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Purpose: The main purpose of this paper is to document the first author's experience of using institutional ethnography (IE) to “take sides” in healthcare research. The authors illustrate the points with data and key findings from a study of cardiovascular disease prevention. Design/methodology/approach: The authors use Dorothy E Smith's IE approach, and particularly the theoretical tool of “standpoint”. Findings: Starting with the development of the study, the authors trouble the researcher's positionality, highlighting tensions between institutional knowledge of “prevention” and other locations where knowledge about patients' health needs materialises. The authors outline how IE's theoretically and methodologically integrated toolkit became a framework for “taking sides” with patients. They describe how the researcher used IE to take a standpoint and map institutional relations from that standpoint. They argue that IE enabled an innovative analysis but also reflect on the challenges of conducting an IE – the conceptual unpicking and (re)thinking, and demarcating boundaries of investigation within an expansive dataset. Originality/value: This paper illustrates IE's relevance for organisational ethnographers wishing to find a theoretically robust approach to taking sides, and suggests ways in which the IE approach might contribute to improving services, particularly healthcare. It provides an illustration of how taking a patient standpoint was accomplished in practice, and reflects on the challenges involved.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Organizational Ethnography

Publication Date





21 - 35