Institutional Ethnography as a Method of Inquiry for Criminal Justice and Socio-Legal Studies


Institutional ethnography (IE) is a method of inquiry created by Canadian feminist sociologist Dorothy E. Smith to examine how sequences of texts coordinate forms of organisation. Here we explain how to use IE, and why scholars in criminal justice and socio-legal studies should use it in their research. We focus on IE’s analysis of texts and intertextual hierarchy, as well as Smith’s understanding of mapping as a methodological technique; the latter entails explaining how IE’s approach to mapping differs from other social science approaches. We also argue that IE’s terms and techniques can help examine the textual work undertaken in criminal justice and legal organisations, and reveal how people are governed and ruled by these organisational processes. In the discussion, we summarise how IE can productively contribute to criminal justice and socio-legal studies in the twenty-first century.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2019-02-18
Pages:147 to 160
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How to Cite
Doll, A. and Walby, K. (2019) “Institutional Ethnography as a Method of Inquiry for Criminal Justice and Socio-Legal Studies”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 8(1), pp. 147-160. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v8i1.1051.

Author Biographies

McGill University

Agnieszka Doll is a socio-legal researcher and a lawyer working at the intersection of law and medicine. Trained in law, sociology, and gender studies, she completed her PhD at the Law and Society Program, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria, Canada. Her doctoral work ‘Lawyering for the Mad: Experts, pathologies, and emergency involuntary admission to psychiatric facilities in Poland’, explores how the legal process of involuntary admission is organized so that it silences voices of persons undergoing the admission and those advocating on their behalf. In her research, she works with professionals involved in decision-making regarding involuntary admissions to directly effect change at the institutional level. She attempts to make her work available to broad audiences: academics, professionals, and people receiving health care services.

University of Winnipeg

Kevin Walby is Chancellors Research Chair and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Winnipeg. He is author of Touching Encounters: Sex, Work, and Male-for-Male Internet Escorting (University of Chicago Press 2012). He is co-author with R. Lippert of Municipal Corporate Security in International Context (Routledge 2015). He is co-editor of Access to Information and Social Justice: Critical Research Strategies for Journalists, Scholars and Activists with J. Brownlee (ARP Books 2015). He is co-editor of National Security, Surveillance, and Terror: Canada and Australia in Comparative Perspective with R. Lippert, I. Warren and D. Palmer (Palgrave 2017). He is co-editor of The Handbook of Prison Tourism with J. Wilson, S. Hodgkinson, and J. Piche (Palgrave 2017). He is co-editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons. He is book review editor for Surveillance & Society and Security Journal.