Transnational Institutional Ethnography: Tracing Text and Talk Beyond State Boundaries

  • Daniel Grace University of British Columbia; Simon Fraser University Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Purpose: In this article I provide a rich account of how I utilized and critically applied the research strategy of institutional ethnography to investigate transnational processes of legislative standardization. The text at the center of this inquiry is a model law that was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to create omnibus HIV/AIDS laws across West and Central Africa (2005-2010). Expanding upon the sociological approach of institutional ethnography, my research method is best understood as a transnational institutional ethnography (TIE). This article provides a case study of TIE for those interested in ethnographically exploring transnational processes across diverse institutional settings. Design/Methodology/Approach: The complex legislative process being investigated was made visible through the use of participant observation, archival research, textual analysis, and informant interviews with national and international stakeholders (n=32). This research strategy involved ethnographic data collection in Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Austria, South Africa, and Senegal (2010-2011). Findings: In this article a methodological discussion is offered focusing upon the everyday actualities of conducting transnational research in diverse environments, including cafes, conferences, courtrooms, and activist gatherings. I provide an account of (a) the complex institutional sites from which a research problematic may emerge; (b) challenges and opportunities when conducting interviews and identifying informants; (c) the importance of accounting for matters of geography and interview location in one’s study design; and (d) the work of knowing where to look, what to read, and who to talk with during the iterative process of research and discovery. Originality/Value: Moving beyond state-based organizational relations, a focus which is predominant in most institutional ethnographies, in this article I explicate the research process undertaken to ethnographically interrogate complex processes of transnational social organization and translocal text-mediated relations. Methodological insights and lessons learned regarding the experience of conducting transnational ethnographic research are provided.

Author Biography

Daniel Grace, University of British Columbia; Simon Fraser University Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Postdoctoral Researcher