Work-Identity in Ethnographic Research: Developing Field Roles in a Demanding Workplace Setting

  • Gunilla Jansson Stockholm University
  • Zoe Nikolaidou Södertörn University


In this article we problematize our field roles as two linguistic ethnographers who aim to study the communication and documentation practices drawn upon by care workers in elderly care facilities in Sweden. Our field roles are discussed in relation to the complex nature of care workers’ knowledge and competence, which results from three different aspects of their work-identities: institutional, professional, and individual. As researchers, we found ourselves in constant dialogue with the research participants, and our field roles were continuously shaped and reshaped according to the individuals and the situations in which we became involved. Even aspects of our own identities taken into the field, such as our background and personal qualities, proved to be important in establishing good relations with the care staff. Coming closer to the participants’ professional identity proved to be of utmost importance for interpreting their choices and decisions in the workplace. Identity negotiation is presented here as a constructive way of discussing ethnographic field roles in the research field.

Author Biographies

Gunilla Jansson, Stockholm University
Senior lecturer Department of Scandinavian Languages Stockholm University Stockholm, Sweden
Zoe Nikolaidou, Södertörn University
Postdoc researcher Department of Culture and Learning Södertörn University Huddinge, Sweden