Ethnomethodology as A "Nomad Science"

Ethnomethodology as a "nomad science"

I am very interested in the writings of the French social theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, especially their glorious book A thousand Plateaus, which is one of the most radical social philosophical texts i have ever encountered.

In the influential chapter "A Treastise on Nomadology" Deleuze and Guattari differentiate between "nomad science" and "royal science". Royal Science is the official state-sanctioned knowledge gathered, managed, and cashed in upon by the State and the powers that be.  It is based upon the theft of the skills and insights that ordinary people and workers have about the stuff in their everyday lives.  Consider how state-sponsored architects and boards of engineers took the knowledge of cathedral building from the roaming bands of stone workers and formalized it for the bureaucratic control of the state.

Today I am thinking about how sociology and the other social sciences, emerging in the 19th century, are "royal sciences".  Early social scientists took the practical knowledge and insights that ordinary people had about human societies and social behavior, brought it back to the academy where they abstracted it and formalized it into professional social science.

Formal social science robs lay people of their folk wisdoms, practical rationalities and situated moralities and sets about to "formalize" them into "scientific" knowledge.  The world-wide social science movement creates analytic knowledge and seeks ways to apply it to make institutions more "effective" and "rational". It gives advice to the bureaucrats and professionals so that they might "manage" the social structure more productively.  The passions of the formal analytic social science movement are bureaucratic efficiency, constant laws, abstract generalizations and statistical metrics.

In contrast to this, Garfinkel's Ethnomethodology is a "discovering" science which seeks to study the locally achieved orderliness of the world as an accomplishment of members of society.  It does not seek to transform the lived reality of the social world by interpreting it or theorizing about it.

Ethnomethodology is not interested in abstracting the practical knowledge that people have about the world as it happens.  Ethnomethodology's passion is for constitutive practices as they are found in real moments of everyday life and seeks to describe how they are used by real people in concrete instances of social life.  It sees in the social world complexity, emergence and becoming.  It has no interest in using this knowledge to run the world more effectively.