public interest through a nuanced and sensitive portrait of contemporary professional planning work.