Working with and for social enterprises: the role of the volunteer ethnographer

Clementine Hill O'Connor, Rachel Baker

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This paper considers the specific opportunities and challenges of engaging in ethnographic research with organisations in which the researcher participates as a volunteer ethnographer.

The findings in this paper are based on four years of ethnographic research within a social enterprise.

This paper finds that there are significant benefits of the role of the volunteer ethnographer and suggests ways to address some of the challenges.

Research limitations/implications
As the field of social enterprise and ethnography grows and researchers engage with methodological discussions about participant observation, the authors suggest that attention should also be paid to the specifics of the role of the volunteer ethnographer.

There is growing interest in the use of ethnography in social enterprises. This paper offers unique insight into how this methodology has been applied in the context of self-reliant groups and the importance of the engaging with discussion about the specific role of the volunteer ethnographer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-193
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Enterprise Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2017


  • social enterprise
  • ethnography
  • participant observation
  • volunteering
  • volunteer


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