Order! Order! – Functionalism, Interactionism and Ethnomethodology – Modernity and Agency
University of Central Lancashire (rtrd)
Garfinkel, H (2002) Ethnomethodology’s Program: Working Out Durkheim’s Aphorism (ed. Rawls, AW) Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield
Kim, K-K (2003) Order and Agency in Modernity: Talcott Parsons, Erving Goffman and Harold Garfinkel, Albany: State University of New York Press.
Maynard, DW (2003) Bad News, Good News: Conversational Order in Everyday Talk and Clinical Settings, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
These three books provide the setting to raise and, perhaps, to lay to rest the arguments about whether Symbolic Interactionism is just Micro-Functionalism and about whether Ethnomethodology is a radically different approach in Sociology or just a methodological variation on the Micro-Functionalism that is Symbolic Interactionism. One purpose links each of these three books to the other. Each seeks to locate and explicate ‘order’. Kim tries to associate Symbolic Interactionism (i.e. Goffman) and Ethnomethodology (i.e. Garfinkel) through their parallel concerns for both together and then with Parsons’ Functionalism. Apart from the known historical connection of Garfinkel as Parsons’ student, Rawls tries to tie Garfinkel’s Ethnomethodology into the Durkheimian frame. Garfinkel is then associated with Parsonian theorising about, as Kim would claim, modernity, order and agency. Maynard gives a Masterclass in how ethnomethodological work gets done, demonstrates how and why this is classically ‘symbolic’ Interactionism and why, from his demonstration of Conversational Analysis, both his work and that of several Symbolic Interactionists uphold and represent the current state of Ethnomethodology in contrast to the kind of version claimed in the Rawls’ part of Garfinkel’s book. To Kim, we need to be grateful for a small book that, with limited success, re-ignites these debates. Re-fired, rehearsed and resolved, these debates might then be laid to rest so that sociological work can be progressed in Ethnomethodology and Symbolic Interactionism and their variants in Conversational Analysis and Interactional Linguistics.
These three books, each in its own way, attend to ‘order’, the central concern of Sociology for the last two centuries. From Saint Simon through to the latest tomes, sociological analyses have sought to promote assaults on the established ‘order’ or to seek to understand, in response to those assaults, how ‘order’ can be maintained and sustained. The English, American and French Revolutions gave birth to social philosophy and social physics, bringing ‘science’ to bear on the overthrow and beheading of kings, the declaring of republics, and on how this might be avoided, and on how the old order, the Ancien Régime, might be restored. The primary forces believed to be the cause or effect were moral and religious. This required that ‘order’ be explained and understood. Saint Simon introduced the social into the equation, Karl Marx’s critique brought together the political and the economic.
The Russian Revolution and the German Revolution – or the rise of Nazism – blending with the world-wide economic depression focussed more attention in the twentieth century on a ‘scientific’ solution to the problem of ‘order’. Similarly provoked by the success of Marxist-Leninism, resting as it did on the assaults on order provoked by Marx and Engels’ writings, Talcott Parsons sought to re-search sociological history to compile a new explanation of the social version of order arising out of the European accounts of understandings presented by the English Utilitarian philosophers, the economist, Alfred Marshall, the Italian Vilfredo Pareto, Émile Durkheim, the French sociologist, and the German sociologist and economic historian, Max Weber. (Parsons, 1949) Borrowing from Anthropology, this became Structural Functionalism and the Social System, founded on an analysis of Equilibrium that the former economist, Parsons, underpinned with the contemporaneously acclaimed Keynesian Economics. But what had been successful in addressing the ills of the economic order in response to the Great Depression and had achieved the Soviet Economic Miracle through application of the economic determinism of Marxist Theory proved short lived when applied to the social problems confronting the post-1945 world. Parsons’ work reaffirmed that the problem of order was essentially sociological and reset the agenda for modern Sociology. (Parsons, 1949, pp. 89ff)
Parsons represents the problems of order as a problem of controlling human behaviour to achieve an identity of interests through the workings of the normative system. Unlike the earlier theorists who relied on ordering moral and religious interests, Parsons was working towards a ‘social system’ which could account for the competing interests in society, how these interests could be balanced and a state of equilibrium, or ‘order’, maintained across the whole of the society, in different functional areas of that society and at the different levels within society, social, cultural and personality, where human behaviour, individually and collectively, could be contained within a normative order.
These three books take ‘order’ to be the recurrence of accountable social practices and accomplishments from the organization and institutional level that some would describe as ‘society’, or in Kim’s case ‘modernity’, through Garfinkel’s “witnessably recurrent details of ordinary everyday practices” (p. 97) to the day-to-day, moment-by-moment constancies that are the turn-taking, prosodic, lexical and grammatical practices of Maynard’s ‘conversation order’. Each of the authors is attending to features of and attempts to explain the same problem, ‘order’.
Book One : Kim
What makes this little book provocative is its brevity. To do Parsons, Goffman and Garfinkel to the satisfaction of Peter Berger, George Psathas and Jeff Coulter at Boston with plaudits on the back cover from Philip Manning, distinguishes these 112 pages. This doctoral dissertation certainly warranted conversion into a more substantial text and it’s a pity that the rush to publish has delimited this enterprise and its big ideas. Certainly, the task was millennial. To try and show that there was common ground and a thematic development from Parsons’ Structure of Social Action through the stylistically unique Goffman’s total corpus and into the latter statements of Garfinkel’s Respecification papers in Ethnomethodology, was a mammoth task.
As a statement of intent, this little book shows great promise for the multi-volume to come. Kim should embark on a magnum opus but should keep in mind a couple of major challenges. First, he must do justice to the total works of Talcott Parsons in their detail. Second, although it is OK to base the treatment of Interactionism in the work of Erving Goffman, the major work needs to extend out to entail the totality of work from William James through Georg Simmel to Mead, Hughes, Blumer and, then, to encompass Goffman with contemporaries, like Strauss, Becker, Prus and an extensive list of ethnographers and qualitative researchers and analysts. Third, to locate Garfinkel more carefully by treating the range of his work and especially those pieces emanating from his cooperation with Harvey Sacks. This treament has also to incorporate the host of ethnomethodological works from the early Sudnow, Pollner, Bittner, the analyses of Schegloff and Jefferson, the Manchester School, including the previously mentioned Jeff Coulter, Europeans like Bergmann, Knorr-Cetina, ten Have and, of course, Thomas Luckmann. The core of that treatment for me has to confront head-on Garfinkel’s attack on Goffman in the Agnes chapter of the Studies in Ethnomethodology, or the enterprise would be still-born.
After specifying a life’s work, this preliminary little version is not without merit. What Kim achieves is the lowering of a few Sociological portcullises. He peaks over the wall between Functionalism and Symbolic Interactionism and, rather than the usual employment, using one to beat the other, actually looks for common ground. He argues a case for finding some without being drawn into the usual Marxist-Conflict-Critical Theory stance that Symbolic Interactionism is just Structural-Functionalism in micro-drag. He slays the dragons with cogent argument looking for evidence of accounts of ‘order’, of ‘agency’ and ‘modernity’ in works from Parsons, Goffman and Garfinkel. And here, by his own admission, he puts the work in greatest jeopardy. None of the three actually uses the concepts of ‘modernity’ or ‘agency’ directly in their work.
If ‘modernity’ is put to the sword, then the edifice of his argument falls flat. ‘Modernity’ has consequently to be taken for granted as it is never properly and clearly defined but is left to emerge from the body of the argument. As a sceptic, I found the constant need to do this somewhat galling. While Kim’s ‘modernity’ clearly focuses on Georg Simmel as ‘stranger’ in the metropolis that was turn of the century Berlin, there is also a sense of discussing something only discovered to exist post-War. The publication of Wolff’s The Sociology of George Simmel (1950) and of Philosophy of Money (1978) sets artificial limits for the origins of, or the period, that is offered as ‘modernity’. This allows an assumption that Goffman, whose major publications are contained between the same dates, was a commentator about the ‘managed self’ in the transformation to modernity.
Modernity is treated as the occasioning of two forces, ‘abstraction’ – as with Simmel’s stranger and Goffman’s spoiled and managed identity - and ‘pluralism’, that I take to be the consequences of the more of-the-time, sociological notion, and the more Simmelian, ‘social differentiation’. The ‘self’ of this modernity is characterised by their being cut-loose from the moral constraints of religious society, their freedom to find ‘identity’ and their confusion of the multiplex of identities available in the pluralist society. Garfinkel is brought into Kim’s picture as the methodologist of this confusion, providing the template of how sociologists can make sense of the individual self’s alienation and anomie, and survival.
The treatment of ‘agency’ I regarded as a much greater failing and seemed forced by the limits of the hundred-plus pages. Parsons was a theorist of Action Systems. His scientific approach mirrored the science of atoms, solar systems and Einstein and the Social System is founded on the choice of ‘action’ as the atom of Functionalist Sociology. That’s the way science was done, then. Searching to find the individual-as-agent to demonstrate the ‘agency’ in Parsons’ work was clearly to misunderstand how Parsons intended his explanation of role-and-status, action systems and functions of action systems. Kim struggles with Parsons on voluntaristic aspects seeing this representation as implying a free-acting individual rather than the Garfinkel criticism, the representation as the cultural dummy or dope. Kim quite rightly notes that Parsons exclusion of the Simmel chapter from Structure of Social Action covers up how important the consideration of Simmel’s Soziologie (1908) was for Parsons. Kim should have seen that the incorporation of Simmel’s theorising would have undercut Action Theory because it insisted on an account of the individual in dyadic interaction. Parsons simply resolved this dilemma by excluding the Simmel fragment (Parsons, 1998, Levine 1991) in much the same way that he ignored Schütz’s approaches and the implications of Phenomenology. (Grathoff, 1978)
In so far that Kim’s questions hinge on finding ‘agency’ to tie in ‘modernity’, he misses the point of the exclusion of Simmel. Parsons could not take on board the city-dwelling stranger (the agent in modernity) without fundamentally revising the Action Theory that he was positing. The actor might voluntaristically act but the constraints on the action and the system within which it contributed to ‘order’ gave the action its meaning-within-the-system (role and function). ‘Agency’ was not the way to approach Parsons on ‘order’ and ‘modernity’. Consequently if ‘modernity’ rests on ‘agency’ for transformation ‘post-gemeinschaft’ (Kim, 2003, 51) and thus opening the door further for ‘post-modernity’, Parsons was neither the place to look, nor to seek.
Having trimmed the vast volume of Parsons’ work to 20 pages, a task that defeated Parsons himself (Parsons, 1966), Kim takes on Goffman. Again, ‘modernity’ is treated as though Goffman was addressing it despite his never having done so. The key shift that justifies this is the argument that from gemeinschaft based in religion and morality, the order that is modernity arises as ritual. Abstracted from the clear religious and moral order of the late nineteenth century, the self is left to fight off the chaos of modern life by resorting to ritual. The plurality of choices casts the self adrift from the certainties of the old order into an alienated and anomic state, leaving only the security of ritual to impose some order onto the chaos. Ritual practices, chosen as paths by the self as sources of meaning and identity, become the ‘interactional order’, the new morality, the normative system.
What Goffman gives to Sociology in this crucial phase of theorising modernity, or the world he lives in – the 1950s – 1970s – is an agent. The self arises not out of the social processes that are the day-to-day contingencies of interacting, but is a lost soul seeking a foothold in a longer-term world. Modernity is a world where the day-to-day contingencies of the hic et nunc, or here-and-now, constantly buffet the self-as-agent hither and thither. Goffman’s account of the Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Interaction Ritual are celebrated as the ‘self’ in modernity, not just as an account of it.
In much the same way, Kim dispenses with Garfinkel as an account of how the self with others, does being. Starting from the proposition that Garfinkel is seeking the same social order that Durkheim displayed in La suicide and De la division du travail social, Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis are treated as the microscopic elaborations of how the social world works. Or, at least, how the individual-as-agent might survive or make do in ‘modernity’, here and now, today, in the present. Parsons’ social order is a variation on the circumstances of Goffman’s interactional world which is called into being using the methods and practices described in Sacks’ nominal categorisation devices, in Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson’s Simple Systematics of conversation and Garfinkel’s ordinary practical activities of members.
The key conclusion, for me, was that, tied together by order, agency and modernity, Parsons, Goffman and Garfinkel have more in common with each other that any of the three do with the “armies of social analysts” and the “worldwide social science movement” arrayed against them. (Garfinkel, 2002, 91) This is truly debatable and carries the merit of the book – it provokes an interest in the topics, which will lead to disputes and arguments that cohorts of future students will use as essay topics and themes. It perhaps sums up the current state of US Sociology, at least those bits free of a dependence on French critical and social theory. It identifies a direction that bands of US sociologists might follow. The book, however, gets confused about how and where the disparate and independent streams of thought and work might go, together. .
Book Two : Garfinkel
This is a book of three parts. The first quarter divides into Anne Rawls, the editor, writing a biographical sketch presumably informed by Garfinkel, himself, and an introduction. The introduction is a summary of the remaining chapters but does little to introduce or explicate what follows. Its more important function is to provide a vehicle for Rawls to lay out her version of Durkheim’s aphorism – of the title of Garfinkel’s book! – heavily and repeatedly referenced to her own publications. How this “version” relates to the “Durkheim’s Aphorism” that Garfinkel has referred to in the past is not exactly clear. The referencing suggests that an important influence on Garfinkel’s thought is the fairly recent work of Rawls. Garfinkel’s corpus of work would clearly indicate that his thought owes more to Talcott Parsons, his dissertation supervisor, Gurwitsch and Schütz, his early mentors and to his pre-Studies work.
The remaining three-quarters of the book contain a restatement and refinement of the Studies in Ethnomethodology that has troubled Sociology and the social sciences for more than forty years. The ‘new’ version will do little to ease Sociology’s discomfort written as it is in Garfinkel’s inimical style, constantly returning, as it does, to FA (Formal Analysis). EM (Ethnomethodology) is repeatedly presented as the alter-ego, the ontological and epistemological conscience of formal theorising and empirical claims in sociology and in the ‘worldwide social science movement’. This up-dated presentation of Garfinkel’s approach will do little to ease the discomfort that was tangible in some of the sessions at the 2003 meetings of the American Sociological Association, especially as quantitative research methods could be seen consistently giving ground to ethnography and qualitative research methods. These grudging concessions were keenly building a barricade against the inevitable invasion of EM and against having to confront the ‘scientific revolution’ or paradigm shift that was already in progress. And this explains the massive disappointment that one hopes is not Garfinkel’s last stand.
Because of the style of presentation, it will be easy to write off or discount this book. But it will not go away. It discomforts and annoys because it constantly ignores or is indifferent to 150 years of formal Sociology. Garfinkel’s repetitive writing style, the of-necessity, verbose sentences, and apparently grandiose claims for the little substantive material that he includes in his part of the book, will tax the antagonistic, critical or unfamiliar reader. The afficiandos have already read it, added it to their collection, and got on with their program of work. If Rawls had one important role in this book, it could have been to do an editor’s job. There are obvious corrections that have been missed. Many references (except, notably, those to Rawls’ own publications) are omitted, or incomplete. Repeated footnotes (some several times) could have been cross-referenced and the space used for explication and explanation in the text. Instead, the editorial work seems to have been narrowed to inserting references to Durkheim, his epistemology and to the “Aphorism” to justify the book’s title and Rawls’ input.
The social facts argument derives, according to Rawls’ introduction, from statements in Émile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (French edition 1912, English edition 1915). However, this is their argument (see pages 20-21) relying on the assumption that “we understand that the “objectivity of social facts” was always understood by Durkheim as a social construction.” (p. 21). This is certainly not the Durkheim of La Suicide: étude de sociologique (1897) or De la division du travail social: étude sur l’organisation des sociétés supérieures (1893) where social facts are arrayed in associations to deny geographic and meteorological arguments that the hot-tempered southern Europeans were driven by heat to suicidal acts. Those facts are then presented in the most positivist of ways to support the concluding argument for egoistic, altruistic and anomic motivations in the social structure causing the patterns in suicide acts. This is clearly the Durkheim that Robert K. Merton picked up as the basis for his substantial Social Theory and Social Structure alongside the pivotal role that the same Durkheim plays in Parsons’ Structure of Social Action.
Discounting, then, Rawls’ contribution, which is better found in her Durkheim’s Epistemology article, there are 220 pages of pure Garfinkel, somewhat “chipped” by the poor editing. Some of this material has been seen before in the articles and presentations greedily collected by the IIEMCA attenders. For example, the “autochthonous order properties” and the “phenomenal field of detail” which are original in this print form have been aired before in presentations and speeches. These ideas are demonstrated by examining Galileo’s inclined plane experiment to demonstrate the law of falling bodies. That is, the actual demonstration of the experiment is easy to see when the reconstruction works. What becomes interesting is when the demonstration fails or when the details, the phenomenal field of detail, are examined to find out how these details all had to be in place so that ‘the experiment’ would produce the results that it should. Not only had each detail to be in place but there was an order to these details and their properties without which the demonstration would not have been a demonstration nor a demonstration of just that experiment.
This is pure Garfinkel and few can emulate the style, the technique, the phenomenal field of detail that is a Garfinkel account. The parade of demonstrations of traffic waves or formatted queues describes, with that ethnomethodological degree of wonder, the ordinary, everyday, routine practices that are the mysteries of everyday life. While FA (Formal Analysis) might look at role conflict, gendered division of labour and family breakdown to describe the misery of being in a marriage that is falling apart as a comparative method for analysing normal family relationships, Garfinkel focuses on ‘phenomenal’ (as in huge, enormous, overwhelming) minute details. Normal ordinary everyday occurrences carry their enormous detail that can be picked and unpicked in terms and ways that are routinely understood by those folk who live them. Ethnomethodological accounts have no need of the terminologies of Theories of Family Life when the mysteries of Sociology can be laid bare in “The baby cried, the mommy picked it up” or the summoning rings of a telephone.
There are sections on instructed actions – how to follow, or what is involved in following, the instructions enclosed with the flat-pack construction kit that will be, when completely and properly constructed, a chair. Maps, manuals, operating with limited vision, inverting lenses, setting up a kitchen for a sight impaired person are all available as EM (ethnomethodology’s) topics. Teaching a chemistry class is taken apart. And then the book ends as if the reader could continue their studies by doing much the same for having a bath, making tea, knitting and crochet, bleaching a pair of jeans or booking flight tickets for someone else. Take any routine, ordinary everyday activity that the doing of is a taken-for-granted matter and unpick the fabric to identify individual fibres, forensically. Crumble any routine interaction, like Louis Pasteur’s piece of cake, until each crumb is separated and its contribution to the autochthonous properties of the order that is that routine interaction, is displayed. This is how to do ethnomethodological studies of order*.
Had the whole of this book been devoted to displays and demonstrations of this order, even with the open-ended finish, the awkwardness of style and the constant repetition were manageable. The segments that are pure Garfinkel make the piece a worthwhile addition to any sociological library. The editing and the editor’s contribution add little and could be put to one side. Like the unpublished “Aspects of the Sequential Order of Conversation” that Harvey Sacks left unfinished, I hope this is not Garfinkel’s last blast and that other demonstrations, in his inimical style, of order* and how it can be explored will be forthcoming.
Book Three: Maynard
This book is a Master Class on method. Maynard has few rivals in the classic exposition of Conversation Analysis as a demonstration of ethnomethodologies, or how people construct their world in talking to each other. Here he brings together a body of his own analyses with examples and demonstrations from others to explore instances and features of passing on news, good and bad. His exposition ranges from how the most devastating bad news of terminal diagnoses of illness is given, to various features of announcing death and disaster, to the processes involved in claiming centre stage to pass on the most trivial information-as-news, to preparing with the audience for the announcement of goods news, to politicians spinning bad news into something it is not. Maynard, however, rarely leaves the core topic of exploring, describing and instancing interactional incidents of talk and conversation as demonstrations of the accomplishment of his ‘conversational‘ order.
This is detailed stuff. Page after page of detailed analysis of utterances are presented with the particulars of the response; how the response-as-utterance does the work of receiving news or news claim; how that second utterance in its confirmation of news-worthiness heralds further talk, designates the next topic, aligns the next speaker – this is the ‘simplest systematics’ as Harvey Sacks intended it. (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, 1974) Maynard’s command of the technique is exemplary and should be studied by future generations as much as a handbook of method as an analysis of content and topic. His command of examples is encyclopaedic and this leads to the suspicion that he has mastered a filing and cross-referencing system for cataloguing the conversations and features of these conversations that he might be persuaded at some point to share.
Because so much of the text is given over to examples and demonstrations and because each author in Conversation Analysis seems obliged to include and employ Jefferson’s Transcribing Conventions, a comment on the details of presentation seems justified. Much effort goes into transcribing conversation from audiotapes and videotapes into formats that can appear on the printed page. Some of the examples displayed here include pauses measured in tenths of seconds. Others include transcriptions of oral sounds as versions of laughter, giggles, intakes of breath, exhales, ‘Uh’s, ‘Oh’s and whatever else. In the 250 pages of text describing aspects of the conversational order with numerous examples, not once is there a reference to the length of a pause. There are a few references to pauses although nowhere near the number of pauses actually indicated in the transcripts used. Similarly, there are some references to sounds, which act as markers, and to prosody (emphasis, changes in loudness) but only where these are deemed significant to the News Delivery System. If the transcription details are required because each pause and its length, or each sound, or emphasis, or each detail of pronunciation is doing some work as the ‘phenomenal details of order’, as Garfinkel would have it, then why are these details not all attended to?
Alternatively, Sacks produced the phenomenal order of detail that Garfinkel specifies in offering accounts of telephone calls to the Suicide Prevention Center (Sacks, 1966) or in ‘the baby cried, the mommy picked it up’ (Sacks, 1972) without measuring a pause or without listing ungainly, unreadable and confusing transcript. Maynard could have done much of the work here with simple transcripts of the words spoken, showing the order of speaking. Devices like delaying, covering and shrouding of bad news or of the leaking of good news (p. 166) can be readily demonstrated without the panoply of transcription details where these are not going to be referred to. At various points, he readily summarises chunks of conversation in a few words as descriptions of what precedes or what follows short pieces of conversation. There, detail is not necessary to the point he is making. Nor then does the reader need all the details of transcription in the body of the text. There is a place for the complete and detailed transcripts for others to study and dissect and that is, in appendices, or increasingly in audio formats like CDs or websites with sound-video capabilities. This facility should extend widely as E-books and E-journals replace or substitute for their paper versions.
The content of these analyses and the phenomenal detail of the conversational order that is news delivery are displayed in all their detail. Varieties and variations are demonstrated showing that the devices employed have been the common currency of news delivery since the Ancient Greeks decided not to ‘shoot the messenger’ in the same way that patients and their relatives tend not to upbraid their doctor bearing news of terminal cancer or learning retardation. Senior politicians are shown to use the same devices to spin bad news to their electorates that friends do imparting news about the failing a driving test or the demise of a litter of puppies. Every detail of the face-to-face disclosure of bad and good news is picked over. That news, especially bad news, tends to foretell a change in the life-world requires that the News Delivery System is a carefully managed set of devices. These devices in the ordering and sequencing of conversation work to defend, protect, restore or re-establish order that the telling of news has threatened. Maynard informs us of these many devices, how they work and operate to maintain the conversational order that can be found in the everyday talk occurring in clinical settings. Where he directs our attention is to the same processes, devices and order of talk that are likely to be found in any of a host of settings where news is delivered or conveyed. His book is a beginning, which displays the mountain of work to be done in this one small area, delivering news.
Maynard closes with some hints and thoughts or procedures for how to deliver news, especially bad news. This was an unexpected step from an adherent to Garfinkel and Sacks’ policy of ethnomethodological indifference, albeit to Grand Theorising. I can only surmise that researching in an area like cancer diagnosis has a dramatic impact on the researcher. Simply sharing observations, he would hope, would ameliorate the most destructive and callous of practices so often found where technical experts have to deal with human frailty and, as Maynard himself suggests, the unpredictability of human reaction to the delivery of Bad News. But it also indicates his commitment to the idea that these are clues to understanding how the world is made, as in
“Through seeking to tell others for some news, through referencing, and through proposals and claims about its consequences, participants not only inaugurate a new social world. They simultaneously render particular interrelations among various figures as constituent and visible features of that new world.” (Maynard, 2003, p. 134)
From the outset, reading Kim on agency, modernity and order, this review has been reflecting on a series of questions about the relations between three of the major approaches to sociological understanding available as Sociology takes on the second millennium. Parsons writings were not doubt pivotal if only in following, as well as carrying, the major thrust to social change away from old Europe into the core thinking of the United States. The problems of post-war America and then Cold War America were different if only in scale to the problems of old industrial Europe. Parsons’ analysis of what Kim sees as modernity mapped the social world. European social theory has rebelled against that analysis from many directions but has had little impact upon it as the target for all other claimants to sociological achievement. French social theory has diverted the attention of some but the majority of proceedings at the American Sociological Association annual gatherings still start where Parsons left off – how do we explain, maintain and sustain the social order that is modern America.
The only counterforce to the predominance of the sociologies that have variously been called forth to fill in the boxes in Parsons model of the social system has been that body of researchers and theorisers who refuse to accept that society is anything more, or greater than the totality of each and any of its ordinary citizens going about the ordinary, everyday, routine practices that make up their social worlds. The US President still does nearly all the same ordinary, everyday routine things that we all do. He has to comb his hair, change his socks, greet his wife, answer the phone, chair a meeting, draft a speech. The real threat to Parsons’ account of the social world has been posed by these kinds of accounts. As we saw, Goffman focussed on ritual and presentation of self but as narrator and storyteller. He theorised the social world for his odd assortment of deviants and misfits and, with other interactionists and ethnographers, distracted attention away from the structures of opportunity, inequality, control and regulation that framed the Parsonian account. Many sociologists feel much more comfortable buried in the morass of activity that is the everyday lives of the individuals, groups and communities that are the focus of their researches. They can offer myriad accounts of these small ordered worlds hoping to add to the totality of studies and the never-to-be-complete account of the order that is the social world. Opening up and revealing views of these small worlds invariably has positive spin-offs. Self-critical examination of entrenched, routinised practices will nearly always foster improvement and justify the resources that these studies command.
The only radical alternative to Parsons’ analysis arises from one of his own students, Harold Garfinkel. Garfinkel was not satisfied that order was a variant feature of small worlds that combined to fill out the Grand Theory of Parsonian Structural-Functionalism. He demanded an assault on Formal Analysis, to roll back the tide of social science theorising. More than that he wants to remain indifferent to it as it makes little difference to the real worlds of ordinary folk. The ethnomethodologist and Conversation Analysts have found the key. It is to see the world as the accomplishment of ordinary folk, going about their everyday, mundane and ordinary lives. It is a miraculous achievement just to ‘get by’. All kinds of sciences, epistemologies and (ethno-)methodologies are required to be routinely known, to be accounted for and to be employed instantly, with no Time-Out, in the here-and-now. Garfinkel offers us some experiments and demonstrations that kick-off this endeavour. Maynard gave us a master-class in one form of analysis, exploring the order of talk and conversation in clinical settings. Both offer a glimpse of the enormity of the sociological task yet to be undertaken. Yet both are keen and optimistic that this work, the exploration of order, needs to be and will be the core task of second millennial Sociology.
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