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An Art-Based, Collective and Dialogic Ethnographic method -Unveiling corporate restructuring practices

Abstract

Restructuring practices belong to today's organizational life. Even if the phenomenon is not new it significantly evolved over time, both in terms of motives and in terms of expressions, from major events to permanent practices, from crisis to competitiveness restructurings, from reactive to more proactive decisions, from highly visible to more silent decisions. Much debated in popular medias, restructuring issues have been also inspiring scholars from various fields (sociology, economics, management, law...) for now three decades. But at the same time, academic literature, especially in management, has hardly contributed in understanding the deep complexity and the multiple hidden dimensions of restructuring situations. We suggest ethnographic studies could open the " black box " of restructuring issues, thus complementing the inevitably over-simplified models testing the explanatory relationships between a set of variables or constructs. Traditional ethnographic method is scarcely chosen by scholars analyzing restructuring issues, mainly for reasons related to practical access to fieldwork: restructuring is a hot issue, and it remains difficult to access information and informants in a restructuring organization. In order to overcome these issues, we developed a specific research method what we call an Art-Based, Collective and Dialogic Ethnographic method (1.), both in its deliberate choices (1.1.) and its emergent dimensions (1.2.). Then we describe the outputs of the method (2.), in terms of creating new knowledge about restructuring issues (2.1.), but also in terms of fostering new ways of teaching, thinking or practicing restructurings (2.2.). In the final section, we discuss the basic principles of the method as well as its outcomes, especially in terms of creating "vicarious experiential knowledge" (3.). This method is based on three main features. First, we suggest investigate restructuring issues through artworks. Second, as restructurings are multi-actor situations and multi-dimensional phenomena, research on restructurings could benefit from a heterogeneous and multi-disciplinary group of actors as a community of inquirers confronting their points of view and reflecting together about the complexity and the heterogeneity of restructuring phenomena in a dialogical process of investigation. Third, combining in the same research design a heterogeneous group of actors and a series of artworks about restructurings can lead to innovative research methods: collective comments about artworks and indirect analysis of restructuring, reflexive analysis of actors' involvement, comments and discussions used as data, what we propose here as a new form of organizational ethnographic research

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This paper was published in HAL-Paris1.

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