Ethnographic work in formal organizations involves learning to recognize the many layers of front stage and back stage of organized life, and to bracket formality. It means to be alert to the fact that what is formal and front stage for one some actors, and in some situations, may in fact be back stage and informal for others. Walking the talk, donning the appropriate attire, wearing the proper suit, may be part of what is takes to figure out the code of formal organizational settings – an entrance ticket to the backstage, as it were. Oftentimes, it involves a degree of mimicry, of ‘following suits’ (Nyqvist 2013), and of doing ‘ethnography by failure’ (Garsten 2013). In this paper, we explore the layers of informality and formality in our fieldwork experiences among financial investors and policy experts, and discuss how to ethnographically represent embodied fieldwork practices. How do we conceptualize and articulate the informal and the formal? How do we represent the multidimensional character of organizations while maintaining a degree of integrity of informants? And how do we decide on relevance as we transpose our fieldwork experiences into text? We suggest that ethnographic organization studies often work on assumptions of a dualistic ontology, i.e.an either/or assumption of front- and backstage, and that our ways of writing about organizations are coloured by this assumption, hence contributing to a ‘flattening’ of organizations. Instead, we invoke a relativistic view on the formal and the informal, one that places formality in brackets.
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The 22nd Nordic Academy of Management Conference. 2013