Elite ethnographies: Potential, pitfalls and prospects for getting 'up close and personal'

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This article celebrates Rod Rhodes' use of ethnography to study political elites 'up close and personal'. Initially Rhodes' work is contextualized within the development of political ethnography more generally, before his ethnographies of 'Everyday life in a Ministry' are reviewed, illustrating the potential of ethnography to research policy-making elites. This review highlights epistemological and ontological questions which link to criticism of Rhodes' work as taking an anti-foundational stance. In looking at future prospects for ethnography in governance settings, this article argues that researchers building on Rhodes' scholarship can choose whether to use ethnography as a 'method' or an 'interpretive methodology'. In concluding, the case is made for a 'constructivist modern empiricism' which utilizes the ethnographic method alongside other research methods as being most useful for public policy and administration scholarship aiming to be practically useful for understanding either the processes of public policy-making or its impact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-166
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Administration
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • Ethnography
  • Political elites
  • Policy-making
  • Governance


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