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Post Ethnomethodology

Ethnomethodology is the study of how social order is produced in and through processes of social interaction. It generally seeks to provide an alternative to mainstream sociological approaches. In its most radical form, it poses a challenge to the social sciences as a whole. Its early investigations led to the founding of conversation analysis, which has found its own place as an accepted discipline within the academy. According to Psathas, it is possible to distinguish five major approaches within the ethnomethodological family of disciplines (see Varieties).
Ethnomethodology provides methods which have been used in ethnographic studies to produce accounts of people's methods for negotiating everyday situations. It is a fundamentally descriptive discipline which does not engage in the explanation or evaluation of the particular social order undertaken as a topic of study. However, applications have been found within many applied disciplines, such as software design and management studies.
Origin and scope
The approach was originally developed by Harold Garfinkel, who attributed its origin to his work investigating the conduct of jury members in 1954. His interest was in describing the common sense methods through which members of a jury produce themselves in a jury room as a jury. Thus, their methods for: establishing matters of fact; developing evidence chains; determining the reliability of witness testimony; establishing the organization of speakers in the jury room itself; and determining the guilt or innocence of defendants, etc. are all topics of interest. Such methods serve to constitute the social order of being a juror for the members of the jury, as well as for researchers and other interested parties, in that specific social setting.
This interest developed out of Garfinkel's critique of Talcott Parsons' attempt to derive a general theory of society. This critique originated in his reading of Alfred Schutz, though Garfinkel ultimately revised many of Schutz's ideas. Garfinkel also drew on his study of the principles and practices of financial accounting; the classic sociological theory and methods of Durkheim and Weber; and the traditional sociological concern with the Hobbesian "problem of order".
For the ethnomethodologist, participants produce the order of social settings through their shared sense making practices. Thus, there is an essential natural reflexivity between the activity of making sense of a social setting and the ongoing production of that setting; the two are in effect identical. Furthermore, these practices (or methods) are witnessably enacted, making them available for study. This opens up a broad and multi-faceted area of inquiry. John Heritage writes, "In its 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."
Theory and methods
Ethnomethodology has perplexed commentators, due to its radical approach to questions of theory and method.
With regard to theory, Garfinkel has consistently advocated an attitude of ethnomethodological indifference, a principled agnosticism with regard to social theory which insists that the shared understandings of members of a social setting under study take precedence over any concepts which a social theorist might bring to the analysis from outside that setting. This can be perplexing to traditional social scientists, trained in the need for social theory. A multiplicity of theoretical references by Anne Rawls, in her introduction to Ethnomethodology's Program, might be interpreted to suggest a softening of this position towards the end of Garfinkel's life. However, the position is consistent with ethnomethodology's understanding of the significance of "member's methods", and with certain lines of philosophical thought regarding the philosophy of science (Polanyi 1958; Kuhn 1970; Feyerabend 1975), and the study of the actual practices of scientific procedure. It also has a strong correspondence with the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially as applied to social studies by Peter Winch. References are also made in Garfinkel's work to Husserl (Transcendental Phenomenology), Gurwitsch (Gestalt Theory), and, most frequently, of course, to the works of the social phenomenologist Alfred Schutz (Phenomenology of the Natural Attitude), among others. On the other hand, the authors and theoretical references cited by Garfinkel do not constitute a rigorous theoretical basis for ethnomethodology. 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.
Similarly, ethnomethodology advocates no formal methods of enquiry, insisting that the research method be dictated by the nature of the phenomenon that is being studied. Ethnomethodologists have conducted their studies in a variety of ways, and 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." Michael Lynch has noted that: "Leading figures in the field have repeatedly emphasised 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".
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