Research projects

An ethnography of expert work in a public organization

In my doctoral dissertation I study the work of policy and regulation analysts at a government agency in Mexico. From October 2019 to October 2020, I collected ethnographic data at the agency, documenting the everyday work of different teams and their interactions with outside actors.


I am currently analyzing these data to understand the tensions between expert work and democratic values, leaders, interests, and institutions. Public organizations with a technical mandate face the challenge of making decisions and doing their work in a political context—with actors that might not understand their criteria or question their decisions and legitimacy. In my dissertation, I ask how this tension affects organizations—their legitimacy and survival—and how it shapes everyday work. 

Participation and organization in a grassroots campaign

In 2018, I spent 5 months doing ethnographic research on a political campaign organized by a group of young activists in Mexico City. I followed the development of the organization from a group of 15 organizers to a campaign organization of almost 300 volunteers. I collected data in the form of field notes, interviews, documents, photos, and videos. The organization made use of a community organizing strategy to mobilize and recruit volunteers. I collected data on the design and implementation of this strategy as well as the everyday work of canvassing and the challenges affecting volunteer participation. 


I am currently writing a paper on the dynamics of commitment and control in this organization. In particular, I analyze how boundaries between social, organizational, and personal dimensions are eroded in order to develop and sustain high commitment.


Ortiz Casillas, S. (2021), Caring as an Organizing Principle: Reflections on Ethnography of and as Care. Journal of Management Studies, 58: 1146-1153. 

Experiences from the picket line

With Professor Ruthanne Huising (Emlyon Business School) we analyze the experiences of administrative workers during a strike in McGill University in 2011. Using data from field observations and more than 80 interviews with striking workers, we analyze workers' experiences and feelings in the picket line as they try to overcome different challenges and "survive" the strike.

(This article is currently under review)