Actor-network theory and ethnography: Sociomaterial approaches to researching medical education

Anna MacLeod
Jonathan Tummons
Olga Kits
Paula Cameron
Rola Ajjawi
Soort article
A Qualitative Space
Actor-network theory,
Medical education,
Research methods,
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Medical education is a messy tangle of social and material elements. These material entities include tools, like curriculum guides, stethoscopes, cell phones, accreditation standards, and mannequins; natural elements, like weather systems, disease vectors, and human bodies; and, objects, like checklists, internet connections, classrooms, lights, chairs and an endless array of others.

We propose that sociomaterial approaches to ethnography can help us explore taken for granted, or under-theorized, elements of a situation under study, thereby enabling us to think differently. In this article, we describe ideas informing Actor-Network Theory approaches, and how these ideas translate into how ethnographic research is designed and conducted. We investigate epistemological (what we can know, and how) positioning of the researcher in an actor-network theory informed ethnography, and describe how we tailor ethnographic methods—document and artefact analysis; observation; and interviews—to align with a sociomaterial worldview.

Untangling sociomaterial scenarios can offer a novel perspective on myriad contemporary medical education issues. These issues include examining how novel tools (e.g. accreditation standards, assessment tools, mannequins, videoconferencing technologies) and spaces (e.g. simulation suites, videoconferenced lecture theatres) used in medical education impact how teaching and learning actually happen in these settings.


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