Stranger and stranger: creating theory through ethnographic distance and authority

Gary Alan Fine*, Tim Hallett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Purpose – Classical ethnographic research begins with the recognition that the observer starts as a stranger to the group being studied, a recognition as evident in the analysis of formal organizations as of gangs or tribes. From this position of difference the researcher must learn the themes and dynamics of a setting of otherness. The researcher begins as an outsider, a stance that creates initial challenges, yet permits the transmittal of novel information to external audiences. This is particularly true while studying organizational worlds that explicitly focus on occupational socialization. The paper aims to discuss these issues. Design/methodology/approach – This conceptual paper relies on the close reading and analysis of three major ethnographies of occupational socialization. Findings – The reality that (many) ethnographers begin as strangers permits them to understand socialization processes while observing how group cultures change. The authors defines this as the “stranger paradigm.” This otherness is joined by the perspective of the scholar's discipline and awareness of comparable research that permits understanding of forces that are unrecognized by participants, but which can be profitably scrutinized by disciplinary colleagues within their own occupational worlds. The authors term this “ethnographic authority.” Originality value – To support the claim that distance and authority support the formulation of theoretical insights, the paper examines organizational ethnographies that examine the occupational socialization of doctors, morticians, and ministers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)188-203
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 12 2014


  • Authority
  • Distance
  • Ethnography
  • Occupation
  • Socialization
  • Stranger

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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