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[edit] What is ethnomethodology?

Ethnomethodology is a sociological discipline which studies the ways in which people make sense of their world, display this understanding to others, and produce the mutually shared social order in which they live. The term was initially coined by Harold Garfinkel in 1954 (Garfinkel:2002:4).

Ethnomethodology is a descriptive discipline and does not engage in the explanation or evaluation of the particular social order undertaken as a topic of study.

The term itself can be broken down into its three constituent parts: ethno - method - ology, for the purpose of explanation. Using an appropriate Southern California example: ethno refers to a particular socio-cultural group [think a particular, localized community of surfers]; method refers to the methods and practices this particular group employs in its everyday activities [related to surfing]; and ology refers to the systematic description of these methods and practices. The focus of the investigation used in our example is the social order of surfing, the ethnomethodological interest is in the "how" [the methods and practices] of the production and maintenance of this social order.

Examples of such methods and practices relative to the activity of surfing include, but are by no means exhausted by: methods for reading waves as to their rideability, practices employed for catching waves, methods for styling hair, practices employed for the wearing of swim trunks and wet suits, methods for using body language and gesturing, and practices employed for talking surfing among group members.

Anne Rawls states: "Ethnomethodology is the study of the methods people use for producing recognizable social orders" (Garfinkel:2002:6).

The social order used in our example is the recognizably competent performance of the methods and practices of surfing ["being a surfer"] as demonstrated by members of this particular group of surfers.

[Note that the terms: methods, procedures, practices, and ways are often used interchangeably in the ethnomethodological literature with little consistency within or between authors. For all practical purposes, these terms can be taken as equivalent.]

[edit] Differences between traditional sociology and ethnomethodology

Ethnomethodology is distinct from traditional sociology, and does not seek to compete with it, or provide remedies for any of its practices (Garfinkel:1967:viii). This does not mean that ethnomethodology does not use traditional sociological forms as a sounding board for its own programmatic development, or to establish benchmarks for the differences between traditional sociological forms of study and ethnomethodology. It only means that ethnomethodology was not established in order to: repair, criticize, undermine, or 'poke fun' at traditional sociological forms.

Two central differences between traditional sociology and ethnomethodology are:

1. While traditional sociology usually offers an analysis of society which takes the facticity of the social order for granted, ethnomethodology is concerned with the procedures by which that social order is produced, and shared.

2. While traditional sociology usually provides descriptions of social settings which compete with the actual descriptions offered by the individuals who are party to those settings, ethnomethodology seeks to describe the procedures these individuals use in their actual descriptions of those settings.

In 1967, Garfinkel states: Ethnomethodology's, "...central recommendation is that the activities whereby members produce and manage settings of organized everyday affairs are identical with member's procedures for making those settings 'account-able' " (1967:1).

Over thirty-five years later, Garfinkel states: "Phenomena of order are identical with procedures for their endogenous production and accountability (2002:72).

Although the language has changed, the message remains the same: social orders ["phenomena of order"] are identical with the procedures members of a particular social group employ to produce and manage a particular setting of organized everyday affairs. These social orders are endogenous [generated from within the particular setting], and made available for study through the demonstrable [objectified, recognizable, embodied] accounting practices of the group members party to that particular setting.

[Note that the characters of particularity and embeddedness of the: social order, procedures, activities, accounts, and persons party to such settings are essential features of the ethnomethodological perspective, and clearly differentiate it from traditional sociological forms.]

[edit] Ethnomethodology's fundamental assumption

The fundamental assumption of ethnomethodological studies is characterized by Anne Rawls:

"If one assumes, as Garfinkel does, that the meaningful, patterned, and orderly character of everyday life is something that people must work constantly to achieve, then one must also assume that they have some methods for doing so". That is, "... members of society must have some shared methods that they use to mutually construct the meaningful orderliness of social situations" (Garfinkel:2002:5).

In line with this assumption, the goal of ethnomethodological investigations becomes the description of the methods employed in the production of the orderly character of everyday life. These methods are embedded in the work that people do, and realized in local settings by the people who are party to those settings.

[edit] Ethnomethodology's origins

The approach was developed by Harold Garfinkel, based on his study of: the principles and practices of financial accounting; traditional sociological theory and methods [primarily: Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons]; traditional sociological concerns [the Hobbesian "problem of order"]; and the phenomenologies of: Aron Gurwitsch, Alfred Schutz, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Garfinkel:1967:ix;2002:15,63,84,176,257-258).

Anne Rawls provides a brief developmental history of Garfinkel, and ethnomethodology, in, Ethnomethodology's Program (Garfinkel:2002:1-17).

[edit] Garfinkel's writing style

Garfinkel's writing style has been described by some as abstruse, convoluted, and obscure in terms of both meaning and reference. Others have maintained that it is adequate to the task at hand, and unavoidable given the phenomena being described. Some maintain that it has gotten better over time, others maintain that it has gotten worse. Most have given up such arguments and accepted it for what it is.

Those new to the discipline who find Garfinkel's writings difficult should consult some of his better - officially designated - interpreters: John Heritage (1991), or Anne Rawls (Garfinkel:2002). We use these authors rather than Garfinkel because their descriptions of ethnomethodological policies are more straightforward than those of Garfinkel.

[edit] Theory and methods

One of the most perplexing problems for those new to the discipline of ethnomethodology is that it lacks both a formally stated theory and an agreed upon methodology. As serious as these problems might appear on the face of it, neither has prevented ethnomethodologists from doing ethnomethodological studies, and generating a substantial literature of "findings" (see Maynard/Clayman:1991:413-418).

John Heritage has noted the, "off-stage role of theory", in ethnomethodological writings, and the concern that there is nowhere in the ethnomethodological corpus a systematic theoretical statement that would serve as a touchstone for ethnomethodological inquiries (Heritage:1991:1).

Instead, as in the case of, Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), we are given numerous oblique references to: Wittgenstein [Ordinary Language Philosophy], Husserl [Transcendental Phenomenology], Gurwitsch [Gestalt Theory], and, most frequently, the works of the social phenomeonologist Alfred Schutz [Phenomenology of the Natural Attitude], among others. Likewise, in Ethnomethodology's Program (2002), we again find a multiplicity of theoretical references, including the usual suspects from Studies, and, introducing, among others, the work of Emile Durkheim; who now more than 35 years later, is framed as what ethnomethodology was about all along: working out Durkheim's aphorism regarding the achieved character of social facts.

The point here is that the authors and theoretical references cited in Garfinkel's work do not themselves serve as a rigourous theoretical basis for ethnomethodology, in whole or in part. Ethnomethodology is not Durkheimian, although it shares some of the interests of Durkheim; it is not phenomenology, although it borrows from Husserl and Schutz's studies of the Lifeworld [Lebenswelt]; it is not a form of Gestalt theory, although it describes social orders as having Gestalt-like properties; and, it is not Wittgensteinian, although it makes use of Wittgenstein's understanding of rule-use, etc. Instead, these borrowings are only fragmentary references to theoretical works from which ethnomethodology has appropriated theoretical ideas for the expressed purposes of doing ethnomethodological investigations.

In terms of the question of ethnomethodological methods, it is the position of Anne Rawls, speaking for Garfinkel, that ethnomethodology is itself not a method (Garfinkel:2002:6). That is, it does not have a set of formal reseach methods or procedures. Instead, the position taken is that ethnomethodologists have conducted their studies in a variety of ways (see Maynard/Clayman:1991), and that the point of these investigations is, ' discover the things that persons in particular situations do, the methods they use, to create the patterned orderliness of social life' (Garfinkel:2002:6).

[edit] Ethnomethodology and phenomenology

Even though ethnomethodology has been characterized as having a "phenomenological sensibility" (Maynard/Clayman:1991:388), orthodox adherents to the discipline - those who follow the teachings of Garfinkel - know better than to represent it as a branch, or form, of phenomenology, or phenomenological sociology.

The confusion between the two disciplines stems, in part, from the practices of some ethnomethodologists, who sift through phenomenological texts, recovering phenomenological concepts and findings relevant to their interests, and then transpose these concepts and findings to topics in the study of social order. Such interpretive transpositions do not make the ethnomethodologist a phenomenologist, or ethnomethodology a form of phenomenology.

To further muddy the waters, some phenomenological sociologists seize upon ethnomethodological findings as examples of applied phenomenology; this even when the results of these ethnomethodological investigations clearly do not make use of phenomenological methods, or formulate their findings in the language of phenomenology. So called phenomenological analyses of social structures that do not have prima facie reference to any of the structures of intentional consciousness should raise questions as to the phenomenological status of such analyses.

Another way of convincing yourself of the difference between these two disciplines is to read, Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), and try to find any reference to: a subject [other than experimental], consciousness, intentionality, or phenomenological methodology, etc. There are no such references. A phenomenological analysis should reflect phenomenological methods. This text clearly does not.

In, Ethnomethodology's Program (2002), Garfinkel speaks of phenomenological texts and findings as being, "appropriated", and intentionally, "misread", for the purposes of exploring topics in the study of social order (Garfinkel:2002:176-179;255-258). These appropriations and methodical misreadings of phenomenological texts and findings are clearly made for the purposes of furthering ethnomethodological analyses, and should not be mistaken for (necessary or even logical) extensions of these phenomenological texts and findings.

Lastly, there is no claim in any of Garfinkel's works that ethnomethodology is a form of phenomenology, or phenomenological sociology.

[edit] Varieties of ethnomethodology

According to George Psathas, five types of ethnomethodological study can be identified (Psathas:1995:139-155). These may be characterised as:

  1. The organization of practical actions and practical reasoning. Including the earliest studies, such as those in Garfinkel's seminal Studies in Ethnomethodology.
  2. The organization of talk-in-interaction. More recently known as conversation analysis, Harvey Sacks established this approach in collaboration with his colleagues Emanuel Schegloff and Gail Jefferson.
  3. Talk-in-interaction within institutional or organizational settings. While early studies focused on talk abstracted from the context in which it was produced (usually using tape recordings of telephone conversations) this approach seeks to identify interactional structures that are specific to particular settings.
  4. The study of work. 'Work' is used here to refer to any social activity. The analytic interest is in how that work is accomplished within the setting in which it is performed.
  5. The haecceity of work. Just what makes an activity what it is? e.g. what makes a test a test, a competition a competition, or a definition a definition?

Further discussion of the varieties and diversity of ethnomethodological investigations can be found in Maynard & Clayman (1991:385-418).

[edit] Some leading policies, methods and definitions

  • Ethnomethodological indifference. This is the policy of deliberate agnosticism, or indifference, towards the dictates, prejudices, methods and practices of sociological analysis as traditionally conceived (examples: theories of "deviance", analysis of behavior as rule governed, role theory, institutional (de)formations, theories of social stratification, etc.). Dictates and prejudices which serve to pre-structure traditional social scientific investigations independently of the subject matter taken as a topic of study, or the investigatory setting being subjected to scrutiny (Garfinkel:1967:33;2002:170-171).

The policy of ethnomethodological indifference is specifically not to be conceived of as indifference to the problem of social order taken as a group (member's) concern.

  • First time through. This is the practice of attempting to describe any social activity, regardless of its routine or mundane appearance, as if it were happening for the very first time [hint: the task is revealing, but impossible]. This in an effort to expose how the observer of the activity assembles, or constitutes, the activity for the purposes of formulating any particular description. The point of such an exercise is to make available and underline the complexities of sociological analysis and description, particularly the indexical and reflexive properties of the actors', or observer's, own descriptions of what is taking place in any given situation. Such an activity will also reveal the observer's inescapable reliance on the documentary method of interpretation (aka hermeneutic circle) as the defining "methodology" of social understanding for both lay persons and social scientists (see Okrent:1988:157-172).
  • Breaching experiment. A method for revealing, or exposing, the common work that is performed by members of particular social groups in maintaining a clearly recognizable and shared social order. An extreme example: driving the wrong way down a busy one-way street can reveal myriads of useful insights into the patterned social practices, and moral order, of the community of automobile drivers ... and police. The point of such an exercise is to demonstrate that gaining insight into the work involved in maintaining any given social order can often, best be revealed by breaching that social order and observing the results of that breach - especially those activities related to the reassembly of that social order, and the normalization of that social setting (Garfinkel:2002:8,32).
  • Sacks' gloss. A question about an aspect of the social order that recommends, as a method of answering it, that the researcher should seek out members of society who, in their daily lives, are responsible for the maintenance of that aspect of the social order. Sacks' original question concerned objects in public places and how it was possible to see that such objects did or did not belong to somebody. He found his answer in the activities of police officers who had to decide whether cars were abandoned. Recommendation: If you want to understand how a particular social order is maintained, or a particular social activity is accomplished, go to the source: the actual people who do the actual work of maintaining and constructing those social structures. In some, many, most cases, a "traditional sociologist" is the last person that you would consult regarding such matters.
  • Durkheim's aphorism. Durkheim famously recommended that we, "...treat social facts as things" (Durkheim:1895/1982:S.45). This is usually taken to mean that we should assume the objectivity of social facts as a principal of study (thus providing the basis of sociology as a science). Garfinkel's alternative reading of Durkheim is that we should treat the objectivity of social facts as an achievement of society's members, and make the achievement process itself the focus of study (Garfinkel:2002:117-118). Note that Garfinkel has no dispute with member's descriptions of the objective character of social facts. He has often been known to assert the objective character of social facts himself in the course of his everyday activities - as have we all.
  • Account.
  • Indexicality. The concept of Indexicality is a key core concept for Ethnomethodology. It was derived from the concept of indexical expressions appearing in ordinary language philosophy, wherein a statement is considered to be indexical insofar as it is dependent for its sense upon the context in which it is embedded. The phenomenon is acknowledged in various forms of analytical philosophy, and sociological theory and methods, but is considered to be both limited in scope and remedied through specification [operationalization]. In ethnomethodology, the phenomenon is universalized to all forms of language and behavior, and is deemed to be beyond remedy for the purposes of establishing a scientific description and explanation of social behavior (Garfinkel:1967:4-7;2002:204-207). The consequence of the degree of contextual dependence for a "segment" of talk or behavior can range from the problem of establishing a "working consensus" regarding the description of a phrase, concept or behavior, to the end-game of social scientific description itself. Note that any serious development of the concept must eventually assume a theory of meaning as its foundation [see Gurwitsch:1985]. Without such a foundational underpinning, both the traditional social scientist and the ethnomethodologist are relegated to merely telling stories around the campfire (see Brooks:1974).
  • Reflexivity.
  • Documentary method of interpretation. The Documentary Method is the method of understanding utilized by everyone engaged in trying to make sense of their social world - this includes the ethnomethodologist. Garfinkel recovered the concept from the work of Karl Mannheim (1993), and repeatedly demonstrates the use of the method in the case studies appearing in his central text, Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967). Mannheim defined the term as a search for an identical homologous pattern of meaning underlying a variety of totally different realizations of that meaning. Garfinkel states that the documentary method of interpretation consists of treating an actual appearance as the "document of", "as pointing to", as "standing on behalf of", a presupposed underlying pattern (Garfinkel:1967:78). These "documents" serve to constitute the underlying pattern, but are themselves interpreted on the basis of what is already known about that underlying pattern. This seeming paradox is quite familiar to hermeneuticians who understand this phenomenon as a version of the hemeneutic circle (Okrent:1988:157-172). This phenomenon is also subject to analysis from the perspective of Gestalt theory [part/whole relationships], and the phenomenological theory of perception (see Gurwitsch:1964:202-227).
  • Ethnomethodology's field of investigation. For ethnomethodology the topic of study is the social practices of real people in real settings, and the methods by which these people produce and maintain a shared sense of social order (Garfinkel:2002:117).

[edit] References

  • Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Malden MA: Polity Press/Blackwell Publishing. 1984. (ISBN 0-7456-0005-0) (first published in 1967). The classic original statement of the ethnomethodological project.
  • Harold Garfinkel, Ethnomethodology's Program, New York: Rowman and Littlefield. 2002.(ISBN 0-7425-1642-3). A turn of the century review, assessment and extension of the ethnomethodological project.
  • William Blattner, Heidegger's Being and Time, Continuum, 2006. The most accessible of the quality introductions to Heidegger's central text currently available.
  • Taylor Carman, Merleau-Ponty, Routledge, 2008. The most accessible of the quality introductions to Merleau-Ponty's philosophy currently available. Note that Merleau-Ponty attended the lectures of Aron Gurwitsch in Paris in the 1930s, and that Gurwitsch's ideas are well represented in M-Ps early texts - although not sourced.
  • Emile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, Free Press, (1895)/1982. No mention of this author appears in Studies (1967).
  • Jean Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics, Yale UP, 1994. The most accessible of the quality introductions to hermeneutic philosophy currently avaialble.
  • Aron Gurwitsch, The Field of Consciousness, Duquesne University Press, 1964 [out-of-print]. Ethnomethodology's Urtext. Garfinkel: ' can't do anything unless his texts' (2002:167). This instruction should be taken seriously as phenomena of order [social orders] have gestalt-like / phenomenological properties. This text provides the original and best available description of these properties. Only a single mention of this author [no text reference] appears in Studies (1967:ix).
  • Aron Gurwitsch, "Outlines of a Theory of 'Essentially Occasional Expressions'" (ca. 1950), in, Marginal Consciousness, Duquesne University Press, 1985 [out-of-print]. The defining document for the concept of Indexicality [Occasional Expressions]. No mention of this document appears in Studies (1967).
  • Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, Harper and Row, 1962. Division One: ppgs. 13-269. The context for the concept of "social practices", and the foundation for "breaching experiments" [the broken hammer analogy] are to be found here. No mention of this text or author appears in Studies (1967).
  • John Heritage, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Cambridge:Polity. 1991.(ISBN 0-7456-0060-3). A history of, and commentary on ethnomethodology by one of its leading exponents.
  • Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Northwestern UP, 1970. The classic statement of the phenomenological project by the father of transcendental phenomenology. Only a single mention of this author and no reference to any text appears in Studies (1967).
  • Doug Maynard / Steve Clayman, "The Diversity of Ethnomethodology", ASR, V.17,pp. 385-418. 1991. A survey of various ethnomethodological approaches to the study of social practices.
  • Karl Mannheim, "On the Interpretation of Weltanschauung" (1952),in, From Karl Mannheim (ed. Kurt Wolf), Transaction Publishers, 1993. The defining document for the concept of the Documentary Method of Inerpretation. Do not overlook the footnotes to the works of Wilhelm Dilthey [hermeneutics] and Edmund Husserl [phenomenology] appearing in this monograph.
  • Mark Okrent, Heidegger's Pragmatism, Cornell University Press, 1988. The section cited above is essential reading for all those engaged in interpretive sociology.
  • George Psathas, "Talk and Social Structure", and, "Studies of Work", in, Human Studies, 18: 139-155. 1995. Typology of ethnomethodolical studies of social practices.
  • Alfred Schütz, Collected Papers Vol. I: The Problem of Social Reality, Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, 1962. Classic essays on phenomenological social theory.
  • Robert Sokolowski, Introduction to Phenomenology, Cambridge UP. 2000. The most accessible of the quality introductions to Husserlian phenomenology currently available.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

  • Ethno/CA News A primary source for ethnomethodology and conversation analysis information and resources.
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