This paper aims at providing a framework to understand the «trajectory of access» (Bruni, 2006) to a Complex Operative Unit (COU) of an Italian hospital. Goffman’s dramaturgic metaphor (1959) is used to show how participants reveal organizational functioning and suggest interpretive paths to the researcher. Each "act" of accessing the field is played on a different stage: from institutional access, to the attempts of embedding the newcomer into local dynamics, to her acceptation within ward's private spaces. Along this process towards the centre of professional community’s activities and meanings, the researcher is observed, "interpreted" and differently positioned in the field. In fact, self-presentation acts performed by both the researcher and the organization offer suggestions on the issues to deepen and the actions to look at. Therefore, access becomes a "key" to gain understanding of organization's practices and meanings. Physical spaces and artifacts used by the professional community, including «boundary making artifacts» (Zucchermaglio et. al., 2013) are taken into consideration as relevant expressions of organizational internal functioning. As a material component of the scenes, these objects are de-constructed and re-constructed in their meanings by both researcher and participants, within the space of their face-to-face interaction. According to this perspective, some episodes from the initial encounters between researcher and participants will be discussed and analyzed. Therefore the specific phase of the access to the field becomes an «important moment of observation per se» (Bruni, 2006: 138) where participants - through self-presentation acts - suggest the ethnographer what is important to note.
Keywords: Hospital Complex Operative Unit, Gaining Access, Ethnographic Research, Boundary Making Artifacts, Physical Spaces.