The Meeting Ethnography Project: Seeking method, purpose, and meaning

This paper belongs to of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Jen Sandler, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Anthropology)
Renita Thedvall, Stockholm University (Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research – Score)

In this presentation, Renita Thedvall and I share our exploration of the study of meetings that has taken place with about two dozen colleagues working in diverse meeting contexts across the globe. This “Meeting Ethnography” project has unfolded over the past four years through a partnership resulting in three international workshops and an edited volume.

The presentation describes the diverse contributions of “meeting ethnographers” working in social movements, organizations, schools, corporations, networks, social reform coalitions, international development sites, state bureaucracies, and networks of global capital and transnational governance, to a process of taking meetings seriously. We discuss the vital questions of epistemology – what researchers can see by looking at meetings – and methodology – the challenges to studying meetings, that have surfaced through our discussions.

Finally, we alight on the question that has most haunted this research. As the salience and usefulness of meetings as a category of human organization has become more clear, we have realized that doing so across broad expanses of diverse human organization brings up vital issues of ontology. What is this thing that we call “meeting”? While this presentation only gestures toward our answer, we use the format to invite participants to think about specific ontological questions in their own treatment of this ubiquitous phenomenon.

Start the discussion about this in the Kunsido forum