Ikka Arminen's Scientific and "Radical" Ethnomethodology (2008)


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Scientific and ''Radical'' Ethnomethodology : From Incompatible Paradigms to Ethnomethodological Sociology
Ilkka Arminen
Philosophy of the Social Sciences 2008 38: 167 originally published online 15
April 2008
DOI: 10.1177/0048393108315508

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Scientific and “Radical” Ethnomethodology
From Incompatible Paradigms to
Ethnomethodological Sociology
Ilkka Arminen
University of Tampere, Finland
Philosophy of the Social Sciences Volume 38 Number 2 June 2008 167-191 © 2008 Sage Publications 10.1177/0048393108315508 http://pos.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com
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Ethnomethodology has been torn between scientific and “radical” aspirations insofar as it moves discoursive practices from resources to the topic of the study. Scientific ethnomethodology, such as conversation analysis, studies discoursive praxis as its topic and resource. Standard scientific criteria are accepted to assess the merits of its findings. “Radical” ethnomethodology addresses mundane reasoning exclusively as its topic without recourse to standardized science. I will show that insofar as “radical” ethnomethodology succeeds in bracketing everyday resources, it loses its phenomenon with the very technical skills it uses for this task. This reconsideration enables the development of ethnomethodological social science.
Keywords: conversation analysis; discoursive praxis; ethnomethodology; radical ethnomethodology; social studies of science
Ethnomethodology (EM) has its origins in interest in the genesis of mundane social practices, the constitution of the social world in action. Garfinkel tells the following story about the birth of ethnomethodology.
In 1954 Fred Strodtbeck was hired by the University of Chicago Law School to analyse tape-recordings of jury deliberations obtained from a bugged jury room. Edward Shils was on the committee that hired him. When Strodtbeck proposed to administer Bales Interaction Process Analysis categories, Shils complained: “By using Bales Interaction Process Analysis I’m sure we’ll learn what about a jury’s deliberations makes them a small group. But we want to know what about their deliberations makes them a jury.” (Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingston 1981, 133; see also Garfinkel 2002, 96-97)
Received 5 October 2005
Author’s Note: I want to thank Tom Wilson, Derrol Palmer, Klaus Mäkelä, and Timothy Koschmann for their comments, without which the text would not be what it is.
167
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Ethnomethodology became responsive to Shils’s complaint. It started to lay bare the participants’ ways of producing their activities whatever they were. The research program focused on the procedures of reasoning and practical action (Garfinkel 1967). From its inception, EM differed from the standard sciences that survey general and average properties of phenomena. EM aims at the characteristics, the defining features of mundane activities that mold them into what they are; it explores how an activity is done, what the methods, means, and procedures are through which an activity like jury deliberation is accomplished (Francis and Hester 2004). This was to be called the “quiddity,” the “just whatness” of social practice (Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingston 1981, 133).
The key to EM’s inception is the topic/resource shift that was systemat- ically discussed by two of Garfinkel’s early disciples, Zimmerman and Pollner, in 1970 (see Dennis 2003; Berard 2003).
We have argued that current practice in the field [sociology] confounds topic and resource. As a consequence, sociology apparently is in the position of providing a professional folklore about the society that, however sophisti- cated, remains folklore. Such a critique would be merely querulous were it not directed toward the delineation of a positive alternative. (Zimmerman and Pollner 1970, 93)
The alternative approach, EM, tries to lay bare the reservoir of tacit every- day knowledge normally taken for granted by the social sciences. This led to the development of central assumptions of EM such as that the meaning of a social phenomenon is equivalent to the methodical procedures through which participants sustain its sense. As Garfinkel puts it, regarding the goal of EM studies, “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). Accountability made EM a praxeological solution to the fundamental question of the social sciences, the possibility of society itself. According to EM, the methods whereby people make their experi- ences accountable are the methods whereby they maintain the social order for which they are held accountable. The investigation of this “reflexive” and “incarnate” character of the production of social order is the core of EM. The achievement of social order in action is its dearest object, a precarious topic that it has discovered.
Ethnomethodology was directed to the mundane details of everyday life through which the social world in its multiplicity was formed. The classical ethnomethodological studies focused on various mundane matters such as
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the maintenance and breaches of trust (Garfinkel 1963), construction of gendered identities, and filling in of bureaucratic forms (Garfinkel 1967). In these classic studies, Garfinkel did not try to refute the existence of rules, norms, or regulations, but focused on the indispensable, ingenious mundane practices through which rules, norms, and regulations were put into force in particular and context-dependent ways (Heritage 1984; Peyrot 1982; Wilson 1970; Arminen 2004).
Early on, an agapeian raven was sitting on ethnomethodology’s shoulder and whispering into its ear, “this is not yet ethnomethodology” (see Lynch 1993). The penultimate question of the raven goes,1 “How would this science be defended against those (such as the later Garfinkel) who would claim that EM understood in this way simply becomes another interpretative social science with all its problems?” Agape longs for a final, divine solution. In his longing for purifying away mundane dirt, Garfinkel portrays social sciences through the concepts of docta ignorantia, that is, concepts that attribute a lack of knowledge to some particular group of people (Lynch 1993, 136).2 Already in his classic texts, Garfinkel doomed the determinism of social sciences that neglected common sense and portrayed human beings as judgmental dopes with no semblance of (moral) choice (Garfinkel 1967, 68; Heritage 1984, 110-12). This criticism has since grown more acerbic. Garfinkel later imputes to the social sciences an inability to deal with the concrete orderliness of social affairs, the unmediatedly experienced “just-in-this-case” (Garfinkel 1988, 1996), claiming that “there is no order in the concreteness of things” (1996, 7) for the social sciences. “The FA [formal analytic] procedure ignores the enacted, unmediated, directly and immediately witnessable details of immortal ordinary society” (1996, 8). Because of their methodological policies, i.e., their formal abstraction from concrete details and individual cases, the social sciences are fields of representational theorizing. Their findings always stand for the lived order- liness of societies; they are its representations as “marks, indicators, signs and symbols” (1996, 8). “Radical” EM apprehends the world through the unmediated, direct presence of its program without interpretative signs. It is identical with itself, a loving moment without disturbing the dirt and dust of mundane interpretative practices.
Scientific and “radical” ethnomethodologies derive from the different solutions to the topic/resource dilemma. Scientific ethnomethodology solves it through methodological canons of empirical research. It arises out
1. I thank an anonymous reviewer of the earlier version of this article for this question.
2. I thank Derrol Palmer for directing my attention to this aspect of ethnomethodology. Garfinkel appears to have adopted the idea from Felix Kaufman.

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of devotion to empirical detail and amounts to committed explication of discursive practices without an exemption from those practices (Goodwin 1994; Arminen 2005a). “Radical” EM arises out of theoretical contemplation of an ultimate solution to the topic/resource shift. It seeks a divine, uncon- ditional, self-sacrificing, non-discriminating solution to the dilemma with no pre-conditions and no empirical noise from signifying practices (Garfinkel 2002; Kim 2003). Scientific and “radical” EM have developed into two com- plementary and incommensurate approaches that have constituted incom- patible objects of knowledge.
Scientific EM provides only partial solutions to the validity and suffi- ciency of the analysis by following scientific standards. It is never relieved of its “radical” shadow asking, “is this not just another version of your prob- lem? Are you not relying on the resources you were supposed to explicate?” “Radical” EM’s faith is more paradoxical: insofar as it succeeds in brack- eting everyday resources, it loses its phenomenon through the very techni- cal skills it uses for this task. It precludes analysis in any form (to avoid representational theorizing of any kind), which would be replaced by unmediated experience of the phenomenon resembling Heidegger’s notion of truth (Clayman and Maynard 1995; Kim 2003; Kusch 1989).
Ethnomethodological science is in danger of becoming a practice without a theory. “Radical” ethnomethodology provides a program without a prac- tice. The key is to see that ‘radical’ ethnomethodology tries “to find a prin- cipled, generic, theoretical solution to what are, in fact, localized and practical problems for analysis” (Dennis 2003, 170). A firmer ground for analysis can be gained only by accepting that no absolute purity can ever be achieved. This provides an opportunity for the revitalization of ethnomethod- ological social science as a systematic practice that is informed by the vision of the reflexivity of the social order.
Ethnomethodological Explication of Discoursive Practices
The achievement of early ethnomethodology was to make people’s every- day practices and commonsense reasoning available to study. It committed itself to investigating practical activities in their own right in a disinterested manner, adopting a policy of the “occasioned corpus,” according to which “the features of socially organized activities are particular, contingent accom- plishments of the production and recognition work of parties to the activ- ity” (Zimmerman and Pollner 1970, 94; see also Dennis 2003). Hence, the
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orderliness of any given activity was seen as the situated accomplishment whose methodical nature was the analyst’s topic. The idea of the “occasioned corpus” was parallel, and related to the shift in the resources and topics of the research. The unanalyzed everyday reasoning practices and procedures that were taken for granted were to be shifted from unreflexive resources to the topics of the study. Further, this program restrained the analyst from using a priori theorizing or any other external resources to explicate the nature of the activity in order “to sustain the sense of an objective structure of social activities” (Zimmerman and Pollner 1970, 100), which is the participants’ own achievement. On the face of it, this was a new, rigorous, and distinctive program for the study of social order and action.
This program materialized into the series of classical ethnomethodologi- cal studies, which include, among others, breaching experiments (Garfinkel 1963; 1967, 38-47), the study of “transsexual Agnes” (Garfinkel 1967, 116- 85), and the analysis of coding procedures (1967, 186-207). The beauty of these studies is that they do not refute norms and rules but consider the con- sequentiality of their articulation for their shaping in practice.
The breaching experiments in which Garfinkel tutored an experimenter to behave in some ordinary situation in inept and meaningless ways made ethnomethodology (in)famous, demonstrating in their own way the partici- pants’ use of commonsense expectations and the resulting moral force of cognition. In these studies, the experimenter’s own behavior was an indis- pensable part of the demonstration. By behaving in ways that were anticipated to breach commonsense standards, the experimenter invoked responses that the experimenter could interpret as being indicators of breaches of the underlying commonsense expectations. These demonstrations of the moral force of routine grounds of everyday life explicated the procedures through which the normality of everyday life was achieved in the course of social interaction. But these studies were not independent of the experimenters’ cultural competence, which was presupposed so that “breaches” could be done successfully.
In breaching experiments, the subjects treated the experimenter’s behavior as “the document of,” as “pointing to,” and as “standing on behalf” of some condition that would make the actual behavior understandable. The subjects “vigorously sought to make the strange actions intelligible and to restore the situation to normal appearances” (Garfinkel 1967, 47). In that sense, people themselves were treating some actual behavior as a “signed object.” Questions, such as “ ‘what’s the matter?’ ‘what’s gotten into you?’ ‘Did you get fired?’ and ‘Are you sick?’ ” (1967, 47), project motivated, but unobserv- able, reasons for the conduct in order to make sense of it. These commonsense
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reasoning processes are an unavoidable and constitutive part of people’s practices. The early Garfinkel himself resorted to these reasoning processes in order to interpret and explicate them. His assumption about the common- sense expectations was unobservable, but also a parallel to the means people used to make sense of their everyday settings. In that respect, only by using their own understanding as a resource was Garfinkel able to interpret his own findings. The parallel between the researcher’s and the subject’s reasoning processes also meant that the researcher did not have a monopoly on the analysis, as was originally pointed out by Garfinkel him- self: “The study of common sense knowledge and common sense activities consists of treating as problematic phenomena the actual methods whereby members of a society, doing sociology, lay or professional, make the social structures of everyday activities observable” (1967, 47). The rendering of experiences is people’s own achievement, through which they make their experiences recognizable and understandable in order to maintain the orderly, orchestrated nature of their activities. Sociology’s rediscovery of social order relies on people’s activities not only in terms of its topic but also with respect to its methods. In other words, social sciences do not just occasionally complement their scientific procedures with commonsense ad hoc reasoning, but the scientific procedures are just supplements of inter- pretative work in everyday life. People’s lived experience consists of making perceptions and circumstances manageable for the purposes relevant at this (or that) moment. The rendered experiences are the unavoidable basis of all social scientific analysis.
Of course, the very idea of the centrality of the rendering of experience is nothing less than a reformulation of the research policy of ethnomethodol- ogy: “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). That is, the methods whereby people render and make their experi- ences accountable are their means of maintaining the social order for which they are accountable. This “reflexive” and “incarnate” character of social order is the fact, which makes members’ methods and their common sense an unavoid- ably rich and deep topic both for themselves and for research. Further, this reflexive, incarnate nature of social order is the very fact that makes the find- ings of social sciences inherently indexical and open-ended. Social sciences have traditionally tried to meet this problem with a methodology that tries to formalize the findings. Classical EM turned this problem into its topic of research without refuting it. Later, “radical” EM has tried to escape this prob- lem by landing “in the midst of things. . . . In the midst of . . . endless
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things we’ll study the work as of which immortal ordinary society consists. We’ll see” (Garfinkel 1996, 6; cf. Kim 2003, 87).
Ethnomethodology’s “Radical” Split from the Social Sciences
Garfinkel was tempted to split from social sciences as early as his med- itations on “rendering,” such as his hypothetical example of a study of armed robberies (1959).3 Let us imagine that a sociologist was set to study armed robberies. If our sociologist wanted to meet the criteria of standard- ized formal analysis, he or she would be inclined to propose a general defi- nition of robbery, and thus make each individual case comparable in order to build a corpus for the purposes of the formal analysis (Garfinkel 2002, 121-22). The sociologist’s definition—for argument’s sake—might run that robbery is an instance of the transfer of rights to control another person’s use and disposal of commodities with the help of a threat of physical violence and in violation of the legitimate order of market arrangements that govern such transactions. As Garfinkel points out, this procedure instructs observa- tions in a certain way, enabling one to see a scene from a particular point of view (2002, 132). For instance, the victim’s complaints, the hardships, the loss incurred, the deceit and loss of dignity, etc., are being overlooked, at least temporarily. Through this procedure the sense of the event is literally transformed so that its essential features consist of a particular type of inter- personal transaction that potentially recurs and is accessible to a standard- ized analysis.
The rendering of phenomena is open to empirical and theoretical solu- tions. Classical ethnomethodology offered an empirical solution by trans- forming the rendering into its topic. Garfinkel (1996, 2002) later developed the theoretical solution as a full-blown version of the ‘radical’ ethnomethod- ology. According to Garfinkel (2002), (social) scientific activities can be described by the rendering theorem
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3. The first known written source for the armed robbery example is Harold Garfinkel’s man- uscript “Parsons’ Primer” (1959). Since H. G. has not relinquished the rights to circulate or quote his unpublished, early materials, I only point out that the rendering theorem—to be dis- cussed subsequently—that proved salient for later (radical) ethnomethodology was initially introduced through the hypothetical discussion of studies on armed robberies. All the rest of my argument is based only on the publicly available sources.
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where [ ] stands for the practices of members of society, which are made into what they are by exactly those methods and means they have to carry out these practices for whatever purposes they have. The term designates the set of operations social scientists implement for their own purposes in order to describe and explain the practices of society. The term ( ) refers to the findings of the social sciences, and their description of the society (cf. Garfinkel 2002, 135-37). The social sciences provide a theoretical, con- structed version of the social world by these means.
The alternate program of EM, Garfinkel suggests (2002), is not an inter- pretative practice. It investigates enacted local practices that “are in detail identical with themselves, and not representative of something else” (Garfinkel 1996, 8). Hence, being an alternative to formal analysis, EM does not have any problem in grasping the social world in its full concrete- ness, in its “ongoingly procedurally enacted coherence of substantive, ordered phenomenal details without loss of generality” or “without sacrific- ing issues of structure” (1996, 6, 7). At this point, we may note a specific and crucial incommensurability between what Garfinkel calls formal analysis (FA) and ethnomethodology (EM). EM does not treat the activities of the mundane world as representing and standing for something else. For EM, “the recurrent details of ordinary everyday practices constitute their own reality” (Garfinkel 1996, 8), whereas the task of social science is rep- resentational and interpretative par excellence; i.e., they constitute a formal analytic picture of everyday reality, which lacks its immediacy, etc.
‘Radical’ ethnomethodology is an elegant theoretical solution to the indexicality and reflexivity of social practices. However, as an empirical research program, it is deeply and inescapably flawed. I will show that empirical work either demands that EM gives up its purity to become a form of interpretative social science itself as in Garfinkel and his colleagues’ study on an optically discovered pulsar (Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone 1981), or is bound to lose the phenomenon investigated through the same technical skills it has used in bracketing everyday resources, as in Baccus’s investigation of indication in social science and Lynch’s program for post- analytic science studies.
“Radicalism” Lost
The classical ethnomethodological studies were not pure: everyday reasoning was both their topic and resource. In that respect, they were not so different from standard social science. It is not news to most social
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scientists that they also have to use common sense in their scientific work; even the most innocent survey researcher would be ready to admit that some amount of interpretative work is needed to make sense of the data and the relationships between variables. Garfinkel (1967, 20-23, 95-103) also stated and explained several times that coding schemes and research proce- dures are inextricably bound up with everyday reasoning processes and ad hoc practices. He commented upon the uses of ad hoc procedures in and for the instructed activities in the following way:
To treat instructions as though ad hoc features in their use were a nuisance, or to treat their presence as grounds for complaint about the incompleteness of instructions, is very much like complaining that if the walls of a building were only gotten out of the way one could see better what was holding the roof up. (Garfinkel 1967, 22)
In a similar vein, Garfinkel comments upon the work a reader of a social scientific study has to do to make sense of how the findings stand for their alleged referent in the social world:
It is at this point that the reader must engage in interpretative work and an assumption of “underlying” matters “just known in common” about the society in terms of which, what the respondent said, is treated [as] synonymous with what the observer meant. Correct correspondence is apt to be meant and read on reasonable grounds. (Garfinkel 1967, 96)
Heritage, who discusses these issues in detail (1984, 157-68), concludes that Garfinkel (at that point) was not ironical about or critical of the social sciences, and “neither does he claim exemption from these interpretative processes for ethnomethodological studies” (1984, 167).
In contrast with the classic ethnomethodology, the later, “radical” eth- nomethodology has imposed more constraints on its own methodology. The key aspects have been the non-interpretativeness of its own methods and the unique adequacy requirement. Both these methodological requirements are directed toward preserving the opportunity to study locally achieved order- liness in its own right; i.e., the occasioned corpus, which is its members’ own accomplishment, (see Garfinkel 1988, 107-8; 1996; 2002, 121-34; Garfinkel and Wieder 1992, 182, 200-2). It aims at avoiding transforming the lived and experienced phenomena into “signed objects” that lose their in vivo character and just-this-ness by steering clear of representative theorizing and interpretative reasoning. The unique adequacy requirement claims that methodical human activities cannot be understood in the final instance
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without resorting to precisely those methodical means. As Garfinkel and Wieder put it, in every case the achieved orderliness “already possesses whatever as methods methods could be of [finding it] if [methods for finding it] are at issue” (1992, 182). In other words, the analyst has to be competent in the use of the methods by which each phenomenon in question is pro- duced, so that the analysis can reproduce the phenomenon in detail without loss of a single lived feature.
However, empirical research practices pose complications for “radical” ethnomethodology. Very few, if any, ethnomethodological studies, even later ones, have successfully freed themselves of interpretative practices, generally remaining reliant on the conventional ethnographic methods. Not only were the breaching experiments reported by conventional ethnographic methods, but so were many other early ethnomethodological studies, such as Garfinkel’s case study of the transsexual Agnes (1967, 116-85), Wieder’s (1974) study of a halfway house, Lynch’s study of laboratory work (1985), and even Garfinkel and Wieder’s study of telephone summonses (1992, 192-202). The ethnographic methods themselves produce a “rendering” of the phenomena (see, for instance, Atkinson 1990). The ethnographic field and case study conventions, the ways of coding and managing the observ- able objects, and the reporting and writing procedures all contribute toward transforming in vivo experienced objects into “signed objects,” to use Garfinkel and Wieder’s own terminology.4 The use of ethnographic methods means that “the analyst is committed to the work of interpretation”—“that is, of finding and reading signs” (Garfinkel and Wieder 1992, 198). Further, this ethnographic work “contrasts with the incommensurable and irrecon- cilable alternate of specifying object production in and as of the haec- ceities of the object, which is identical with an in vivo work site” (Garfinkel and Wieder 1992, 198). Through the choice of its research policies, and ethnographic methods in particular, ethnomethodology does not meet the criteria its “radical” version programmatically espouses.
Of those studies that are not traditional ethnographies, Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone’s study of an optical pulsar (1981) might be a candidate for a pure, noninterpretative, “radical” ethnomethodology.5 Their well- known study concerns the moment of discovery of an optical pulsar in the
4. We have to note that Garfinkel and Wieder (1992) and Garfinkel (2002) apply their method- ological descriptions selectively. They do not speak about their own essentially ethnographic demonstrations as “signed objects” as if “ethnography” could produce something else than “signed objects.” In that respect, their work relies on double standards.
5. I thank Tom Wilson for this suggestion, and for his careful, insightful reading of the optical pulsar study (Tom Wilson, personal communication).
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observatory on January 16, 1969, by astronomers as tape-recorded. In their study, Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone reverse the conventional logic, according to which the “real pulse” is to be derived from the “appearing pulse” through careful inference and testing. Instead, Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone try to recover the ‘first time through’ of the embodied practices of the astronomers, finding and exhibiting it again as an adequate demon- stration. As they themselves suggest, the key to their work is the analogy to the potter’s object:
The analogy of the potter’s object is suggestive on a point that we need more than anything to make, but find difficult to put in a few conventional words: the intertwining of worldly objects and embodied practices.
The analogy to the oscilloscopically displayed pulse is the developingly observable object of the potter, where the pulse takes “shape” in and as of the way it is worked, and from a place-to-start with to an increasingly definite thing. (1981, 137)
Note the kind of operation Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone commit them- selves to here. Through the analogy, the researchers translate an unknown object into a known object, constructing the process of the discovery of the pulsar through an analogue that allows them to see an identifiable, recurring practice in a unique moment. As they themselves point out, this allows them to construe the pulsar “as a ‘cultural object’” (1981, 137). Through their interpretation they have translated an unknown, unique moment into a named, meaningful process. Their study is important in that it avoids a naïve teleology of science studies that starts the analysis from the already discov- ered pulsar. Instead, they try to focus on the astronomers’ interpretative prac- tices through which the observed object is formed into “an increasingly definite thing” (1981, 137). Their use of the analogy is their resource, a key that allows them to analyze the astronomers’ interpretative work by singling out its elements by removing them from their context. According to Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone, the not yet observed pulsar, the evidently vague IT, has “the properties of a Sacksian ‘IT’” (1981, 157), by which they mean an object that occurs in conversation, which is produced, recognized, and understood before it has a definiteness of sense or reference (1981, 157). The similarity of the “Sacksian IT” and the not yet observed pulsar allows the analysts to make observable the unknown properties of the astronomers’ work. This analysis transforms the discovery of the pulsar into a process of enriching the sense of the referent in a conversation. The sense of the phe- nomenon is illuminated via an analogy that allows transformation of the object from an unknown realm to a known realm.
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It appears that study of the pulsar discovery is actually a classic eth- nomethodological study in which interpretative resources are both the topic and the resource of the study. Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone resorted to their understanding of the course of conversation, which enabled them to interpret their data. The interpretation of ‘breaching’ experiments relied on the assumption of the commonsense expectations as an unobservable basis of the behavior of their subjects. The explication of the astronomers’ discov- ery relied on the unobservable “Sacksian IT” through which the discovery of an increasingly definite thing could be observed.
Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone do not define ‘Sacksian IT’ through Sacks’s work (where we do not actually find any discussion of a “vague IT”), and do not refer to any particular lecture by Sacks.6 Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone need to construct a Sacksian IT as a signed object to explicate the astronomers’ work. They state that the Sacksian IT was originally “wit- nessably vague,” which, however, “is produced, recognized, and understood before it has a definiteness of sense or reference” (1981, 157). Sacks dis- cusses at length the “tying techniques” through which parties demonstrate the sense of objects in subsequent turns (1992a, 716-38). Sacks’s discus- sion leaves open two possibilities. If the vagueness of IT were a problem, then the parties would resort to “repair practices” that Sacks originally dis- cussed among other tying techniques (1992a, 722). Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone’s Sacksian IT does not seem to pose a problem for the parties, as it is readily “recognized and understood” despite its vagueness. It seems to be known well enough for all practical purposes. As Sacks points out, when the recognition of the pronoun is “automatic,” then demonstration of understanding follows in the next utterances. This seems to be the case in the pulsar data, where we do not find any evidence of the recognition prob- lems that would have led to repairs.
The “Sacksian IT” identified by Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone seems “vague” in the sense that it is open to a prospective enrichment of its mean- ing (i.e., the sense of “it” will be explicated in subsequent turns). It appears that Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone have recognized an object that has later been called “a prospective indexical,” the usage of which has been studied in professional practices (Goodwin 1996; Arminen 2005a). To elab- orate an object of knowledge, parties may use a “prospective indexical,”
6. Sacks’s lectures on conversation from 1964 to 1972 were published in 1992. So Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone (1981) could not refer to the published edition of Sacks’s lectures (1992a, 1992b). The lectures had, however, been unofficially available in mimeographed versions for a long time by 1981 (see Schegloff 1992).
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i.e., an expression whose meaning is not readily available, but which implies a further inquiry about its meaning. This sense making is embed- ded in the embodied practices of seeing and requesting further information about visible objects. Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingstone seem to have found an interactional practice that recurs in other professional practices. They have produced an interesting reading of scientific practice through their use of analogies, knowledge of properties of interaction, and interpre- tation of their object of knowledge. Theirs appears to be an example of clas- sical ethnomethodological work, suffering only from their restricted access to data. The availability of the audiotape alone allows only a partial inspec- tion of the embodied practices of the laboratory work they programmati- cally announced. Their concentration on the audiotape recording loses the intertwining of work objects and laboratory practices as an embodied process. Despite their claims, they do not quite catch “the intertwining of worldly objects and embodied practices,” and their analysis does not quite achieve the best standards of ethnomethodological analysis (cf. Goodwin 1994, 1995, 2000; for an overview of the development of the field, see Arminen 2005a).
“Radical” Ethnomethodology Loses the Phenomenon
The later Garfinkel (1986, 1988, 1996, 2002) and some of his students have continued to search for an alternative, more radical stance to create a new research practice. Melinda Baccus’s analysis of sociological indication (1986) that opens Garfinkel’s collection of studies of work seems doubly salient. First, it is one of the key studies of later ethnomethodology that Garfinkel has kept on mentioning as indispensable. Second, as an explica- tion of a social scientific practice, it is a methodological statement that clar- ifies the nature of the alternative ethnomethodological practice.
Baccus (1986) tries to explicate the nature of social theorizing through the careful analysis of methodical practices of social science. According to Baccus, standard social scientific investigation transforms social processes into scientific facts through translating them with the help of indicators that stand for the theory. Peter Blau’s study of “structural effects” (1960) is taken as an example of constructive or formal analytic investigation, which is treated in detail (Baccus 1986, 10-19). Baccus notes that the data do not stand to the findings of study as the world stands to the analysis. It is only through theory that the data acquire their meaning, and thus their referent is also a theoretical construct (1986, 18). In all, Baccus shows that the findings
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of the study are endogenously produced by the instructed procedures that both formulate and explain the phenomenon analyzed. Baccus’s analysis tries to explicate the procedures through which the study phenomenon has been transformed into a scientific object that derives its demonstrable reliability and validity from the repeatable procedures of the demonstration itself. Hence, she has shown, at least partly, what the operations, →, going oninthescheme[ ] →( )arewhenmundaneobjectsaretransformedinto repeatable and reportable scientific objects.
We note that Baccus has accomplished her finding by concentrating on the procedural practices of the study in question so that her analysis is to a great degree indifferent to the claims of the study since it does not comment on the relationship between [ ] and ( ), the relationship between the social world and findings. Basically, Baccus only states that there is actually no relationship between the scientifically constructed findings and real-world events (Baccus 1986, 18; and above). We may conclude that through her pro- cedures, Baccus has put facts in a particular frame of reference, thus trans- forming the sense of the phenomenon in question. The perspective Baccus takes is to consider Blau’s work as “an example of indication” (Baccus 1986, 11). This perspective is also exclusive: “[we] will focus only on the element of indication in the work” (Baccus 1986, 11). In this respect, we note that Baccus has already departed from the members’ lived sense of their activity at the point at which she defined the object of her study. For Blau, his study is an empirical demonstration of a social structure that is an attribute of social collectivities (Baccus 1986, 14), but for Baccus it is an example of doing indication. Baccus has been able to show some aspects of the research methodologies that make Blau’s study a social scientific study, but not what give it just-this-ness, the specific endogenously and locally produced sense through which Blau’s study becomes precisely that study.
Nevertheless, we could say that as a study of “social scientific indica- tion,” that is, a scrutiny of operationalization of variables, Baccus’s work meets the unique adequacy requirements of ethnomethodological studies to make all the uniquely adequate details that constitute the lived practice of the phenomenon in question instructably observable (Garfinkel and Wieder 1992, 182; Garfinkel 1996, 18-19; Garfinkel 1988, 2002). The problem, however, is that the indication, the operationalization of variables in and for social scientific demonstration, is irrevocably indexical to the contingencies and practicalities of the demonstration itself. Through the defining features of Baccus’s study, the neglect of the indexical properties of the phenomenon, it loses the phenomenon that ethnomethodology programmatically claims it is concerned with. Because she treats the ‘indication’ as a self-sufficient
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entity, she ignores and misses the ways in which Blau’s work, and indica- tion as part of it, is informed and guided by commonsense knowledge of the members’ state of affairs, through which it becomes an empirical demon- stration. As a result of the construction of her object, Baccus loses a consti- tutive dimension of Blau’s work, thereby treating it as a “demonstration” and not as an “empirical demonstration,” in which “indication” is not only a “constructed object” but also a “constructed object working for empirical demonstratability of patterns of human behavior.”7
Finally, Baccus’s analysis is also self-explicatory in terms of the reasons why she has given up the study of the work “indication” accomplishes in Blau’s study. Baccus notes that explanation of behavior in Blau’s study works as a formulation.
The behaviors of the caseworkers [in Blau’s study] as individual attributes can be taken as “effects” (of social constraint) only with respect to the group attribute (the constraining group value) as a formulation reflexively account- ing for those behaviors as effects, as data, and so as an empirical demonstra- tion of the existence of the process of which the construct is a formulation. (Baccus 1986, 17)
This would seem to allow a discussion about the ways in which “formulating” is an aspect of the work through which “indication” is made an “empirical demonstration.” Baccus, however, goes on, “Blau goes on to reason about the social process in terms of such things as sanctioning activities in the group, but this reasoning only makes the process sensible; it does not empirically display the process as an observable” (Baccus 1986, 17). A bit further on, Baccus pursues the empirical availability of the demonstration: “This avail- ability is the imagined availability of accountable features of the phenomenon (such as the consistency of attitude and behavior) of which the formulation stands as an account” (1986, 17). Quite plainly, these observations indicate that Blau’s study is unavoidably embedded in interpretative reasoning processes. After Baccus has noted that Blau’s study relies on some interpre- tative resources that are used to link the theoretical constructs to their alleged referents in the social world, she avoids taking any stance on these issues, plainly stating that there is no connection between the theoretically constructed findings and the real-world events. The obvious benefit for her is that she avoids becoming an interpretative theorist herself; i.e., by giving
7. Incidentally, Abbott (2004) discusses the same study of Blau’s as an exemplary of causal social analysis. For Abbott, Blau’s study exemplifies how a social process can be translated into an object of causal analysis. He seems to catch the meaning of Blau’s study as intended.
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up explication of the documentary evidence of Blau’s study, she effectively stays clear of the documentary method of interpretation and needs not offer a critique or remedy for Blau’s study (or take it seriously). However, we also see some inescapable ironical consequences of her move. As the later Garfinkel puts it, “with the same procedural skills of carrying out these jobs the phenomena they so carefully describe are lost” (1996, 8).
Melinda Baccus’s investigation of Peter Blau’s study (1986) is a good example of the achieved incompetence of the later ethnomethodology: by refusing to treat the interpretative work constitutive of the object studied, it loses the very phenomenon of the social sciences. By claiming complete independence of social sciences, ethnomethodology loses its grip on a mun- dane world and becomes a self-sufficient, empty realm. This seems to be the faith of radical ethnomethodology (Clayman and Maynard 1995). Lynch’s (1993) postanalytic ethnomethodological studies of science also seem to share this fate.
Lynch (1993) starts from the later version of ethnomethodology, accord- ing to which (epistemic) realities are locally, endogenously constructed. His postanalytic ethnomethodology brings this vision to its ultimate, proposing to give up all scientism, including faith in generalizable knowledge. Lynch begs us to forget science:
Forget trying to act—or trying to convince others that you are acting—in accordance with some general epistemological scheme. This advice applies most specifically to the research programs I have discussed here, because the sociology of scientific knowledge and ethnomethodology explicitly propose to examine epistemic topics. The lesson that observation, representation, replication, measurement, and the like are “locally organized” applies no less to the aims and methods of social scientific investigations than it does to the lay and professional activities described and explained through such investi- gations. (1993, 311)
Paradoxically, Lynch’s skepticism leads him back to a kind of bricouleur version of “normal science.” He suggests,
Stop talking about science! Go to a laboratory—any laboratory will do—hang around a while, listen to conversations, watch the technicians work, ask them to explain what they do, read their notes, observe what they say when they examine data, and watch how they move equipment around! (Lynch 1993, 315)
By “hanging round” you get your data collected, then just write down your findings. As Lynch (1999) later admits, later ethnomethodology’s rejection
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of all methodological rules, analytic procedures, and evaluative criteria may empty the discipline, and become its kiss of death. Positively, Lynch himself ends up advocating his version of bricouleur science without a set of gen- eralized rules. He goes as far as citing Chomsky’s rejection of the method- ological canons of comparative research approvingly. Chomsky stated that no special methodology was needed, since he practiced ‘normal science’. He juxtaposed (arguably) comparable cases, cited testimonies and reports, drew out common themes, noted relevant discrepancies and trends, and appealed to common intuition and judgment (1999, 304). Common sense and faith have replaced the methodological canons of science.
In all, Lynch’s postanalytic ethnomethodology seeks to disclose below the shining crown of science “myriad embodied routines and diverse language games, none of which may be uniquely ‘scientific’ ” (1999, 316). Interestingly, ethnomethodology that had started from a complaint that normal science was unable to identify what made a small group a jury (Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingston 1981; Garfinkel 2002, 96-97) has now been able to show that scientists are human. Ethnomethodology initially tried to catch the defining features, the “just whatness,” of mundane activities that make them what they are, i.e., what the methods, means, and procedures are through which an activ- ity, like jury deliberation or scientific research, is being done. In its search of singularities, later, “radical” ethnomethodology has departed from classical studies, and returned—not to normal science, but to common sense. Originally, ethnomethodology had become famous through its criticism of the “judg- mental dopes” of normal science who lacked situated reasoning (Garfinkel 1967, 68; Heritage 1984, 110-15); later ethnomethodology has invented situ- ated dopes who lack the world outside of an immediate situation.
Conversation Analysis: An Extension of Ethnomethodology?
From its onset, EM was striven by ‘scientific’ and ‘radical’ impulses. Harvey Sacks and his colleagues gained the lead in “scientific” ethnomethodological studies early with their research program that was to be called conversation analysis (CA). CA originally emerged as a branch of ethnomethodology that has developed into a systematic approach for studies on all interactional behavior usually including talk8 (ten Have 1999; Silverman 1998). CA main-
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8. In CA, this “all interactional behavior usually including talk” is commonly abbreviated to “talk-in-interaction.”
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tains that the understanding of social actions is founded on talk in interaction (Heritage 1984). Hence, the study of talk itself can become the foundation for social research. Eventually, CA seeks to supersede common sense through a sensitive analysis of (verbal) coordination of social actions that surpasses the everyday understandings of actions.
The relationship between EM and CA has remained debatable. On one hand, CA has been seen as the inheritor of EM and its extension (Heritage 1984; Boden and Zimmerman 1991); on the other, CA has been criticized for scientism and lack of “radical” reflexivity (Pollner 1991; Lynch 1993). For Heritage (1984, 291), conversation analysis is an extension of the the- orem of accountable action. That is, CA catches the nucleus of ethnomethod- ology, the self-organizing character of social order, and analyzes it in more detail and more extensively than EM. Eventually, CA deals with the medi- ation of agency and structure:
The organization of talk thus participates in a dialectical relationship between agency and structure in social life and in a cognitive-moral way. Without a detailed texture of institutionalized methods of talking to orient to, social actors would inevitably lose their cognitive bearings. (Heritage 1984, 292)
For Heritage, CA is ultimately a general theory of social action. Heritage seems ready to replace ethnomethodology with conversation analysis to achieve a generalized account of social life.
Indeed, situated actions seem to be composed of properties that can be ana- lyzed and reported using CA. The breaching experiments already mentioned seem to be composed of particular types of “adjacency pairs” (Schegloff and Sacks 1973; Heritage 1984). In one such, the experimenter’s clarification request of a subject’s commonplace remark, such as “how are you” or “I am tired,” produced responses of varying kinds. Occasionally, the clarification request was taken as an insult: “Look! I was just trying to be polite. Frankly, I don’t give a damn how you are” (Garfinkel 1967, 44); likewise, it could be understood as a question: “I don’t know, I guess physically, mainly” (43); or as a part of a larger activity: “why are you asking me such silly questions?” (44). These responses display the reflexive accountability of social actions that is achieved through sequential organization of action in interaction.
The responses not only are realized by reference to the existing context but also themselves create the context for every “next” action (Heritage 1984, 242). Eventually, the endogenous, reflexive creation of context extends to “order at all points,” where each next action takes place in the context it already contributes to (Sacks 1992a, 484). That is, since the responses have
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contextualized these clarification requests in various ways, including as insults, sincere questions, or elements of a larger activity, these responses contribute reflexively toward the understanding of the prior action and, further, cre- ate expectations concerning the next action. The experimenter is thereby made accountable to clarify whether his/her action was understood as s/he intended it, or whether the subject should revise his/her understanding of his/her action. In this fashion, people’s commonsense expectations are not hidden, but displayed in the very actions they take in each ongoing moment. Further, the contextualizations are incarnate in the accounts of the actions they describe, so that no external norm can be invoked to explain why just that contextualization should apply just there. The contextualization is thus inter- nal to the account of the behavior it framed just what it claimed it to be.
CA seems to provide us access to the orientations of the subjects and allows us to reconstruct situated actions, such as breaching experiments. It has allowed us to consider the procedures and courses of action by which parties in interaction display the relevant aspects of the ongoing activity, which them- selves constitute the overall sense of the action. However, we have to make some methodological reservations. The analysis of breaching experiments has traded on the analyst’s knowledge of the breachings all the way through, as already mentioned. A naïve analyst, without knowledge of the ongoing exper- iment, might understood breaching as part of ordinary conversation, and would be as puzzled as the subjects. On the basis of the responses of subjects, breachings might be insults, inquiries, or elements of a larger activity; the con- versational interaction alone does not give a sufficient basis to reconstruct the social action that has remained opaque to some parties in the interaction. Schegloff’s discussion of the recognizability of actions (1984) concerns the same issue; for instance, how does a conversation analyst know a question has been asked if the recipients do not answer it? Schegloff points out that conver- sation analysis is not an empiricist program that was based on the orientations of the parties only. In contrast, CA requires vernacular linguistic and cultural competence, through which objects are recognized in the first place. In insti- tutionally distinct settings, the actions of the parties may be informed by spe- cial knowledge, beliefs, and organizational contingencies (Arminen 2000, 2005a). The analyst’s recognition of what is going on may thus depend on both vernacular competence and context-sensitive knowledge.
Ironically, the breaching experiments that were designed to disclose the subjects’ situated reasoning seem to have established the normative back- bone of social order that cannot be traced back to the situated interaction. Experiments fall senseless if we do not enrich their meaning through our understanding of their experimental nature. The analysis trades on both the
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vernacular knowledge of the courses of interaction and the situated knowl- edge of the experimental arrangements. These restrictions hold for CA as well. CA requires competence of both vernacular courses of action as well as situated knowledge of the cultural and organizational context that parties trade on to achieve the specific patterns of action via multiple media (cf. Arminen 2005b). CA cannot claim exemption from mundane interpretative processes: its inquiry of people’s interactional practices, in which they make sense of and communicate their actions, depends on making sense of those practices, ultimately with the same interpretative resources.
Toward an Ethnomethodological Social Science
Early ethnomethodology and conversation analysis share the presuppo- sition that phenomena are properly investigated through observation and discursive reporting so that others can make use of these reports for further inference and action (Wilson 2003). Together they open up people’s tacit resources of social action, their common sense and interactional compe- tence to research. Recently, workplace studies and anthropological studies of practices have increasingly drawn on a combination of methods from CA, ethnomethodology, and ethnography (Suchman 1987; Goodwin 1995; Heath and Luff 2000; Luff, Hindmarsh, and Heath 2000). This new synthe- sis of CA, EM, and ethnography could fulfill the original promise of EM to invigorate our understanding of social action and revive Sacks’s original vision of the science of social life (1992a, 1992b; see Arminen 2006).
Ethnomethodologically inspired CA addresses action in interaction, and avoids privileging verbal communication by investigating ordering and the relative positioning of any kind of action, move, and utterance. Studies on action in interaction discuss how talk and other activities as ongoing achieve- ments contribute to the emergence of social actions, not merely trying to understand talk or the organization of action. These studies do not simply address the sequence organization that concerns courses of action that have been realized through talk only, but also attend to the sequential order that concerns the relative positioning of any kind of move, utterance, or action (Arminen 2005b; cf. Schegloff 2007).
Both workplace studies and anthropological studies of practices have tried to develop a perspective to investigate social action as situated accom- plishments that emerge from their practical management within language, social configuration, and material resources (Heath and Luff 2000; Goodwin 1994, 2000; Nevile 2004; Arminen 2005b). These approaches have adopted
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aspects of activity theory to address social actions more distinctly, and not to prioritize communication (cf. Engeström and Middleton 1998). As a whole, talk and other actions are in a reciprocal relationship; they facilitate each other in accomplishing the task they are contributing to. The coordination of talk and action establishes the sense of the ongoing action, not talk as such (Goodwin 2000; Nevile 2004; Arminen 2005b). Talk is the primordial site at and through which the actors express their understanding of their situated agencies, and negotiate their division of roles for participation in it. Talk makes the sense of the social activities intersubjectively available, amounting to what Heritage (1984) has called the architecture of intersubjectivity. However, talk and social actions are not two separate plenums, talk being the medium for orchestrating activities through emerging agencies.
Ultimately, this emerging paradigm may end up rejuvenating Sacks’s vision of the science of social life. Initially, CA began to emerge from Sacks’s contemplation of the idea of the science of social life that would analyze the practices that permit people to see and feel the way they do (1992a, 1992b; see Arminen 2005a). Starting from Garfinkel’s original idea of ethnomethod- ology, the goal was to be relieved from what-everybody-knows. The elemen- tary properties of action in interaction that compose the taken-for-granted basis for ways of life were to be explored instead (Sacks 1992b, 26; Silverman 1998, 53-56). The idea was to grasp the relevant details of actions to reverse-engineer the foundations of societal life (Sacks 1992a, 27). The aim was to build a solid science on the reproducibility of findings. The researcher’s information was to be shared with the reader as completely as possible to allow the reproduction of study results (Sacks 1992a, 27; Silverman 1998, 53-56). As such, Sacks did not aim to narrow down the scope of research to the level of interaction only. In fact, Sacks became interested in conversations only incidentally, because their ease of recording allowed access to actual reproductions of lived life that were critical for the scientific study of social life (Sacks 1992b, 26). The reproducibility of findings was important not only for the development of scientific research but also to allow readers access to findings to appreciate and evaluate their value for all practical purposes.
In all, the ethnomethodological social science can revitalize Sacks’s original idea of studying members’ methodical ways of accomplishing social action in interaction (1992a, 1992b). This opens up the examination of elaborate issues, such as the achievement of collaboration and the proce- dures whereby the differing perspectives of participants are brought into alignment. The studies on action in interaction provide fine-grained machin- ery to account for a sequential flow of interaction in any context. They may
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help us to learn to pay attention to the details of interaction that matter, and allow us to examine the sequential orchestration of activities upon which the intersubjective understanding of social actions relies.
The methodological contribution consists of uniting the analysis of verbal and physical action in their activity context. Ethnographic materials provide a background understanding for a more detailed scrutiny of (video)taped (inter)actions. Ideally, the use of multiple data sources opens a hermeneutic circle in which the details of (inter)action are interpreted vis-à-vis their ethnographic context, the sense of which is clarified by ref- erence to the actual interaction. Video recordings provide an opportunity to test the validity of ethnographic insights by providing reportable evidence on instances of the phenomena studied. The production and coordination of social action in real time through talk and visual conduct are inspected by combining videotapes with the study of spoken interaction so that the mutual constitution of talk and action is revealed. Talk is studied with the help of CA transcription conventions and methods, and visual actions are inspected along with the stream of speech, which discloses the sequential flow of activities as an organized whole. These studies reverse-engineer the building blocks of the intersubjective understanding of social practices in action in which the parties’ coordination of their activities itself displays their sense of practice.
Conclusion
EM has been torn by scientific and “radical” impulses from the start. Initially, EM opened up the study of everyday reasoning and the resulting reflexivity of social order. However, early ethnomethodology traded on the same interpretative resources it aimed at explicating. This dilemma has been solved in two incompatible ways. The “radical” solution tries to bracket everyday reasoning to avoid EM to become an interpretative science. It tries to catch “singular moments on the fly” without resorting to any external resources outside of the “situation itself.” For “radical” EM, knowledge appears as a form of revelation and a “radical” pedagogy. To achieve its goal, “radical” EM tries to deny both everyday thinking and scientific procedures. As has been shown, “radical” EM has the ironic consequence that it loses its phenomenon with the very same skills with which it carries out its tasks. Alternatively, EM loses its “radicalism,” and becomes another interpreta- tive science.
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Scientific EM has led to the development of conversation analysis (CA). This line of research promises a strict analysis of sequential aspects of social actions in real time and in real settings by accepting “normal” scien- tific standards. CA allows identifying, specifying, and comparing interac- tional patterns that constitute or contribute to establishing the social world as perceived. Both early ethnomethodology and CA address the constitu- tion of the mundane world through their use of vernacular interactional competence and situated knowledge.
If it is admitted that mundane knowledge is an inescapable part of social research, then a path is opened for ethnomethodological social science that is devoted to the explication of social practices with the conjoined methods of CA, EM, and related approaches. Workplace studies and anthropology of practices have recently started to synthesize EM, CA, and ethnography. The resulting approach can amount to studies on action in interaction that explore the actual practices that compose ongoing situated day-to-day social prac- tices increasing our understanding by respecifying their interactional sub- stratum. Eventually, it can shape, broaden, detail, and even correct our understanding of those practices (Peräkylä and Vehviläinen 2003). The emerging ethnomethodological social science can contribute toward our grasp of diversity in social practices, and may revive Harvey Sacks’s idea of the science of social life that would explicate “the order at all points” at the organization of society amounting to the micro-anatomy of the cell structure of societies.
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Ilkka Arminen is a professor, University of Tampere, Finland. He is coauthor of Alcoholics Anonymous as a Mutual-Help Movement: A Study in Eight Societies (1996), and the author of Therapeutic Interaction: A Study of Mutual Help in the Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (1998) and Institutional Interaction: Studies of Talk at Work (2005). He has also published articles in a number of edited collections and journals, including Acta Sociologica, Discourse & Society, Discourse Studies, Journal of Pragmatics, Research on Language and Social Interaction, Text, and The Sociological Quarterly.
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