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Ethnomethodology is an ethnographic approach to sociological inquiry introduced by the American sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917-2011). Ethnomethodology's research interest is the study of the everyday methods people use for the production of [[social structure (Garfinkel:2002). Ethnomethodology's goal is to document the methods and practices through which society’s members make sense of their world.[1]

Anne Rawls [editor of Garfinkel's Nachlass] provides the obligatory terminological breakdown: " "Ethno" refers to members of a social or cultural group and "method" refers to the things member's routinely do to create and recreate various recognizable social actions or social practices. "Ology", as in the word "sociology", implies the study of, or the logic of, these methods. Thus, ethnomethodology means the study of members' methods for producing recognizable social orders" (Rawls:2000:123).

Garfinkel coined the term ′ethnomethodology′ in 1954 while preparing a paper describing some of his early research on juries.[2] Drawing an analogy with areas of inquiry such as ethnobotany, ethnophysiology, and ethnomusicology, he proposed that ethnomethodology might serve as an appropriate term for the study of, “a member’s knowledge of his ordinary affairs, of his own organized enterprises, where that knowledge is treated by us [as researchers] as part of the same setting that makes it orderable.” [3]

For example, investigating the conduct of jury members, an ethnomethodologist would seek to describe the commonsense methods through which members of a jury produce themselves in a jury room as jurors: methods for establishing matters of fact; methods for developing evidence chains; methods for determining the reliability of witness testimony; methods for establishing the hierarchy of speakers in the jury room; methods for determining the guilt or innocence of defendants, etc. (see Garfinkel:1967). Such methods, taken individually, in combination, or collectively, depending on the scope of the investigation, would serve to constitute the social order of being a juror for the participants, and researcher(s), in that specific social setting [see below: "Some leading policies...": "Social Orders"]. For the ethnomethodologist, participants bring order to social settings - make them orderable - through the sense making activities of their shared methods and practices as witnessably enacted in those settings.

In this way, ethnomethodology points to a broad and multi-faceted area of inquiry. John Heritage writes, “In it’s open-ended reference to [the study of] any kind of sense-making procedure, the term represents a signpost to a domain of uncharted dimensions rather than a staking out of a clearly delineated territory.”[4]

Origins of ethnomethodology

Theoretical concerns, influences and resources used in the development of ethnomethodology include: traditional sociological concerns, especially the Parsonian [Talcott Parsons], "Problem of Order"; traditional sociological theory and methods, primarily Parsons, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber; Aron Gurwitsch's phenomenological field theory of consciousness / Gestalt Psychology; the Transcendental Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl; Alfred Schutz's Phenomenology of the Natural Attitude; Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of embodiment, Martin Heidegger's phenomenology of being / Existential Phenomenology; and Ludwig Wittgenstein's investigations regarding ordinary language use (Heritage: 1986; Garfinkel: 2002).

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

Theory and methods

One of the most perplexing problems for those new to ethnomethodology is the discovery that it lacks both a formally stated theory and a formal 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".[5]

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.[6]

Instead, as in the case of, Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), we are given oblique theoretical references to: Wittgenstein [Ordinary Language Philosophy]; Husserl [Transcendental Phenomenology]; Gurwitsch [Phenomenology/Gestalt Theory]; the works of the social phenomeonologist Alfred Schutz [Phenomenology of the Natural Attitude]; and an assortment of traditional social theorists generally appearing as antipodes and/or sounding boards for ethnomethodological ideas.

Likewise in, Ethnomethodology's Program (2002), we again find a multiplicity of theoretical references, including the usual suspects from Studies, and introducing among others [Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, etc.], a key theoretical statement by Emile Durkheim regarding the objectivity of social facts, and a key insight into ethomethodology's way of doing theory.

This statement by Durkheim, although not a fully worked out theory or directive in its original form, or conceived as an aphorism for that matter, becomes, in the hands of Garfinkel, a theoretical directive - an "aphorism" - regarding both the object of ethnomethodological studies, and the focus of ethnomethodological description. For this interpretation, Garfinkel "appropriates" Durkheim's statement, "misreads" it ethnomethodologically (2002:112:fn#36 / see below:"Some leading policies...": "Misreading [A text]"), and transforms its meaning through its "respecification" into an ethnomethodologically useful directive for ethnomethodological studies.

Durkheim's statement: "...our basic principle, that of the objective reality of social facts. It is...upon this principle that in the end everything rests, and everything comes back to it" (Durkheim:1895:45 - as cited from Rawls/Garfinkel:2002:2:fn#2).

Rawls/Garfinkel's characterization: "Durkheim's aphorism refers to Durkheim's statement in, The Rules of Sociological Method, to the effect that, 'The objective reality of social facts is sociology's fundamental principle'" (2002:9,119).

"Misreading" Durkheim's statement in the context of, as juxtaposed to, or read against, the fundamental assumption of ethnomethodological studies [see below: "Some leading policies..."], produces an ethnomethodological "respecification" of Durkheim's statement [a rationale w/a strictly textual reading is also offered (Rawls/Garfinkel:2002:19-22; Garfinkel:2002:118-119:fn#46)].

Garfinkel writes: "Ethnomethodology's fundamental phenomenon and it's standing technical preoccupation in its studies is to find, collect, specify, and make instructably observable the local endogenous production and natural accountablility of immortal familiar society's most ordinary organizational things in the world, and to provide for them both and simultaneously, as objects, and procedurally, as alternate methods" (Garfinkel:2002:124).

"Durkheim's aphorism", now ethnomethodologically respecified, directs us to account for this, "objective reality of social facts" (Durkheim), these, "organizational things in the world" (Garfinkel), as, social "objects", and their, in situ "methods" of production; that is, in terms of their factual status as, "organizational things in the world", and simultaneously, as methodic achievements by real individuals in actual social settings.

This, in a nutshell, becomes the central tenet of ethnomethodology's research program: "working out Durkheim's aphorism" (2002:118-119:fn#46). Rawls states: "According to Garfinkel, the result of Ethnomethodological studies is the fulfillment of Durkheim's promise that the objective reality of social facts is sociology's fundamental principle" (Rawls/Garfinkel:2002:9). As such, ethnomethodology's programmatic directive becomes," restore Sociology to the pursuit of Durkheim's aphorism, through an insistence on the concreteness of things [as opposed to theoretical and conceptual constructionism (see Garfinkel:2002:50-52)], and on the claim that the concreteness of things necessarily depends on, and is produced in and through, complex mutually recognizable practices enacted by participants in social scenes" (Rawls/Garfinkel:2002:2).

Such a reading serves to locate ethnomethodology firmly in the sociological tradition, if not de facto serving to appropriate that tradition [despite periodic declarations to the contrary], and serves as an example of ethnomethodological theorizing, but it does not in itself, or combined with any or all of the other references, constitute a unified theoretical statement in any traditional sense.

The larger point here is that the authors and theoretical references cited in Garfinkel's work do not themselves serve as a rigorous theoretical underpining for ethnomethodology, in whole or in part. Ethnomethodology is not Durkheimian, although it shares some of the interests of Durkheim; it is not a form of 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 a version of Wittgenstein's Ordinary Language Analysis, 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", "misread", and/or, "respecified", the theoretical ideas of others 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.[7] That is, it does not have a set of formal research methods or procedures. Instead, the position taken is that ethnomethodologists have conducted their studies in a variety of ways,[8] 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".[9]

As Rawls states: " not a methodology, but rather a study of methodology" (Rawls/Garfinkel:2002:122:fn.#3). That is, it does not itself have a formal methodology, but is the study of, "member's methods", the methods of others (Garfinkel:2002:72-73). Michael Lynch has also noted that: "Leading figures in the field have repeatedly emphasized that there is no obligatory set of methods [employed by ethnomethodologists], and no prohibition against using any research procedure whatsoever, if it is adequate to the particular phenomena under study" (Lynch:1989; see Garfinkel:2002:175-176, Wieder/Garfinkel:1992:175-206).

Again, as perplexing as this position might seem to a traditional social scientist, such a proposition is consistent with ethnomethodology's understanding of "member's methods", and has philosophical standing when looked at in terms of certain lines of philosophical thought regarding the philosophy of science (Polyani:1974; Kuhn:1996; Feyerabend:1975/2010), and the study of the actual practices of scientific procedure (Lynch:1993).

Some leading policies, methods and definitions

  • The Fundamental Assumption of Ethnomethodological Studies. As characterized by Anne Rawls, speaking for Garfinkel: "If one assumes, as Garfinkel does, that the meaningful, patterned, and orderly character of everyday life is something that people must work 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" (Rawls/Garfinkel: 2002:6).
  • Ethnomethodology is an Empirical Enterprise. Rawls states: "Ethnomethodology is a thoroughly empirical enterprise devoted to the discovery of social order and intelligibility [sense making] as witnessable collective achievements." "The keystone of the [Ethnomethodological] argument is that local [social] orders exist; that these orders are witnessable in the scenes in which they are produced; and that the possibility of [their] intelligibility is based on the actual existence and detailed enactment of these orders" (Rawls:2000:146).
  • 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.[10][11] 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. This is 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 hermeneutic circle as the defining "methodology" of social understanding for both lay persons and social scientists.[12]
  • 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. For 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 road users. 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.[13]
  • 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. This is in opposition to the idea that such questions are best answered by a sociologist. 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.
  • Durkheim's Aphorism. Durkheim famously recommended: "...our basic principle, that of the objectivity of social facts" (Durkheim:1895/1982:S.45 - as cited in Garfinkel/Rawls:2002:2:fn#2). This is usually taken to mean that we should assume the objectivity of social facts as a principle 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.[14] An ethnomethodological respecification of Durkheim's statement via a "misreading" [see below] of his quote appears above. There is also a textual link/rationale provided in the literature (Rawls/Garfinkel:2002:ppgs.19-22). Both links involve a leap of faith on the part of the reader; that is, we don't believe that one method for this interpretation is necessarily better than the other, or that one form of justification for such an interpretation outweighs its competitor.
  • Accounts. Accounts are the ways members signify, describe or explain the properties of a specific social situation. They can consist of both verbal and non-verbal objectifications. They are always both indexical to the situation in which they occur [see below], and, simultaneously reflexive - they serve to constitute that situation. An account can consist of something as simple as a wink of the eye, a material object evidencing a state of affairs [documents, etc.], or something as complex as a story detailing the boundaries of the universe.
  • Indexicality. The concept of Indexicality is a key core concept for Ethnomethodology. Garfinkel states that it was derived from the concept of indexical expressions appearing in ordinary language philosophy (1967), wherein a statement is considered to be indexical insofar as it is dependent for its sense upon the context in which it is embedded (Bar-Hillel:1954:359-379). 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.[15][16] 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.[17]
  • Interocitor.
  • Misreading [A text]. Misreading a text, or fragments of a text, does not denote making an erroneous reading of a text in whole or in part. As Garfinkel states, it means to denote an, "alternate reading", of a text or fragment of a text. As such, the original and its misreading do not, "...translate point to point", but, "...instead, they go together" (Garfinkel:2002:112:fn#36). No criteria are offered for the translation of an original text and its misreading - the outcome of such translations are in Garfinkel's term: "incommensurable" (Garfinkel:2002:112:fn#36). The misreading of texts or fragments of texts is a standard feature of ethnomethodology's way of doing theory, especially in regards to topics in phenomenology.
  • Reflexivity. Despite the fact that many sociologists use "reflexivity" as a synonym for "self-reflection," the way the term is used in ethnomethodology is different: it is meant "to describe the acausal and non-mentalistic determination of meaningful action-in-context."[18] (See also reflexivity (social theory).)
  • 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 [19] 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.[20] 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.[21] This phenomenon is also subject to analysis from the perspective of Gestalt theory [part/whole relationships], and the phenomenological theory of perception.[22]
  • Social Orders. Theoretically speaking, the object of ethnomethodological research is social order taken as a group members' concern. Methodologically, social order is made available for description in any specific social setting as an accounting of specific social orders: the sensible coherencies of accounts that order a specific social setting for the participants relative to a specific social project to be realized in that setting. Social orders themselves are made available for both participants and researchers through phenomena of order: the actual accounting of the partial [adumbrated] appearances of these sensibly coherent social orders. These appearances [parts, adumbrates] of social orders are embodied in specific accounts, and employed in a particular social setting by the members of the particular group of individuals party to that setting. Specific social orders have the same properties as identified by A. Gurwitsch in his discussion of the constituent features of the perceptual noema, and, by extension, the same relationships of meaning described in his account of Gestalt Contextures (see Gurwitsch:1964:228-279/2010). As such, it is little wonder that Garfinkel states: "you can't do anything unless you do read his texts" (Garfinkel:2002:167).
  • 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.[23]

Ethnomethodology and traditional sociology

Core differences between traditional sociology and ethnomethodology are:

1. While traditional sociology usually offers an analysis of society which takes the facticity [factual character, objectivity] of the social order for granted, ethnomethodology is concerned with the procedures [practices, methods] 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 actual procedures [practices, methods] these individuals use in their actual descriptions of those settings.

3. While Structural Functionalist research programs methodically impose pre-existing analytical schemata on their fields of study; Symbolic Interactionist programs assume the facticity of the symbols being interpreted by actors party to social scenes; and various forms of Social Constructionism assume the objective character of the building blocks that make up their descriptions of social structures (and then work retrospectively to account for these social constructions in terms of an elaborate conceptual apparatus consisting of, "the formal properties of consciousness", "meaning structures", and "(inter)subjectivity", etc.); Ethnomethodology specifically avoids engaging with these types of taken-for-granted programmatic assumptions and descriptive resources in it's descriptions of social scenes.

In contrast to traditional sociological forms of inquiry, it is a hallmark of the Ethnomethodological perspective that it does not make theoretical or methodological appeals to: outside assumptions regarding the structure of an actor or actors' characterization of social reality; refer to the subjective states of an individual or groups of individuals; attribute conceptual projections such as, "value states" / "sentiments" / "goal orientations" / "mini-max economic theories of behavior", etc., to any actor or group of actors; or posit a "normative order" as a transcendental feature of social scenes, etc.

For the Ethnomethodologist, the methodic realization of social scenes takes place within the actual setting under scrutiny, and is structured by the participants in that setting through the reflexive accounting of that setting's features. The job of the Ethnomethodologist is to describe the methodic character of these activities, not account for them in a way that transcends that which is made available in and through the actual accounting practices of the individuals party to 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 [the] procedures for their endogenous production and accountability" (2002:72).

Although the language has changed, the message remains the same: social orders are identical with the procedures [practices, methods] 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.

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

Ethnomethodology and phenomenology

Even though ethnomethodology has been characterized as having a "phenomenological sensibility"[24], and reliable commentators have acknowledged that, "there is a strong influence of phenomenology on ethnomethodology..." (Maynard/, 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 [including Garfinkel], 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" (2002:112:fn#36), for the purposes of exploring topics in the study of social order (2002:176-179; 255-258). These appropriations and methodical "misread[ings]" of phenomenological texts and findings are clearly made for the purposes of furthering ethnomethodological analyses (2002:177), and should not be mistaken for logical extensions of these phenomenological texts and findings (2002:112:fn.#36).

Lastly, there is no claim in any of Garfinkel's work that ethnomethodology is a form of phenomenology, or phenomenological sociology. To state that ethnomethodology has a, "phenomenological sensibility", or that, "there is a strong influence of phenomenology on ethnomethodology", is not the equivalent of describing ethnomethodology as a form of phenomenology (see Garfinkel/Liberman:2007:3-7).

This having been said, one should also note that even though ethnomethodology is not a form of phenomenology, the reading and understanding of phenomenological texts, and developing the capability of seeing phenomenologically is essential to the actual doing of ethnomethodological studies. As Garfinkel states in regard to the work of the phenomenologist Aron Gurwitsch, especially his, "Field of Consciousness" (1964/2010: ethnomethodology's phenomenological urtext): "you can't do anything unless you do read his texts" (Garfinkel:2002:167).

Ethnomethodology (EM) and conversation analysis (CA)

The relationship between EM and CA has always been somewhat contentious in terms of boundaries. The clearest single statement appearing in the literature, from an orthodox EM perspective, appears in Rawls' formulation spanning pages 40–41 of, Ethnomethodology's Program [Rawls/Garfinkel:2002].

Unpacking Rawls' statement, we can note two essential distinctions:

[1] In as much as the study of social orders is, "inexorably intertwined", with the constitutive features of talk about those social orders, EM is committed to an interest in both conversational talk, and the role this talk plays in the constitution of that order; think indexicality / reflexivity here and the essential embeddedness of talk in a specific social order, and the role of the reflexivity of accounts in the constitution of that order. It is in this sense that Rawls states that, "Conversational Analysis is not separate from Ethnomethodology" [2002:41]. Such a position is wholly consistent with the orthodox EM literature, and posts as nothing new to any orthodox ethnomethodologist - one who follows the teachings of Garfinkel.

[2] On the other hand, where the study of conversational talk is divorced from its situated context, and de-linked from its reflexive character in terms of constituting a specific social order - that is, as it takes on the character of a purely "technical method", and, "formal analytic enterprise in its own right" [2002:41] - it is not a form of ethnomethodology understood in any orthodox sense. The "danger" of misunderstanding here, as Rawls notes, is that CA in this sense, becomes just another formal analytic enterprise, like any other formal method which brings an analytical toolbox of preconceptions, formal definitions, and operational procedures to the situation/setting under study. It might further be noted that when such analytical concepts are generated from within one setting, and conceptually applied (generalized) to another, the (re)application represents a violation of the orthodox EM position regarding the ethnomethodological description of a given social order, as it ignores the essential/fundamental EM principle of the embeddedness of talk in a specifically situated social order.

In general, we can say the following: [1] Both EM and CA are independent forms of investigation; [2] There is no necessary connection between EM and CA studies in terms of principles or methods; [3] EM and CA studies may overlap in terms of interests and projects; [4] CA studies must adhere to the foundational tenants of EM studies in order to be considered properly ethnomethodological; [5] EM studies may utilize CA methods , as anecdotal descriptions, as substantive findings (when in conformity with foundational EM principles), or as supplemental findings germane to the in situ findings of a particular EM study; and, [6] Both disciplines can function very well without the other, but in as much as their interests coincide in any given instance, both can profit from the understanding of the others investigational methods and findings.

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.[25] Article is available online.

Reference Work: "Garfinkel", Sage "Masters" series (2003:4Vols:approx.1500 pages). Compendium of theoretical papers, ethnomethodological studies, and discussions, edited by M.Lynch & W. Sharrock. Table of contents is available on the publisher's website.

Reference Work: "Ethnomethodology", Sage "Research" series (2011:4Vols:approx. 1500 pages). Compendium of theoretical papers, ethnomethodological studies, and discussions, edited by M.Lynch & W. Sharrock. Table of contents is available on the publisher's website.

See also


  1. Garfinkel, Harold. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967.
  2. Interview with Garfinkel in Hill, R. J., & Crittenden, K. S. (Eds.). (1968). Proceedings of the Purdue Symposium on Ethnomethodology. Lafayette, IN: Institute for the Study of Social Change, Dept. of Sociology.
  3. In Hill and Crittenden (1968). Page 10.
  4. Heritage, J. (1984). Garfinkel and ethnomethodology. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press. Page 5.
  5. 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. Page 413-418.
  6. John Heritage, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Cambridge:Polity. 1991.(ISBN 0-7456-0060-3). Page 1
  7. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Page 6.
  8. 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.
  9. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Page 6.
  10. Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Malden MA: Polity Press/Blackwell Publishing. 1984. (ISBN 0-7456-0005) (first published in 1967). Page: 33
  11. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Page 170-171.
  12. Mark Okrent, Heidegger's Pragmatism, Cornell University Press, 1988. Pages 157-172
  13. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Pages 8, 32.
  14. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Pages 117-118.
  15. Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Malden MA: Polity Press/Blackwell Publishing. 1984. (ISBN 0-7456-0005) (first published in 1967). Page: 4-7
  16. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Pages 204-207.
  17. Brooks:1974
  18. Michael Lynch, Mark Peyrot. "Introduction: A reader's guide to ethnomethodology". Qualitative Sociology. Springer Netherlands. 2005.
  19. Karl Mannheim, "On the Interpretation of Weltanschauung" (1952),in, From Karl Mannheim (ed. Kurt Wolf), Transaction Publishers, 1993.
  20. Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Malden MA: Polity Press/Blackwell Publishing. 1984. (ISBN 0-7456-0005) (first published in 1967). Page: 78
  21. Mark Okrent, Heidegger's Pragmatism, Cornell University Press, 1988. Pages 157-172
  22. Aron Gurwitsch, The Field of Consciousness, Duquesne University Press, 1964 [out-of-print].Pages 202-227
  23. Harold Garfinkel (2002). Ethnomethodology's Program. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 0742516423. Page 117.
  24. 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. Page 388.
  25. 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.


  • 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.
  • Coen Brothers, "Blood Simple", Film, MGM, 1984. There are unavoidable problems with any theory based on the interpretation of meaning, understanding, and the ambiguity of social reality.
  • Emile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, Free Press, (1895)/1982. In this text, Durkheim is clearly a Positivist, in the tradition of Comte. Garfinkel isn't.
  • Paul Feyerabend, Against Method, Verso:London, 1975/2010. For those perplexed by the fact that EM does not profess to have a formal method.
  • Gorgias of Leontini, "On Being" (or, "On Nature"), 5th Century B.C., in, Companion to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, K. Freeman, Harvard UP, 1966. For those who think that anti-foundationalism is a 4th century [BC] phenomenon.
  • Jean Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics, Yale UP, 1994. A short, high quality introduction to hermeneutic philosophy spanning the history of the discipline from the Greeks through Gadamer.
  • Harold Garfinkel/Ken Liberman, "Introduction: The Lebenswelt Origins of the Sciences", Human Studies, 2007, 30:3-7. A prime example of ethnomethodology's, "appropriation", "misread(ing)", and "respecification", of phenomenological topics for the purposes of doing ethnomethodology. Article is available online.
  • 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]. This item, along with Gurwitsch's, The Field of Consciousness (1964), is now available again (back in print) in, The Collected Works of Aron Gurwitsch, V. III, Springer, 2010. As Garfinkel states (2002:167): " can't do anything unless you do read his texts".
  • 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).
  • Werner Herzog, "How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck", Short Films by Werner Herzog, New Yorker Films, 1977. The ultimate statement on the reflexive accounting of an actual social scene: a livestock auction. Follow it up with Frederick Wiseman's classic, "Meat", 1976. The structure of "Meat" clearly shows the delineation of a concrete social order. Vegans be warned!
  • Burt Hopkins, The Philosophy of Husserl, McGill-Queens University Press, 2011. A new, strikingly coherent and readable exposition of the Husserlian project from its origins in Greek philosophy to contemporary concerns with the problem of the historical nature of knowledge. An excellent backgound read as a supplement to Sokolowski's more methodological focus. Ends once and for all the notion that Husserlian phenomenology is a-historical and solely a form of Platonic / transcendental idealism.
  • Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, 2 Vols., Humanity Books, Amherst (NY), 2000. Famously misinterpreted by Dilthey as providing a methodology for a "hermeneutic sociology". Read from the point of view of a mundane [non-transcendental] phenomenology of the social world, he might have very well been right. Weberians should not overlook this text. Heidegger's favorite Husserlian text, especially the 6th Investigation.
  • 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).
  • Georg G. Iggers, The German Conception of History:The National Tradition of Historical Thought From Herder to the Present, Wesleyan University Press, 1968 [out-of-print]. This text sets the historical context for the floundering of the social sciences in the 20th century. A Weberian essential.
  • Don Ihde, Experimental Phenomenology, SUNY: NY, 1986. Phenomenological interpretations of various visual phenomenon that are essential to the understanding of the phenomenological theory of perception, and ethnomethodology. Should have become a standard ethnomethodological text - along with Gurwitsch's Field (1964/2010).
  • H.Kramer/J.Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum:The Hammer of Witches, Dover, 1484 [15th Century]. The original witchhunters' guide on how to recognize, capture, torture, and execute witches. An overlooked gold mine of a[n] [ethno]methodology text. A Feyerabend favorite.
  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago UP, 1996.
  • Michael Lynch, Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action: Ethnomethodology and Social Studies of Science, Cambridge UP, 1993.
  • Michael Lynch, The Social Science Encyclopedia, Routledge, 2nd Ed., 1989. Article is available on line.
  • Michael Lynch/Wes Sharrock, Harold Garfinkel, 4 Volumes, Sage, 2003.
  • Michael Lynch/Wes Sharrock, Ethnomethdology, 4 Volumes, Sage, 2011.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense". For those who think that anti-foundationalism is a 20th century phenomenon. Article is available online.
  • Richard Polt, Heidegger: An Introduction, Cornell UP, 1999. A short, crystal clear introduction to Heidegger's phenomenology. Our concern here is Division I [ppgs. 1-80]. For those seeking more detail, see Hubert Dreyfus, Being-In-The-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division I, MIT Press, 1991.
  • George Psathas, "Talk and Social Structure", and, "Studies of Work", in, Human Studies, 18: 139-155. 1995. Typology of ethnomethodological studies of social practices.
  • Anne Rawls, "Harold Garfinkel", Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists, ed. G. Ritzer. Blackwell: London, 2000. Probably the best short introduction to Ethnomethodology extant. Article is available online.
  • Lawrence K. Schmidt, Understanding Hermeneutics, Acumen, 2006. Another unusually straightforward quality introduction to hermeneutics. This one starts with Schleiermacher and goes forward [Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, etc.]. It thus differs from Grondin in that it does not cover the historical origins of the discipline. Reading both this and Grondin will do the reader no harm, as this is essential material for both ethnomethodologists and Weberians.
  • Alfred Schütz, Collected Papers Vol. I: The Problem of Social Reality, Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, 1962. Classic essays on phenomenological social theory. There are additional volumes II-V.
  • Robert Sokolowski, Introduction to Phenomenology, Cambridge UP. 2000. The most accessible of the quality introductions to Husserlian phenomenology currently available.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, Wiley-Blackwell, 1991. This one first, then the Investigations.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

External links

Sociological_Theory/Ethnomethodology may have more about this subject.

  • Ethno/CA News A primary source for ethnomethodology and conversation analysis information and resources.
  • The Australian Institute for Conversation Analysis and Ethnomethodology.
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