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Related to Enthomethodology: Symbolic interactionism


The theoretical and specialist approach within sociology, initiated by Harold GARFINKEL, which sets out to uncover the methods (members’ methods) and social competence that we, as members of social groups, employ in constructing our sense of social reality Ethnomethodologists claim that mainstream sociologists have failed to study, or even to show any awareness of, members’ possession of social competence, treating members merely as ‘cultural dopes’, rather than acknowledging that social reality is created by individuals.

For ethnomethodologists, social reality is always to be seen as the ‘rational accomplishment’ of individuals. Whereas conventional sociologists, e.g. DURKHEIM in Suicide or the symbolic interactionists, are seen as taking actors’ capacity to construct ‘meanings’ merely as an unexamined ‘resource’, ethnomethodology makes the ‘methods’ and TACIT KNOWLEDGE that members possess into a ‘topic’ for analysis. What ethnomethodologists seek to do is to analyse the ACCOUNTS provided by members in particular contexts (hence the extensive use of transcripts of ordinary conversation). In this, there are some similarities and continuities with SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM. Beyond this, however, ethnomethodologists have sought to reveal the more universal recurring members’ methods involved in ‘doing’ social life, e.g. organized ‘turn-taking’ in talk (see also CONVERSATION ANALYSIS, SACKS).

While ethnomethodology claims to have arrived at universal generalizations, the form of these generalizations (e.g. indicating a persistent indexicality (see INDEXICAL EXPRESSION) in members’ accounts) suggests that the type of generalizations traditionally sought by sociology are unlikely to be achieved, or at least the claims for them are premature. By the same token, many of the research methods and assumptions about method and measurement in conventional sociology are criticized by ethnomethodologists as involving MEASUREMENT BY FIAT (see A. Cicourel, 1964).

Although ethnomethodology was at first presented as an alternative to conventional sociology, the insights drawn from it have in many instances been incorporated into more mainstream approaches, notably in the work of Anthony GIDDENS (1976a and subsequently) – see also STRATIFICATIONAL MODEL OF SOCIAL ACTION AND CONSCIOUSNESS, DOUBLE HERMENEUTIC. By far the best general overview of ethnomethodology is J. Heritage, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology (1984). See also FIXED-CHOICE QUESTIONNAIRES, AGGREGATE DATA ANALYSIS. OFFICIAL STATISTICS. PRACTICAL REASONING.