'Ethnomethodology' seems like one of those
ridiculously long words sociologists invent to make it look like
they are doing something, and it is. Like Chris Evans, it makes
sense when you take it apart, so:
Hence, the study of the means by which people maintain the social
Like all successful American
inventions, ethnomethodology is something that started in Europe
and has now been repackaged by the Yanks and sold back to us at
twice the price. Ethnomethothingy developed from the work of the
phenomenological philosopher Edmund Husserl. Phenomenology opposed
scientific positivism, for whose sociological representatives see
Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. It sought to restore the conncetion
between knowledge and our everyday understanding of the world.
Fast forward a century, and Garfinkel,
one half of the pop duo Simon and Garfinkel, was establishing the
school of ethnomethodology in opposition to the dominant, positivist,
structural-functionalism which ruled the roost in sociology in the
1960s. The latter has society as existing outside and above individuals,
as some greater law to which they adhere in day to day interaction
In contrast ethnomethodology claims that the social order is constructed
out of the everyday interactions and common-sense understandings
of individuals. The crucial thing is that these common sense understandings
are inherently unstable, are not fixed and certain, and have to
be recreated in each everyday interaction.
The way Harold Garfinkel illustrated
this was with a series of 'breaching' experiments whereby the accepted
rules of a social situation would be broken. For example he got
his students to cheat at knots and crosses (or tic-tac-toe as he
irritatingly calls it). Convetional rule-book sociologists would
assume that the social order would break down in such a situation.
In fact, the other participants incorporated the beaking of the
rules into the game - usually by breaking the rules themselves.
Precisely because it is to such a great extent a direct creation
of its members, society is more robust than conventional, positivist,
sociologists allow for.