Ethnomethodology Theory Term Paper

Pages: 10 (2885 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Sociology


The social science of sociology is continually changing, due to the ongoing evolution of the society that it is studying. Although different methodologies, such as functionalisms, Marxism and symbolic interactionism have significant differences, they all are based on the premise that the social world is essentially orderly and that patterns of societal behavior and interaction are regular and systematic rather instead of haphazard and chaotic. A recent sociological perspective called ethnomethodology, theorized by Harold Garfinkel in the 1967 Studies in Ethnomethodology studies the ways in which people make sense of their potentially chaotic social world.

When Garfinkel first released his new concept, it made a strong and immediate impact on the field of sociology. However, this early interest and faded, sometimes even replaced by a belief that ethnomethodology has not provided all that is promised. Other fashions have come along, and ethnomethodology lags behind other methodologies in its support and utilization of sociologists. This is not to say, however, that it is not a functioning social science with conducted studies. In fact, although ethnomethodology has only been known for a couple of decades, it now has global interest. In Italy, or example, a growing number of Italian sociologists are now familiar this approach, has been included in part of the courses in sociological thought and inspired contributions in Italian sociological journals (Segre, 2004).

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Also, the basics of ethnomethodology that were established by Garfinkel has since branched off into other variations. These include conversational analysis, originated by Harvey Sacks at the University of California in the 1960s. A more recent development within ethnomethodology is the study of work program, which seeks to investigate individuals' methods and competencies involved in the production of complex activities.

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This modern technology age has also created innovative aspects of ethnomethodology, including tehnmethodology, which is used to describe the relationship between ethnomethodology and design of technology. It is increasingly being understood that observational methods can be a valuable means of informing design (Button & Dourish, 1996). Despite the numerous changes that parts of ethnomethodology have undergone since its conception by Garfinkel, there are now individuals that see the value in this approach and are clearly making progress with it. The most positive aspects of ethnomethodology is that it helps people make sense of what is happening sociologically in the here and now.


When Parsons published the Structure of Social Action, he clearly explained the works of Durkheim and Weber to the English-speaking world and "established orthodoxies relative to these works that stood for several decades" (Ritzer 1988, p. 180). He also outlined his own "voluntaristic" theory that became the foundations for functionalist sociology.

Functionalism affirms the existence of one factual behavioral order caused by another, an order consisting of norms, values, roles, and statuses; socialization and its internalization by societal members causes the behavioral order sociologists can observe. The object was to determine what kinds of norms, processes, and other principles are necessary for socialization to produce social order.

Harold Garfinkel, who was Parsons' student at this time, developed a more innovative approach, by being committed to extreme commitment to empirical studies. Rather than being interested in the kinds of normative networks necessary to sustain family structures, he was concerned with the question "What normative networks are there?" Or "Are there any normative networks?" Or "How can we one see normative networks?" Or even "Actually, where is the family structure?" Garfinkel's "look-and-see" attitude toward social phenomena led him to a distinct empirical sociology that was still based on Parsons' theory and themes of social structure, normative prescription, and shared understandings.

These thoughts led Garfinkel to an area of previously unexamined social phenomena that he called "members' methods" or "artful practices (Garfinkel, 1967) and eventually the term ethnomethodology to stand for these investigations such as the artful practices. He published his conclusions in 1967 in Studies in Ethnomethodology. Basically, these ethnomethodological studies stripped away the functional premises and theoretical orientations so that it was possible to see the "real and actual society" in "the concreteness of things" (Garfinkel 1988, p. 106).

Garfinkel believed that Parsons felt that "the real and actual society... is not to be found in the concreteness of things" but only as the product of formal theory and methodology, or what Garfinkel called "formal, constructive analysis" (p. 106), which offers concepts and categories predetermined by logical necessity and common-sense reasoning. Then, the conjecture of nonempirical factors can tell sociologists what must in someway empirically be. In this way, the theoretically constructed society takes the place of the "concreteness of things" as the "real and actual society" (p.

106). It is this "concreteness of things" that ethnomethodologists began to analyze.


Ethnomethodology was first conceived of and developed by Harold Garfinkel in the 1950s and since then extending in different directions through the 1960s and early 1970s by Harvey Sacks, the founder of Conversation Analysis (CA). Garfinkel wished to respecify sociology's subject matter and methodology. The prevailing school of sociological thought, especially American, at this time was structural or functionalism, mostly developed through the work of Talcott Parsons and the 1937 the Structure of Social Action. Garfinkel (1991, p. 11). refuted this perspective by saying that "ethnomethodology undertook the task of respecifying the production and accountability of immortal, ordinary society" His goal, therefore was more than to argue against Parsons. He also wanted to rely on the views of Parsons as a means by which he could question the very nature of sociology, the questions it addressed, and how it answered them.

One way that ethnomethodologists argued against the standard sociological thought of that day was through rejection of the relationship between practical social action and the sociological "rules" by which stable social order is established and maintained, or "problem of social order." Emil Durkheim, who established the theory of sociology, noted: "The objective reality of social facts is sociology's fundamental principle," from which all sociological rationale and practice followed. Because social facts were, objectively real, sociology could actually study these facts and their consequences. Parsons elaborated on this aspect of Durkheim's thoughts by stating that social order was a matter of concerted action; in performing activities that agree with shared rules and norms, social actors achieve the coordination of their activities.

Garfinkel went even further than just refuting Parson's work. Overall, he did not support the idea that a stable social order naturally and simply came before social facts. He underscored how social order is made to work in the actions of its members. Social order does not just exist, and social action is not just determined from it: Social order and social action cannot be approached independently. By studying social facts based on the everyday actions of people, ethnomethodologists were participating in rational social behavior and how others saw their engagement. The ethnomethodologists argued, "rational social behavior" was noticeable not only to sociology professors who were cognizant of "the rules," but also to those engaged in daily practical actions. All people on a daily basis knows rational social behavior when they see it, even if they are not trained sociologists.

Because they stress that everyday practical action important, these ethnomethodologists are noting that the production of social order is no special activity of certain groups or times, but it is integrated into all aspects of society. This also concludes to facts: First, people go through their everyday accounts of social action, they will be involved with activities that are of interest.. Second, by emphasizing practical social action, attention is drawn to how the practical matters assume a critical role in the knowledge and production of action. Social action understanding was created to help people get the job done.

Ethnomethodologists capture this by saying that human social action is "reflexively accountable -- its show other people it is accountable and does this through its production, reflexivity, rather than a larger social meaningn. In other words, an ordinary social fact, such as saying hello to someone, is observable by using a recognizable greeting "hello" and putting that term in an interactionally organized position within the conversation. The word is a feature of the way it is used instead of just what the word is. The word "hello" can be used to get someone's attention, an inquiry, mark of interest, and a signal of surprise. "The question is the way it is used and how it is heard as being used one way or another. Ethnomethodologists observe that the circumstances in which language performs social action let others recognize the nature of that action. Accountability thus became one of the critical factors of ethnomethodology.


The interesting aspect of ethnomethodology is that is being applied to a wide variety of social behavior -- from education and teaching to online Internet communication. In this way, it has the advantage of being flexible enough to be used as an observational tool for the increasing variety of social life. For example, in a study by Watson (2002), he used ethnomethodology… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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