Notes on the "Santa Barbara School" of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis

Notes on the "Santa Barbara School"


The campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara lies on the California coast about 100 miles from Los Angeles. Since the mid-1960s the Department of Sociology at UCSB has hosted a number of prominent researchers in ethnomethodology / conversation analysis (EM / CA)—a methodologically innovative and theoretically distinctive set of approaches to understanding everyday life and social interaction, then not found in most sociology departments (although this has changed significantly!).

In the 1960s ethnomethodology was just publicly emerging as a ground-breaking form of social analysis, and was wrongly regarded by many outsiders as a “California cult” (Lemert 1998, Social Theory, p. 436). This was a contentious period for ethnomethodological studies. In 1975 Professor Lewis Coser attacked ethnomethodology as a “method in search of a substance” in his presidential address to the American Sociological Association.

Ethnomethodology, in all its varied forms, examines the constitutive features of social activities, exploring how activities are done in concrete moments of everyday life. "Their central recommendation is that the activities whereby members produce and manage settings of organized everyday affairs are identical with members' procedures for making those settings 'account-able'" (Garfinkel 1967: 1).

Distinctive Features of the Santa Barbara School

What follows are some notes on “early” ethnomethodological studies in Santa Barbara. Basically, I chronologically review some of the key ethnomethodological researchers in Santa Barbara, and their students. I also attempt to tease out what some of the distinctive features of the "Santa Barbara School" are.

I will argue that "early" ethnomethodology at UCSB was different from that at other schools, in that:

(1) concerns for detailed analysis of talk and social activity were often supplemented by in-depth ethnographic studies of institutional contexts. Ethnographic materials were often employed to provide a background understanding for detailed focus on interactional particulars;

(2) there was an increased concern for "social structure", and how social "contexts" shape, and are shaped by, situated activities. The organization of situated activity participates in the dialectical relationship between agency and structure in social life.

(3) there was often an explicitly "critical" perspective, and concerns for power and domination. Some of these studies sought not just to understand social activity, but to critique it, and point towards more liberating potentials;

(4) there was often a willingness to dialogue with other "interactionist" approaches, especially that of Erving Goffman and symbolic interactionism;

(5) there was a willingness to address more "mainstream" sociological concerns. The "Santa Barbara School" is concerned with using ethnomethodology and conversation analysis to build a empirically-grounded, social scientific approach to social life, what Harvey Sacks called a "natural observation science" (Sacks 1992).

Of course, not all of the research has these themes, and perhaps no one piece contains them all. Yet, over a 20-year period I believe these concerns are visible in important parts of this corpus of research. I admit up-front that my selective reading of this literature is influenced by my concern to develop a critical interactionist perspective.

Ethnomethodology first emerged from UCLA and the writings ofHarold Garfinkel (b. 1917), and Los Angeles has remained at the center of this innovative form of social analysis, with many well known practitioners including Garfinkel, Emanuel Schegloff (the co-founder of conversation analysis with Harvey Sacks), the late Mel Pollner, John Heritage, Charles and Marjorie “Candy” Goodwin, Michael Moerman and Steve Clayman.

Several other ethnomethodological thinkers greatly influenced its early emergence, including Harvey Sacks, who took his Ph.D. at UC-Berkeley with Erving Goffman, and who taught at UC-Irvine until his death in 1975. Others include Manny Schegloff, Aaron Cicourel, David Sudnow and Mel Pollner.

When I first arrived at UCSB in 1983 I would sometimes hear talk about the “Santa Barbara School” -- as if there was a separate and distinctive approach to studying everyday life at this school, and as if the ethnomethodology being done there was some how different from how it was done at other ethnomethodological graduate training centers, such as Boston University (with George Psathas, and Jeff Coulter) or UCLA. At one point I might have thought that that was true, but I no longer believe that is the case. With the hiring of Professors Gene Lerner in 1991 and Geoffrey Raymond in 2003, the ethnomethodological / conversation analytic work at UCSB is now remarkably similar to that at other schools such as UCLA, and, in my opinion, the influence of Manny Schegloff is more prominent. The quality of these researchers is top notch and the ethnomethodology at Santa Barbara is still excellent, although, in my opinion, less distinctive than it was in the early period (1970-1990). Moreover, Professor Harvey Molotch moved to New York University in 2001, and Professors Don Zimmerman and Thomas Wilson are emeritus, although still active.

But in the 1970s other “strands” of ethnomethodological thought held a more central place at UCSB, including the more “cognitive” oriented ethnomethodology of Professor Aaron Cicourel (emeritus at UC-San Diego), the distinctive ethnographic studies of the late David Sudnow ( -2007), and D. Lawrence Wieder ( -2007), as well as the neo-marxist / feminist merger with ethnomethodology of Dorothy E. Smith. Each of these authors, I believe, had a tremendous influence on early ethnomethodology. Each of these authors also seem to have been more phenomenologically oriented than later practitioners at UCSB.

Professor Don H. Zimmerman was the central figure in the development of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Since his dissertation days at UCLA, he has combined a unique ability to grasp the details of social interaction and to perceive how those details are shaped by, and continue to shape, the social context in which they occur. While conversant in the more phenomenological origins of ethnomethodology, Don's love is the data of everyday talk. And it is this hard-edged empiricism, mixed with powerful theoretical insights, that have allowed him to guide the work of over two dozen greatly diverse graduate students.

During this early period (1970-1990) the ethnomethodology that was emerging in Santa Barbara seemed a bit different from the “Schegloffian” versions of conversation analysis emerging out of UCLA. Schegloff’s influence was still very strong in Santa Barbara and graduate students learned from Zimmerman and Professor Thomas P. Wilson how to analyze the sequential organization of talk-in-interaction. Moreover, Gail Jefferson, another pioneering conversation analytic researcher spent a year teaching conversation analysis at UCSB in 1975-76.

Emanuel Schegloff

While Schegloff's genius is to focus on the particulars of immediate social interaction, several Santa Barbara faculty encouraged students to explore the interplay between immediate social activity and larger social contexts. This allowed a diverse group of scholars, with diverse interests and inclinations, to find something useful in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis for their own interests.

The ethnomethodology emerging at UCSB was also different from the “studies of work” program followed by Garfinkel’s graduate students from this period (Lynch, Livingston, Robillard, MacBeth, Liberman). For a while, there did seem to be a “Santa Barbara School”.

Santa Barbara quickly emerged as a center of ethnomethodology in its early years, and I want to briefly comment here on its distinctive formation on that campus. At the heart of ethnomethodological studies in Santa Barbara is Don H. Zimmerman (b. 1937), who began teaching at UC-Santa Barbara in 1965, a year before he finished his dissertation at UCLA. In over four decades he has helped to make UCSB recognized around the globe as a leader in this approach. With Don’s gentle guidance, hard work and steadfast determination, the Department of Sociology at UCSB became well known as an outstanding training ground for budding ethnomethodologists, a major stopping point for visiting colloquia speakers, and the host of a major international conference on ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. Of course, Don was not alone in his efforts and several other prominent sociological researchers helped place UCSB’s EM /CA program on the map.

Professor Zimmerman is best known for his co-authored work. Generously working with others as a colleague seems to bring out Don’s best qualities. There is the well known work with Candace West ("Doing gender", 1987; "Sex roles, interruption and silences in conversation", 1975), with Deirdre Boden (Talk and Social Structure, 1991), with Mel Pollner ("The everyday world as phenomenon", 1970); with Marilyn and Jack Whalen ("When words fail", 1988), with Larry Wieder ("The diary-interview method", 1977), with Thomas Wilson ("Ethnomethodology, sociology and theory", 1979) and with Doug Maynard ("Topical talk, ritual and the social organization of relationships", 1984). Of course, Professor Zimmerman has written several distinguished single-authored manuscripts, including “The practicalities of rule use”(1970), “The interactional organization of calls for emergency assistance” (1992), and "Identity, context and interaction" (1998).

Ethnomethodologists trained at UCSB with Zimmerman as their dissertation chair, include:, Kenneth Leiter (1971), Judith Handel (1972), Marilyn Lester (1974-75), Susan Wedow (1974-75), William Sanders (1973-74), Richard Hilbert (1977-78), Candace West (1977-78), Doug Maynard (1979), Deirdre Boden (1983), Steve Clayman (1985), Lynda Ames (1986), Tim Halkowski (1990), Robin Lloyd (1990), Marilyn Whalen (1990), Wayne Mellinger (1990), Mardi Kidwell (2003), Sarah Jones (2004), and Larry Linton (2006, co-chaired with Professor Lerner) and there are others. Some other prominent ethnomethodologists to emerge from UCSB with Don's guidance include: Mel Pollner, Hugh “Bud” Mehan, and Jack Whalen. Jack Whalen got his Ph.D. with Dick Flacks, but has done extensive work in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis.

Aaron Cicourel (b. 1928) has had a great influence in several sub-fields of sociology, including education, law and society, methodology and theory, and wrote a series of groundbreaking articles and books, including “The Use of Official Statistics” (1963, with John Kitsuse), Method and Measurement in Sociology (1964), The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice (1969), and Cognitive Sociology (1974). Cicourel arrived to teach in Santa Barbara from UC-Berkeley in 1966, and brought with him Mel Pollner, who completed his dissertation under Cicourel in 1970 (with Zimmerman’s guidance also.) Cicourel is one of the founders of cognitive science, as well as ethnomethodology. Both Nicholas Mullins (1973, “The development of specialities in the social sciences”) and Alain Coulon (1995, Ethnomethodology) point to Cicourel’s organizing strength as playing a central role in building the early ethno network at Santa Barbara.
Cicourel's students at UCSB included Kenneth Jennings, Sybillyn Jennings, Robert Mackay, Hugh Mehan and David Roth, who collaborated on a book entitled Language Use and School Performance (1974).

The late D. Lawrence Wieder published one of the classic texts in ethnomethodological research, Language and Social Reality: The Case of Telling the Convict Code (1974) during his years in Santa Barbara. In 1975 he moved to the University of Oklahoma.

Studying Freak Subculture

In the mid-1970s Professors Don Zimmerman and Larry Wieder did an in-depth ethnographic study of the “freak subculture” of Isla Vista, a college student town at the edge of UCSB, and sought ways to bring ethnomethodological insights to conventional ethnographic studies (See their piece, “You can’t help but get stoned” 1977, which draws upon the ‘freak culture’ to create a contextual understanding of that titled utterance.).

I think that concerns, like this, for the “contexts” of social interactions resonate in many of the studies of this period, and are clearly seen in the work of many EM / CA students from this period (1970-1990). How do aspects of the social settings we are analyzing shape the details of the social activity occurring within them? If there ever was a Santa Barbara School, I would say that that concern was its driving interest and distinctive contribution.

Professor David Sudnow

Professor David Sudnow was another pioneering ethnomethodologist who taught at UC-Santa Barbara in the late 1960s. Sudnow, who died in 2007, received his Ph.D from UC-Berkeley and came around the same time as Cicourel. His book “Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying” presented an ethnomethodological approach to death and dying, and was the first ethnomethodological ethnography published as a book. In 1972 he edited “Studies in Social Interaction”, an early ethnomethodological collection. Sudnow is perhaps most remembered for his 1965 article “Normal Crimes” on plea-bargaining, and his book, “Ways of the Hand” (1978, re-written 1993), on improvised piano-playing.

Professor Thomas P. Wilson

Professor Thomas P. Wilson’s influence has been very strong throughout most of those years, often helping to clarify more theoretical issues and tighten empirical arguments. His “Normative and interpretive paradigms in sociology” (1970) was an essential text in early ethnomethodological work. Professors Wilson and Zimmerman created a long-lasting intellectual partnership in which each nurtured the other and laid the foundation for ethnomethodological studies at UCSB. They often co-taught courses and worked together with most graduate students. Tom is known for his sophisticated theoretical work, including "Social structure and the sequential organization of interaction' (1991) and "Sociology and the mathematical method" (1987).

Professor Harvey Molotch: "Quickest Wit in the West"

For over 30 years (1968-2001) Harvey Molotch was also very engaged in ethnomethodological studies, including well-known work with Marilyn Lester on the sociology of news (“News as purposive behavior", 1974; "Accidental News", 1975) and with Deirdre Boden on the Watergate Hearings (“Talking social structure", 1985); and their more theoretically-oriented "The compulsion of proximity", (1994), and later with Mitch Duneier on trouble-some sidewalk interactions ("Talking city trouble, 1999).

Molotch often used ethnomethodological approaches to study more “mainstream” sociological concerns, and, like Dorothy Smith, brought an explicitly critical dimension to his keen ethnographic eye. I once heard him describe himself as a "half-ass marxist, half-ass ethnomethodologist". Of course, he is so much more--pioneeering environmental sociologist, urban ethnographer, cultural critic, media scholar, policy wonk, toilet connosieur (see his work on public restrooms here)!
Molotch played a central role in the department during his years in Santa Barbara and in the type of ethnomethodological studies emerging from Santa Barbara. He often forced microsociological graduate students to answer the “so what?” question: what implications do our detailed studies of everyday conversations have for our understanding of society and the pressing needs of our social world? I remember Harvey pouring over transcripts of the Watergate Hearings, and using ethnomethodology to grasp the “faces of power”.

Professor Dorothy E. Smith

I think that Dorothy E. Smith only spent a year as a visiting professor at UCSB in the late 1970s, but her impact was quite strong. When I arrived in 1983, copies of her xeroxed manuscripts still circulated among graduate students. I speculate that her unique synthesis of Marxism, feminism, and ethnomethodology resonated with Molotch and Fenstermaker, and inspired Candace West’s feminist use of conversation analysis. Professor Smith is the author of many books including The Everyday World as Problematic (1987).

Dorothy Smith has pioneered an ethnomethodologically-informed approach to "textually-mediated social organization", which inspired me in several of my research studies, including a study of the production of organizational records in 911 calls (“Accomplishing fact in police ‘dispatch packages’, published in 1992 in Perspectives on Social Problems), and studies employing textual analysis of news stories (“The anatomy of an obituary”, published in 1995 in Perspectives on Social Problems, and “Newz from the ‘hood", on gang murder stories in the Los Angeles Times, published in 1997 in Human Systems). She and I co-organized a couple of sessions at the ASA in the late 1990s on textual analysis. Smith is now professor emerita at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the founder of “institutional ethnography”, and one of the major social thinkers of our time.

West, Fenstermaker and Fishman: Feminist Ethnomethodology

As noted, a “critical” element is central to much, although not all, of the work of this period, as exemplified by the pioneering work of Professor Candace West (now at UC-Santa Cruz) on the gendered nature of talk between men and women. The goal of these feminist-oriented ethnomethodological studies was not just to understand the world of gendered relations, but to critique it and point the ways to emancipation. Zimmerman and West, as stated, co-authored a number of path-breaking studies on interruptions in male / female talk, and on an ethnomethodological approach to gender. West has continued these lines of enquiry over over 30 years! Her book, Routine Complications (1985), examined professional dominance among doctors and patients.

Professor Sarah Fenstermaker

Professor Sarah Fenstermaker also brought an interactionist concern for gender to UCSB, and co-authored several articles with Candace West, culminating in the book Doing Gender, Doing Difference (2002). Dorothy Smith contibuted an introduction to the book. A pioneering feminist researcher, Fenstermaker also contributed to the explicitly critical dimension of ethnomethodological studies in Santa Barbara. She also guided the work of Spencer Cahill and Donileen Loseke. "Doing difference", an article by Fenstermaker and West, extended their argument about the performativity of gender to the realms of race and class and created quite a stir when it appeared in Gender and Society in 1995.

During this early period Pamela Fishman, a doctoral student at UCSB, wrote several pioneering feminist-oriented, ethnomethodologically-inspired studies of male / female talk, including "Interactional shitwork" (1977), "Conversational insecurity" (1980), and "Interaction: The work women do" (1983).

Professor Mel Pollner

Mel Pollner (1940-2007) was one of the first ethnomethodologist to complete his dissertation at UCSB. As stated above, he came from UC-Berkeley with Professor Aaron Cicourel. His was the first dissertation that I ever read, and I was hooked immediately on his impressive thinking and deep scholarly work. Drawing upon ethnomethodology and the cultural anthropology of Evans-Pritchard on the Azande, he formulated the notion of "reality disjunctures"--when people attempt to resolve competing versions of "what actually happened". He then applied this notion to the workings of the courtroom of Judge Joseph Lodge at the Santa Barbara Superior Court. His dissertation was published in 1987 as Mundane Reason.

Professor Hugh "Bud" Mehan

Bud Mehan received his Ph.D. from UC-Santa Barbara in 1971 with Professor Cicourel as his dissertation advisor. He is now professor of sociology at UC-San Diego, and a leader in school reform. He is the author of five books, including Learning Lessons (1979), one of the first books to applying conversation analytic techniques to the studying of classroom encounters. His presentation at the Talk and Social Structure conference was very memorable, and was later published as "The school's work of sorting students" in Zimmerman and Boden (1991).

There seems to have been a more phenomenologically-oriented phase in some of the early ethnomethodological work coming from dissertation students in the 1970s. See for example: Hugh Mehan and Houston Woods's The Reality of Ethnomethodology (1975), Kenneth Leiter's A Primer on Ethnomethodology (1980), Warren Handel's Ethnomethodology: How People Make Sense (1982) and the work of Richard Hilbert.

Professor Richard Hilbert

Richard Hilbert received his Ph.D in 1977-78 and is now Professor of Sociology at Gustavus Adolphus College. In 1992 he published The Classical Roots of Ethnomethodology, in part, pointing to the Durkheimian roots of the discipline, a notion later confirmed by Garfinkel in his Ethnomethodology's Program: Working Out Durkheim's Aphorism (2002). Phenomenologically oriented, Hilbert has argued that social life is a continuous stream of reality construction in which "the same social practices generative of the so-called macrostructure are likewise and in identical fashion generative of microstructure and process as well (Ethnomethodology and the micro-macro order", 1990).

Mark Fishman received his Ph.D. in 1977 working with Molotch and Zimmerman with a well-known study of crime news, later published as Manufacturing the News (1980).

Professor Doug Maynard

Professor Doug Maynard, now the Conway-Bason Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconison-Madison received his Ph.D. from UCSB in 1979, for a dissertation that later became the book, Inside Plea Bargaining: The Language of Negotiation (1984). This work has several of the features which I identified as prominent in the Santa Barbara School, including conversation analytic research embedded in a deep ethnographic study of the social context, a willingness to dialogue with other interactionists, especially Goffman, and a clear relevance for more "mainstream" sociological concerns. It is a great sociological study! Doug has also written a book entitled Bad News, Good News (2003) how how these tidings are delivered in clinical and ordinary settings, and has done extensive research in medical settings. The theme of reproducing social structure through situated conduct found an early expression in Maynard and Wilson's theoretically-inspiring "On the reification of social structure" (1980).

Professor Deirdre Boden

When I first met Deirdre Boden (1940-2001) in 1983 in Ellison Hall, I thought she was a professor. A mature woman of 43 years, Dede was then completing her dissertation, which eventually became her book, The Business of Talk (1994). I think Dede had an enormous influence on both graduate students and our instructors. She co-authored articles with Zimmerman and Molotch, and showed us all how Giddens’ theory of structuration could benefit, and be benefited by, conversation analytic work.

Dede's MA thesis examined turn-taking organization in many Indo-European languages, and she brought at international flair to her studies, with academic positions in Italy, England and Denmark. She was fluent in several languages.

Professor Boden demonstrated through her work the importance of interdisciplinary work, and drew upon history, linguistics, and broad reaches of social theory for her scholarly studies. Of course she would be an advocate of reaching out to other interactionist scholars. See, for example, her chapter "People Are Talking: Conversation Analysis and Symbolic Interaction" (1990), which appeared in H.S. Becker (Ed.) Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies.

In less than 20 years as a sociologist, Professor Dede Boden made a significant impact upon sociological studies, and successfully made bridges between microsociology and business schools. Her theoretical sophistication, beautiful transcriptions, and writerly grace made her works truly enjoyable to read. I have already noted the co-editing with Zimmerman of Talk and Social Structure (1991), in which they have one chapter, and the work with Molotch on Watergate ("Talking social structure, 1984) and "The compulsion of proximity" (1994). There is also an edited volume with Roger Friedland NowHere (1994), and several research monographs exploring a wide range of topics including: global future trading, the subtleties of business meetings, time / space in social theory and elderly talk.

Professor Steve Clayman

Professor Steven Clayman received his Ph.D. from UCSB in 1987 working with Zimmerman, Molotch and Wilson. He then did a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin - Madison with Professor Doug Maynard, and then joined the UCLA faculty where he holds joint appointments in Sociology and Communications. He has extensively studied broadcast news interviews and presidential press conferences. In 2002 he co-authored The News Interview with John Heritage. In one oft-cited paper inspired by Erving Goffman (1992), Clayman examined "footing" in the achievement of neutrality in news interviews.

Professor Timothy Halkowski

Professor Timothy Halkowski received his Ph.D. in 1990. He studies health communications, especially provider-patient talk, and is currently in the department of communications at SUNY-Albany. In a thought provoking study of the Iran - Contra Hearing (1990), Tim examined the discursive and interactional characteristics of role as a situated members' device ("'Role' as an interactional device").

Jack Whalen

Drs. Jack and Marilyn Whalen were also active during the 1980s in the EM /CA graduate student social world of Santa Barbara. Both worked closely with Don Zimmerman on the 911 call research project. Jack also worked with Professor Dick Flacks and co-authored Beyond the Barricades with him in 1989. After many years teaching at the University of Oregon, they are now using ethnomethodology to study software engineering work practices at Xerox Parc in Palo Alto, California. A recent piece examines the improvisational choreography of teleservice work, and appeared in the prestigious British Journal of Sociology (2002).

Gemeinschaft Among the EM / CA Community

One of the great things about being a EM / CA student in Santa Barbara during the 1980s was the very large number of colleagues that we had. Several of these are mentioned above, including Boden, Clayman, Halkowski and the Whalens, but there were many more. These were very exciting times to be studying ethnomethodology, and very intellectually stimulating!

Other advanced students included: Dr. Robin Lloyd (now a senior science writer at writing a dissertation on interviews concerning child abuse, Dr. Joan Weston (now at Ohio University) studying educational encounters, Dr. Richard Harper (now at the Xerox EUROPARC in Cambridge, England) writing about accounting practices, Dr. Angela Garcia (now at Bentley College) studying topical transitions, Juan Ren studying turn-taking in Mandarin Chinese, and Dr. Lynda Ames (now at SUNY-Plattsburgh) studying non-hierarchal organizational practices.

Dialogue with Goffman and Other Interactionists

As I have stated, the Santa Barbara School often was willing to dialogue with the work of other interactionists, especially Erving Goffman. This is clearly seen in the work of West, Maynard and Boden. See the Boden's article just cited above, Candace West's 1996 essay "Goffman in Feminist Perspective" (in Sociological Perspectives) and Maynard's "Garfinkel, Goffman and Games" (in Sociological Theory). Erving Goffman, I argue, had a tremendous impact on the Santa Barbara School of Ethnomethodology.

During this period UCSB also had several very prominent symbolic interactionist researchers, including criminologist Donald Cressey (who worked with Doug Maynard), Tamotsu Shibutani, and Thomas Scheff, and these thinkers contributed to the climate in the graduate program, and the types of qualitative work being done in Ellison Hall. Professor Kenneth Plummer (Essex), an British interactionist researcher well known for his studies of sexual identity, frequently made visits to the Santa Barbara campus. Many of the EM / CA students took classes with these interactionist researchers.

Also, EM / CA grad students often taught the large Intro Social Psychology classes, and learned to think about the relevance of their "micro" studies for more "mainstream" social psychological concerns.

Professor Spencer Cahill

Spencer Cahill, a very prominent interactionist, studied with Tamotsu Shibutani, Don Zimmerman and Sarah Fenstermaker to develop a influential microsociology influenced by Erving Goffman, symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology. He received his Ph.D. in 1982 from the department at UCSB. Spencer made significant contributions to the microsociology of public places, childhood socialization, gender studies, stigma and deviance. His microsociological textbook, Inside Social Life (1998) is widely used across the United States. At this death in 2006, Spencer was a professor at the University of South Florida. He was married to Donileen Loseke.

Professor Donileen Loseke

Donileen Loseke is Professor of Sociology at the University of South Florida, where she has made significant advances applying constructionist ideas to the study of social problems, particularly those involving domestic violence. Her textbook Thinking About Social Problems came out in 1999. She also studied with Zimmerman as part of the 911 call research project in the early 1980s and with Sarah Fenstermaker on a project studying domestic violence.
My own interest in dialoguing with symbolic interactionism found form in "Negotiated Orders", a study based on radio calls between paramedics and emergency room nurses, and published in 1994 in the journal Symbolic Interaction. I sought to display the relevance of conversation analytic work for symbolic interactionist studies of the workplace (i.e., Anselm Strauss's "negotiated order approach").

Professor Thomas Scheff

In the 1980s Professor Thomas Scheff, I believe influenced by these ethnomethodological studies, began working with video recordings and transcripts of those recordings. A book of his from this period is called Microsociology. A student of Goffman’s at Berkeley in the 1960s, Scheff developed an innovative interactionist approach to studying situated conduct that focused on the nature and quality of social bonds and social relationships, as seen through facial expression of emotion, particularly shame. Some students from this period attempted to merge the "Scheffian" discourse analytic approach with conversation analytic techniques learned from Zimmerman, including Lee Harrington (now at Miami University), David Fearon and Rodney Beaulieu (his Ph.D. from the School of Education was co-chaired with Scheff and Jenny Cook-Gumperz).
Based on a microsociological study of psychiatric intake interviews begun in a seminar with Professor Scheff, I began a research project entitled "Talk, power and professsionals" and published in 1995 in J. Siegfried (Ed). Therapeutic and Everyday Discourse as Behavior Change. This study drew upon the pioneering work on "doing power" by Zimmerman, West and Fenstermaker.

Other Critical Work at UCSB

There was also a prominent tradition of critical social theory being practiced at UCSB, which was a home of many student radicals, and a radical sociological tradition. Professor Dick Flacks, co-author of the Port Huron Statement with Tom Hayden, was a distinguished presence on campus, as was Professor Richard Appelbaum, and Harvey Molotch. These critical scholars were typically "pro" EM /CA, worked with graduate students in these areas, and actively served on many committees. Many UCSB graduate students learned about “micro / macro links” through dialogues with these thinkers and ethnomethodologists even before Anthony Giddens wrote his influential theory of structuration.

Baron Anthony Giddens

Anthony Giddens, an internationally renowned sociologist who was made a Baron by Prime Minister Blair in 2004, spent several months at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the mid-1980s. Before he arrived in Santa Barbara, many of the graduate students asked Professors Appelbaum and Wilson to lead us in a seminar providing a guided reading of four or five of his most recents books. Many of the EM /CA students took part in this seminar, and saw clear resonances between our work and Giddens's structuration theory. This visit helped to cement the relationship between his work and ethnomethodology, although Giddens had previously been greatly influenced by the writings of both Garfinkel and Goffman, and spent time at UCLA early in his career.
In an influential section of The Constitution of Society (1984) in which Giddens is providing an empirical example of how structuration theory can be illustrated, he draws upon the words of Professor Thomas Wilson to capture how social structures are reproduced through concrete instances of social action.

Both Deirdre Boden and Harvey Molotch returned to these ideas several times in their subsequent work, and Giddens's theory greatly impacted their work on the Watergate Hearings. Professors Giddens and Boden kept a long-term correspondence before her death, and Giddens acknowledges her influence in Modernity and Self-Identity (1991). Boden similarly acknowledges his influence on her in The Business of Talk (1994) and other writings. In 1990, Boden, Giddens and Molotch wrote an insightful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "Sociology's Role in Addressing Society's Problems is Undervalued and Misunderstood in Academe".

Giddens has written one of the most popular selling sociology textbooks ever with UCSB professor Richard Appelbaum and former UCSB professor Mitch Duneier. This work has helped to put microsociological ideas into the introductory classroom.

Professor John Heritage

Professor John Heritage spent a year at UCSB in the mid 1980s, just after publishing his greatly helpful Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology (1984) and all of the EM / CA grad students in Santa Barbara took advantage of this opportunity to work with this fine instructor. Prior to coming to UCSB Dr. Heritage was at the University of Warwick. John also brought an enduring interest in studying talk in institutional settings, and his distinctive insights were shared in our weekly data sessions. He is now at UCLA.

Data Sessions: Doing Conversation Analysis

A central training tool that Professor Zimmerman used was the "data session". A large group of grad students and Professors Zimmerman and Wilson would repeatedly listen to some snippet of talk and be given a transcript of that talk to examine. We might focus on a smaller segment of some phone call, for example. We had a large corpus of British telephone calls that we worked on during the mid 1980s. We also used video recordings of interactions to studying nonvocal activity, particularly gaze. After hearing or observing the segment several times, we would sit and analyze what we saw going on, and then share with each other our insights. Don is a keen observer of everyday social life who has a real gift for analyzing the micro-moments of talk and situated activity. We typically ended with Professor Zimmerman drawing together the useful strands from all the previous speakers and wrapping it all together with a powerfully perceptive analysis. It was an event to see! Grad students were encouraged to bring in materials that we were working on, so that in my years we examined both mundane conversations, and a wide variety of institutional settings, including 911 calls, news interviews, talk in medical settings, etc. When EM / CA visitors came, we were often treated to getting to see them "do their stuff" live and in action.

Boden and Zimmerman edited conference presentations into Talk and Social Structure (1991)
The International Conference on Talk and Social Structure was held on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara in March 1986, and provided a forum in which many very prominent ethnomethodologists and conversation analysts actively debated their approaches to dealing with the topic of "social structure". The event was organized by Zimmerman and Boden, and I served as Conference Coordinator. I believe that this was a major turning point in the history of EM /CA.
The conference drew in over 100 participants from around the world, including Harold Garfinkel, Manny Schegloff, Bud Mehan, Allen Grimshaw, Wayne Beach, Gail Jefferson, Anita Pomerantz, Paul Drew, Rod Watson, Wes Sharrock, Hanneke Houtkoop, Graham Button, Jurgen Streek, Chuck and Candy Goodwin, George Psathas, Jeff Coulter, Mike Lynch, and Paul ten Have.

Professor Mitch Duneier

Mitch Duneier, an urban ethnographer well-known for his study of homeless street vendors, Sidewalk (1999), spent several years at UCSB during the 1990s, and co-authored a piece with Molotch employing conversation analytic techniques. This piece, "Talking city trouble: Interactional vandalism, social inequality, and the 'urban interaction problem'" was published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1999, and displays several of the features I highlight as emblemmatic of "Santa Barbara School" ethnomethodology--including the use of ethnography to contextualize conversation analytic work, an openly "critical perspective" and concern for power, a willingness to dialogue with other interactionist traditions, and a concern for more seemingly "mainstream" sociological concerns.
I have emphasized telling the story of ethnomethodological studies at UC-Santa Barbara in a way that emphasizes my personal interests in developing a critical interactionism. Thus, in my version the Santa Barbara School drew upon diverse methodological positions, highlighted ethnographic studies of naturally-occurring settings, and gave relevance to understanding how “context” can potentially impact the particulars of social activity. Moreover, a concern for power and dominance clearly emerges in this work with the goal of not just understanding social life, but working for progressive social change.

The Santa Barbara School can be seen as applying ethnomethodological insights and understandings of more “mainstream” sociological concerns, and pioneered the interests in linking “agency / structure” and “micro / macro” concerns. Of course, others will tell this story differently, for different purposes.

If ethnomethodology is a separate and distinct enterprise from mainstream sociological concerns in terms of topic and method, as many practitioners sometimes seem to insist, Santa Barbara ethnomethodologists created a hybrid with sociology, just as later ethnomethodologists created other types of hybrids with other academic pursuits, such as technomethodology, studies of scientific work, and cognitive studies.

originaly posted in my blog "Doing Modernity" in 2008 WAYNE MARTIN MELLINGER, Ph.D


  1. Today August 20, 2017 I am attempting to re-work the core ideas of this blog entry for a book for Michael Hviid Jakobsen entitled Critical and Cultural Interactionism.


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