- < ethno – method – (o)logy,
- ethno refers to a particular socio-cultural group ;
- method refers to the methods and practices this particular group employs in its everyday activities ; and
- (o)logy (from the greek ‘logos’), refers to the systematic description of these methods and practices.
- …..the ethnomethodological interest is in the “how” [the methods and practices] of the production and maintenance of this social order.
- In essence ethnomethology attempts to create classifications of the social actions of individuals within groups through drawing on the experience of the groups directly, without imposing on the setting the opinions of the researcher with regards to social order, as is the case with sociological studies
- Anne Rawls states: “Ethnomethodology is the study of the methods people use for producing recognizable social orders” (Garfinkel, 2002:6).
- 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.
- The approach was originally 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.
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?
Theory and methods
- One of the most perplexing problems for those new to analysing data using ethnomethodology is that it lacks both a formally stated theory and an agreed upon process. 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” (Maynard & Clayman,1991:385-418).
- 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 .
- 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, and that the point of these investigations is, ‘ …to discover the things that persons in particular situations do, the methods they use, to create the patterned orderliness of social life’ (Garfinkel ,2002:6).
Some leading policies, methods and definitions
- 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.
- Account. Accounts are the ways members describe or explain specific situations. Accounting is the process of describing or explaining social situations or how members make sense of their everyday world.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.”
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 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. These “documents” serve to constitute the underlying pattern, but are themselves interpreted on the basis of what is already known about that underlying pattern.
- 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