Ethnographic methodologies for construction research: knowing, practice and interventions

Ethnographic methodologies developed in social anthropology and sociology hold considerable promise for addressing practical, problem-based research concerned with the construction site. The extended researcher-engagement characteristic of ethnography reveals rich insights, yet is infrequently used to understand how work-place realities are lived out on construction sites. Moreover studies that do employ these methods are rarely reported within construction management journals. This article argues that recent innovations in ethnographic methodologies offer new routes to: posing questions; understanding work-place socialities (that is, the qualities of the social relationships that develop on construction sites); learning about forms, uses and communication of knowledge on construction sites; and turning these into meaningful recommendations. This argument is supported by examples from an interdisciplinary ethnography concerning migrant workers and communications on UK construction sites. Commissioned by the UK sector skills council ConstructionSkills, the research sought to understand how construction workers communicate with managers and each other and how they stay safe on site, with the objective of informing site health and safety strategies and the production and evaluation of training and other materials.