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Ethnography: Tales of the Nonprofit Field

Journal Title International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Published Date August 17, 2021
Research Type
Authors Erynn Beaton


Ethnography is a rich research tradition originating from sociocultural anthropology that aims to vividly represent cultural meaning through fieldwork and thick description. Ethnographic fieldwork is known for unearthing surprises, and ethnographers are often convinced that, had they used another approach, they would have been unable to explain fully what was going on in the research setting. Ethnography in nonprofit studies is increasing, but sparse. This article argues that introducing more tales of the nonprofit field could deepen the analysis of how nonprofit organizing works, bridge the nonprofit research–practice divide, challenge the Western ethnocentricity of nonprofit studies, bring the sector’s periphery to the forefront and enhance nonprofit management education. However, to benefit from ethnographic work, the nonprofit field must embrace alternative norms of composition and rigor. The starting point is conversation and community among nonprofit ethnographers to foster such work.