What Can Ethnomethodology Say About Power--Watson and Goulet (1998)


Qualitative Inquiry

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What Can Ethnomethodology Say About Power?
Graham Watson and Jean-Guy Goulet Qualitative Inquiry 1998 4: 96 DOI: 10.1177/107780049800400106
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What Can Ethnomethodology Say About Power?
Graham Watson University ofCalgary
Jean-Guy Goulet Saint Paul University
Aninterviewin whicha DeneThaman talksabouthispeople’spowers(echint’e)and a passageinwhichan eminentsocialscientistdiscussessociologicallytheorizedpower
are examined for the methods by which these powers are producedas objective facts. The methods invite comparison; forexample, both the Dene Tha and the theorist characterize
visible and tangible phenomena as pointing to underlying forces that are invisible and intangible. If only (but not only) because these forces are invisible and intangible, work has to be performed to make them stick. This does not constitute a problemfor the Dene
Tha, whose procedures need only be adequate for practical purposes, but it is a self- imposed hurdle for social scientists, who require their procedures to pass the test of theoreticaladequacy;however,satisfying.thattestis no lessa practicalaccomplishment
than is constituting Dene Tha powers as
In this article, I propose to demonstrate that ethnomethodologyhas some-
thing interesting to say about power. I consider, first, a transcript of an interviewwitha memberoftheDeneThapeopleofnorthernAlberta,Canada,
and, second, a brief excerpt from a volume by a distinguished social theorist to show that there are nontrivial similarities between the ways in which the DeneThamakeavailabletheirpowers(echint’e)as objectivephenomenaand
effective
the ways in which social scientists make available their theorized power as 1
an objectivephenomenon.
What ethnomethodologyhas to say about power is not what conventional
social science has to say. Readers hoping for a conventional social scientific
2 answer to a conventional social scientific question will be disappointed.~
Ethnomethodologyhasitsown questionsanditsown answers;theseconcern
Author’sNote:Forexceedinglyhelpfulcommentson anearlierdraft,Iam indebtedtoWes Sharrock and members of the ethnography seminar at the University of Manchester.
Qualitahve Inquiry, Volume 4 Number 1, 1998 96-113 @ 1998 Sage Publicahons, Inc.
96
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mattersthatare overlookedbyconventionalsocialscience 3Eventhoughboth ethnomethodologyand conventional social science mightappear to be study- ing the same thing when both study power, a radical change of topic is
involved.Touse currentjargon,ethnomethodologyrespecifiespower. Ethnomethodologyis,as itsname suggests,a studyofmethods.Itasksnot why, but how. It asks how people get things done-how they transform
situations or how they preserve situations &dquo;unchanged,&dquo; step by step, and frommomenttomoment.Asitsname alsosuggests,itisinterestedinordinary
methods, the methods of the people rather than of their theorists. It investi-
gates the disregarded methods that people actually use: the methods of
reasoningthatpeopleemployas theygoabouttheireverydaybusinessrather thantherulesofformallogic,andthemethodsthattheyusetocommunicate
effectively in conversation rather than structural linguistics. In short, eth-
nomethods. If it concerns itself at all with the cleaned-up accounts that
theorists offer of the ways things get done, then it is to investigate the steps theorists take to derive their idealized accounts from the messy business of real life.
Ethnomethodology is particularly interested in h o w people produce phe- nomena as objectiveor notobjective,thatis,as existing(ornot)priortoand independently of their discourses about them. To say that phenomena are
produced implies neither trickery (although people do sometimes engage in tricks)nor illusions(althoughsometimespeopledocreatethem).Itimplies, quitesimply,thatpeopleproducetheworldas itisbecausetheworlddoes
notproduceitself.Tosaythatpeopleproducetheworldisnotthesame as sayingthattheyaresolipsists,thattheyare abletofashiontheworldaccord- ing to their whims. First, the process of realizing the world is a social process throughandthrough,notamentalisticone(Button,Coulter,Lee,& Sharrock, 1995).Second,one cannot ordinarilyproducean imaginaryor nonsensical phenomenon and expect to be taken seriously The mistake is to think of the processofproductionas one thatisfreeofconstraintswheninfactitisa structure of constraints. People produce candidate versions of the way things are,andthesemaybeaccepted,shelved,or disputedaccordingtomore or less institutionalized criteria.
Ifeverythingisproduced,broughtintobeing,or madeavailable(or,less
felicitously, socially constructed-a phrase with inescapable connotations of
manufacturing),thentwo thingsfollow.Thefirstisthatproblemsofontology are irrelevant.Thetruthstatusofknowledgeclaimsisa problemforpartici-
pantsnotfortheanalyst4Thatfreesus,inour roleas analysts,toinspect methods used to produce phenomena, untroubled by doubts that w e might
haveas ordinarymembersofsocietyconcerningtheontologicalstatusof what it is that is being produced. The second thing that follows is that the demon-
strationthata particularphenomenonisproduced,realized,or madeavail- able does not single it out and stigmatize it as less credible than any other
phenomenon.
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Inthetranscriptofan interviewreproducedbelow,boththeanthropologist andtheAmerindiancanbeseentoorienttothepossibleexerciseofpowerby
the other. This is a n instance of the w a y that everybody, including the social scientist,makesuse ofthenotionofpowerineverydaydiscourse.Ileavethat particularuse withoutremark.WhatIam goingtoremarkon isthepro- nouncedsimilarityofthemethodsbywhichbothDaniel,an Amerindian,and Barnes,a sociologicaltheorist,producetheirspecializedversionsofpower.If I focus on Daniel’s power, it is because those among his peoplewho possess apower(andnoteverybodydoes)maybeaskedtouseittocurethesickand may require payment for doing so; that is, this version is one of the few
specialized forms of knowledge to which his people lay claim that is in any way analogous to the claims to specialized knowledge that social scientists
make.
Ipresentan inspectablerecordofsome interactionbetweenmycolleague,
Jean-Guy Goulet, and Daniel, a member of the Dene Tha people. It consists
ofa roughtranscriptionofa taperecording,whichGouletmadeatmyrequest.
Its interest for us is twofold. First, the interviewee (Daniel) talks about his &dquo;
brother’spower.Here,power-orbetter, ’apower’or’apowerfulness’rather than’power’ unqualified by a n article&dquo; (Helm, 1994, p. 77, a s cited in Goulet, inpress)-isa nativeconcept;however,intheDeneThacontext,itisas near as can beto a professionalizedconceptofpower.Second,thetranscriptisan incitement to the social scientific analyst to characterize the relationship of theinterviewer(Goulet)totheintervieweeasonethatisbasedonpower.
Readers will probably experience s o m e difficulty in making sense of the transcript. All that is needed to make sense of it is already in the transcript
itself, but to forestall potential difficulties, I offer some clarification. One hurdle for the reader is linguistic. Daniel’s mother tongue is Dene Dhah, a languageinwhichno distinctionismadebetweenthewordshimandher.One hastorelyonthecontexttoworkoutthatwhenDanielsays(inSection1of the transcript), &dquo;Yes. Because he remember, she remembers what Don told him,&dquo; what he is attempting to say is probably &dquo;Yes. Because she remembers, she remembers what Don told her.&dquo; Also, in Dene Dhah, the words asking,
telling,andwantingare interchangeable.So,whenDanielsays(inSection5), &dquo;thatiswhatIwas askingher,&dquo;hecouldbeunderstoodas intending,&dquo;thatis
whatIwas tellingher.&dquo;
Afurthersource ofpotentialdifficultyisconceptual.Danielmakesuse of
Western technology (the truck, the tape recorder), Western religion (prayer) and native ideas about reincarnation, and animal powers, apparentlyoblivi-
ous toanyphilosophicalproblemsthismightposefortheanalyst.Although readers might find these ways of thought incompatible, this is evidently not a problemforDaniel(seeGoulet, 1982).Readersmightfindsome nativeways ofthoughtdisconcerting.AmongtheDeneTha,one can bereborn-reborn notonlyasamemberoftheoppositesexbutalsoasseveralpersonsatonce. InSection4,one can see thatina previousincarnation,Danielwas a girland
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is regarded by his current family as still being really a girl; this is the implicationof his assertion that &dquo;to this family,that is what I am.&dquo; One can
see alsothatDonhasbeenrebornas Sophie,Lucy,andSuzanna(seeGoulet,
1988,1994a, 1996). If what philosophers call the principle of identity appears here to have been suspended, then o n c e again, this is a problem for the reader
not for Daniel.
Another notion likelyto disconcert the reader is the belief among the Dene
Tha that individuals become associated with animals from w h o m theyreceive
powers (echint’e) to heal. They are normally obliged to keep the identity of their animals secret; failure to do so could prove dangerous.
Thetranscriptistoolongtoreproduceinfull,so Ihaveexcisedsome
passages. In the sound recording, a child c a n be heard chattering away, almost without a break, to the pointthat it is often difficult and sometimes impossible
to hear what the adults are saying. The chatter is omitted here. In addition, I haveexcisedsome ofGoulet’s&dquo;ums&dquo;and&dquo;ahs&dquo;.Nameshave,ofcourse,been
altered to preserve anonymity; they do not correspond in any way to those in the recording.
THE TRANSCRIPT
Theintroductorynotereads,inpart,&dquo;Theinterviewwas conductedinthe jeep after Daniel asked for a ride to the store.&dquo;
Section 1
Daniel: My music man, Billy is gone. Archie Fournier is gone; and that lead singer, uh, Fred-I hope he doesn’t die.
Goulet: uhuh
Daniel: You are tapingthis?
Goulet: Yeah.
Daniel: Yeah. Goulet:ThereissomethingIwanttotalkabout.Yourememberthetimewewenttothe
cemetery? Daniel: Yes.
Goulet: And what happened there? Daniel:Yes,therewasadeercomingtous.Hewasmylatebrother’spower.
Goulet: Uhuh. And what happened?
Daniel:Hesaw us andhetookoff.Andmom startedcryingbecause,mom,Dontoldhim
thatthatkindofanimal,deer,isthepowerofDon.Andwearecoming,as,ashewants
tojoinusbut...heisawildlifesohejusttookoff...assoonashesawus. Goulet: Yeah.
Daniel: That is what it is.
Goulet: That is what it is.... And your m o m started to cry that day. Daniel: Yes. Because he remember, she remembers what Don told him.
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100
Section 2
Daniel: Yes. Oh yeah, that is what I told her. If he cry, somebody else, one of us might be
gone again. Goulet: Why is that?
Daniel: Uh. That might happen.... Can I talk about myself from here?
Goulet: Well, wait a minute, just to say, just to finish that, OK? How might this happen? Daniel: Uh, like Don is gone, it’s years ago now.
Goulet: Yeah.
Daniel: And if you cry you asking ... that somebody might, will die. That is what I told her.
You’re just asking for something like that.
Goulet: How did you know that?
Daniel: Well, Grandpa used to tell us never to cry just for nothing.
Section 3
Goulet: Did you talk to the deer?
Daniel: No. Yeah, I did but.... Yeah he didn’t say anything.
Goulet: Uh, what did you tell the deer?
Daniel:Doncome on,come on intomyarms andsee me. Butanywayhejustturnedround
and took off. It’s time to go[?]
Goulet: How did you say that in Dene?
Daniel: Don nianinde ede setsindindie, nanduhdin kuhdi. Even though Ijust about cried out.
And he just looked at me, and, just turned around and started jumping so that he could
get away from us.
Goulet: Uhuh. Why did he do that?
Daniel:Idon’tknow.He. . . heusuallycomesovertheretothegrave.StandingbyDon’s
grave. That is what Steve Talley see many times. Goulet: Uhuh. What does nanduhtin kudi mean? Daniel: Uh?
Goulet: Nanduhtin kuhdi?
Daniel: He said, &dquo;I want to see you again.&dquo; That’s what I told him.
Section 4
Goulet:Yeah,wouldthedeerknowthatyourmom was cryingwhenshewas crying? Daniel: Yes, I would say so.
Goulet: Uhuh. Would he do anything about that? Daniel:Uh,unlessit,Don...Donisthereinhisgrave.Maybehespoketothe... deer,I
guess. Goulet: Yeah.
Daniel: And I don’t know.
Goulet: Don could speak to the deer from his grave?
Daniel: Yeah, if he is there. But I don’t think he is there be, because he went to heaven. Goulet: Uhuh. Was he bom again too?
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Daniel: Yes, but, uh ... uh, Sophie Saloperie and Lucy Ahnassay and the other o n e is ... uh, I don’t remember his name.
Goulet: So he came back in two three people?
Daniel: Yeah, Suzanna Denechoan, these three are Don’s, Don. And me I was Jeanne
Mercredi’s sister. Goulet: Right.
Daniel:Shegotsickandtheysenthertothehospital,shediedoverthere,andIcameback asaboy.TothisfamilythatiswhatIam.
Section 5
Goulet: Uh. Can animals like that speak to people?
Daniel: I don’t know. Maybe they do, I don’t know.
Goulet: Kechint’e goon dene tsin wodeh? [child in jeep interrupts.]
Daniel: Well I have nothing else to say.
Goulet: Yeah. Did your m o m know that if she cried like that she could make someone
else die?
Daniel:Yeah,that’s,thatiswhatIwas askingher.AndIdon’twantthattohappen. Goulet: Yeah. How could it happen? Daniel:Uh,Idon’treallyknow....Uhgee-whizhe’sgone.Doyouhaveatapeofhim,of
him? Goulet: No.
At this point, Goulet writes,
Hetellsme toshutoffthetaperecorder,andtellsme we are reallynotsupposed totalkofone’spower,weareonlysupposedtotalkaboutthemwhenweheal someone.
ThetranscriptopenswithDanielreflectingon thedeathofsome ofthose
withwhomheusedtosingcountrymusic.Afterafewminutes’talk,heasks
Goulet,&dquo;Youare tapingthis?&dquo;simultaneouslyindicatingthathehasnoticed
what Goulet is about. Goulet responds with &dquo;Yeah.&dquo; No explanation, no
apology,just&dquo;Yeah.&dquo;Danielrespondswithan echoing&dquo;Yeah.&dquo;Noremonstra-
tion, no questioning. This tells us that the two are falling into a routine,
unremarkable to them, in which the initiative lies with Goulet. Without
further ado, Goulet indicates a break with previous talk (&dquo;There is something
Iwanttotalktoyouabout&dquo;)andannounces thelineofquestioningthathe
proposes to pursue (&dquo;You remember the time w e went to the cemetery?&dquo;).
From this point on, Goulet asks questions and Daniel responds, evidencing tothemandtousthatthisisnolongerachatbutaninterview,oneinwhich
Goulet is the &dquo;anthropologist&dquo; and Daniel is the &dquo;Dene Tha.&dquo; The format is clearly familiar to them because Goulet pursues his questions in a manner thatwouldbejudgedoffensiveinan ordinaryconversation,butthisdoesnot provoke Daniel to immediate protest. By Section 2, however, Daniel is show- ingsignsofunease withthelineofquestioning.&dquo;CanItalkaboutmyselffrom
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here?&dquo; he pleads. Goulet acknowledges the reluctance but persists with &dquo;Well,
wait a minute, just to say, just to finish that, OK?&dquo; In Section 3, Daniel
seems toimplore(thetapeisunclearhere),&dquo;It’stimetogo.&dquo;PerhapsGoulet
doesnothearthis,or perhaps,hechoosestoignoreit,butinmyreading,he
doesinfactrespondbydivertingtheinterviewtoa nonthreateningtopic.He asksDanieltoteachhimhowtosayinDenewhathasjustbeensaid.Aftera
pageoftranscriptinwhichheassumes theroleofhumblestudent,hehasthe interview back on track. And so, it continues-over a child’s increasingly strident demands to begin the journey to the store-until Daniel, after one m o r e unsuccessful attempt to bring the interview to a halt by declaring (in Section 5), &dquo;Well I have nothing else to say,&dquo; finally attains his objective. Goulet notes,&dquo;Hetellsme toshutoffthetaperecorder,andtellsme we are reallynot supposedtotalkofone’spower,we areonlysupposedtotalkaboutthem whenwe healsomeone.&dquo;
Sucha summarydescription,whichisbasedon a briefaudiorecording
ratherthanon theyearsofexperienceon whichan ethnographermightrely and which, moreover, is based entirely on evidence that has been made
available for the reader’s inspection, cannot possibly encompass everything, as Goulet has observed. He writes,
ConcerningtheexchangewhichIhadabouttherecording.Hesaystome: &dquo;You are tapingthis?&dquo;Ireply&dquo;Yeah.&dquo;Thatmightappearlaconicfromtheoutside,but nottousintheJeep.Iputtherecorderbetweenthetwoofus,clearlyinmew.It isthesame recorderthatIusednumerous timesathisplaceforlanguagelessons. Hesawmeswitchontherecorder,andtheredlighttellshimthatourconversa- tion is being recorded. This way of doing things with a minimum of words approachestheDenewayofcommunicatingwitheachotherbymeans ofdeeds rather than words. (J.-G. Goulet, personal communication, 1994; my translation from the French)
Althoughtherearesomeobservations(notallofthemaswellfoundedas
Goulet’s) that ethnomethodologists deliberately refrain from making, there are others,ofa kindtowhichanthropologistsdonotattend,thatethnometho- dologistscan anddomake.Whatwouldinterestethnomethodologistsinour transcriptionisnotthenotionofpowerinitself buthowone particularperson, at just this time and in just these circumstances, makes that power available as an objectivefact. Here is how Daniel achieves that:
· Hetreatsthe&dquo;natural&dquo;and(whatEuro-Canadianswouldcall)the&dquo;supernatural&dquo; in the same bald matter-of-fact way, not singling out the latter as requiring explanation. It is possible to read his nonchalance a s being consistent with the fact thatpropheticdreams,visions,and animalhelpersare utterlyprosaictotheDene Tha-a people who do not make the kind of distinctions that enable analysts to slottheirknowledgeintopreformedSchutziancategoriesof,on one hand,&dquo;the attitude of everyday life&dquo; and, o n the other, &dquo;the analytic attitude,&dquo; the &dquo;occult attitude,&dquo; and so on (G. Watson & Goulet, 1992).
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~ HeinvokesothersassharmghisbeliefsinamannerthatcallstomindDorothy Smith’s(1978)well-knownaccountofthetellingofa storyinwhichwitnessesto theteller’sveracityare invokedcumulatively.InSection1,hepresentshismother asbeingreducedtotearsbythesightofthedeer,andhepresentshisreactionto thisas one ofunderstanding.Whatissignificantiswhathedoesnotdo;hedoes notchidehismotherforactinginan incomprehensibleor superstitiousmanner. In Section 2, he co-opts his grandfather into the body of believers, and in Section 3, he adds Steve Talley The deer is presented as acting in accordance with the systemofknowledge;itisseen standingbyDon’sgrave&dquo;manytimes.&dquo;Iwould cautionthereaderagamstinterpretingDaniel’sactionsas calculatedattemptsto convmce a skepticallistenerbyconjuringupwitnessestocorroboratean implausible account. That is a possible reading, but I would argue that Daniel’s actions have tobeacceptedatfacevalueifonlybecausethereisno evidenceinthetranscript to suggestthatGoulet reacts skepticallyto him. In my reading,Daniel makes these observations because they occur to him as relevant to the tellingof the story.
~ Inthesceneinwhichhedescribeshismotherasweepingandhimselfasbeing
movedatthesightofthedeer,Danielportraysthoseinvolvednotonlyas reacting
toan objectivephenomenonbutas doingso spontaneouslyandemotionallyThis, so tospeak,upstheante.Toquestiontheobjectivityofthatwhichmovedthetwo of them so profoundly would be to imply that they are doubly foolish because not only would they be seen to have reacted to the imaginary as if it were real, theywouldalsobeseentohaveinvestedmuchemotionalenergyindoingso.
~ AsconfirmationofDon’sreincarnation,Danielrecountsaparallelstoryinwhich he himself is reincarnated. He says, in effect,You understood correctly.Don was indeedreincarnated.Peopledogetreincarnated.Iwas reincarnated.Iknowat firsthandwhatIam talkingabout.Onereadingofthisinvocationoffirst-hand knowledgeisthatittradeson theDeneThaconvictionthatalltrueknowledgeis warranted by first-hand experience (Goulet 1994b).5
~ Danieldemonstratesthathetakesthepotencyofthepowerseriouslybyasking Goulettoturnoffthetaperecorderas &dquo;weare notreallysupposedtotalkofone’s power.&dquo; He not only treats the power as a fact that exists prior to and inde- pendently of his discourse, but he makes evident his conviction that to talk of it in inappropnate circumstances is to court danger. Significantly, he acts on that conviction.
All of these reactions-the consensual support, the emotional outpour- ings,thefirst-handtestimony,theseriousdemeanor-actas indicatorspoint-
ing to the underlying reality of power. That underlying reality in turn tells u s what the reactions are reactions to. Here, indicator and underlyingrealitycan beseen toelaborateeachotherinaback-and-forthprocess.Eachisinseparable fromtheother.Anindicatorisan indicatoronlyinthecontextoftheunder- lyingrealityofwhichitisan indicator.Onecannotsensiblytalkofan indicator without, at the same time, implicatingwhat it is an indicator of. This is so evenifoneproteststhatonedoesnotknowwhattheindicatorisanindicator of;itisthenan indicatorof&dquo;oneknowsnotquitewhat.&dquo;Theethnometho-
dological notion of the documentary method captures this process of mutual elaboration.
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104
The related concept of reflexivity encompasses the mutually constitutive propertyofaccountandsetting.Don’spowerisgivenitssensebyaccounts ofitthatare providedbyDanielandbyothers.Theaccountsare constitutive
of it; they make it what it is. Simultaneously, power objectified gives these (otherwiseinherentlyambiguous)accountstheirspecificsense as accountsof objective reality.6
The circularity at the heart of reflexivity and the documentary method provides for the solidity, coherence, and dense texture of Daniel’s account. In
multitudinous ways, it is self-confirming and self-validating. Every element in it authenticates and reinforces every other element.
Daniel’s reasoning may be circular, but the reality so produced is not fragile, as the social constructionists would claim. There is nothing in the transcript that would support such a claim. Social constructionists might argue that what can be so deftly constructed can just as easily be decon- structed.Thatmaybeso fromtheanalyticpointofview,butitisa pointof view that is out of touch with the world that Daniel knows. His interest in the world is practical rather than theoretical, and in practice, the world is ines- capablysolid.Itconfrontshim,andhecannotwishitawayItisno lesssolid
for being demonstrably socially constructed. Because everything is socially constructed, the fact that any one phenomenon is shown to be socially
constructedisofno particularsignificance.
Myobservationson Daniel’sdiscourse(and,below,on Bames’sdiscourse)
are not intended to be privileged, still less definitive. In making them, I do notattempttotranscendinevitableethnomethods.Idrawonmycompeten- ciesas an ordinarymemberofsociety;thereaderisfreetodothesame. But myobservationsare anchoredinan inspectablerecordofinteractionthatacts as a constrainton whatIcan plausiblysay.Incontrast,first-handrecords,the raw materialoutofwhichsocialscientificaccountsofthediscoveryofsocial forcesare fashioned,are rarelyplacedatthereader’sdisposal;moreover, the roletheyplayislessoftentoactas a constrainton socialscientificdiscourse thanitisto act as illustrationsofpredeterminedtheoreticalpoints(Lee, 1987,
p. 50).
We have seen how Daniel makes a hidden force available as an objective
fact. The hidden forces most commonly alluded to in social scientific literature
are motives.Letus examinethetranscriptforevidenceoftheirexistenceand
thenapplysuchlessonsthatwe mightlearntothematterofanothercom-
monplace sociological phenomenon, power. W e begin by asking the question, Why did Daniel ask Goulet to switch off the tape recorder? Daniel is reported
as saying that &dquo;we are really not supposed to talk of one’s power&dquo;; this is consistent with his plea in Section 2, &dquo;Can I talk about myself from here?&dquo; a plea that tells us he is uncomfortable with the direction Goulet’s questions
are taking. But other explanations are plausible. He appears to become impatient with the delay in going to the store when, in Section 3, he interjects, &dquo;It’s time to go.&dquo; That remark could, of course, be understood also as an
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attempt to avoid the topic of his brother’s power, as could his comment in Section 5, &dquo;Well I have nothing else to say.&dquo; Yet, another explanation is available. At times, Daniel seems to flounder, to be unsure of himself, and perhaps this is an embarrassment to him. Note the exchange in Section 4:
Goulet:Yeah,wouldthedeerknowthatyourmom was cryingwhenshewas crying? Daniel: Yes, I would say so.
Goulet: Uhuh. Would he do anything about that?
Daniel:Uh,unlessit,Don... Donisthereinhisgrave.Maybehespoketothe... deer,I
guess. Goulet: Yeah.

Daniel: And I don’t know.
From that point on, Daniel repeatedly asserts ignorance. &dquo;I don’t know. Maybe they do, I don’t know.... Aan, I don’t really know.... I don’t know. Maybe they do, I don’t know.... Aan, I really don’t know.&dquo;
Therefore,thereare a numberofplausiblecandidatepsychologicalmo- tives. Which one is or which ones are &dquo;real,&dquo; as opposed to pretended by participantsor imaginedbyus,we cannottell.Allmotivesare inprinciple defeasible and can be supplanted by others. Moreover, the list of candidate motives is in principlenot subjectto closure. One could postulatemany other motivesandaddthemtothelist.PerhapsDanielwas justbored;afterall,he
h a d undergone this line of questioning before. T h e fact that in practice people commonly find little difficulty in nominating motives does not undermine
thepoint,becauseinpracticemotivesare alsocommonlyunclearor contested or reformulatedinthecourse ofinteraction.
What about Goulet’s motive in switching off the tape recorder? We can observethenoticeableabsenceofhisuse ofexpressionsofskepticisminthe faceofDaniel’stalkingina manner thatislikelytostretcha non-Amerindian’s bounds of credulity. By not challenging it, Goulet implicitly endorses it, and it becomes, in effect, a matter of shared understanding. Perhaps he feels obliged to demonstrate that he accepts that to discuss a power outside the context of a healing ritual is to court danger. Lacking such a demonstration, Daniel would be at risk of becoming not a sought-after expert but a n object of ridicule; moreover, his entire community, particularlythose whom he has specifically implicated as sharing his notions, would likewise be at risk of appearing either naive or mendacious. He could then be expected to avoid further contact with his ethnographer. At least o n e other motive for withhold-
ing expressions of skepticism and for complying with Daniel’s request cannot beruledout.ItcouldbethatGoulethascometoshareDaniel’sbeliefs.Yet,
other motives are conceivable. AlthoughwecannottellwhatGoulet’srealmotiveis,wecanseewhathe
reacts to. He ignores Daniel’s remark that it is time to go, and he persists in his questioning in the face of Daniel’s obvious discomfort. What succeeds where all else fails is Daniel’s telling him that he must stop for fear of
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106
offendingagainsta particularlypotentmoralinjunction.Oncethisobjection is clearly articulated, Goulet switches off the tape recorder. Of course, the fact thatthisreason isone thatwouldbeacceptedas realandcompellingbythe DeneThathemselvesno more accountsforitsbeingmobilizedthanthefact thatone isofa certainethnicityaccounts forthemobilizationofthatethnicity
on a particularoccasion,as Moerman (1968)hasfamouslyarguedwithregard to Lue ethnicity. Would Goulet have switched off the tape recorder if he had not been satisfied that by that point he had harvested enough information o n mybehalf?Onthismatter,thetranscriptoffersno help.
It is clear that the search for real psychological motives is a wild-goose chase. It would be better to accept Mills’s (1940) advice and consider a motive tobeanimputedmentalstate.Theactofimputingmotivestooneselfandto
others is a social phenomenon that lends itself to empirical investigation (Mills, 1940).
Whatdoesthistellus aboutsocialforces?Ourtranscriptdemonstratesthat GouletsucceedsinpersuadingDanieltodo,andtokeepon doing,something he is reluctant to do (i.e., to talk about &dquo;one’s power&dquo;). Daniel protests, but he complies. Then Daniel persuades Goulet to do something that he does not
wanttodo(i.e.switchoffhistaperecorder).Atthispoint,relyingon our competenceasordinarymembersofsociety,we mightinvokeanotherunseen
force,power,toexplainwhatisgoingon. WemightsaythatGoulethasatruck and can deny Daniel a ride to the store and that Daniel has first-hand knowledge of Dene- Tha ways, to which he could refuse Goulet further access. Neitherinterlocutorusesthewordpower,butbothcanbeseentoorienttoit. What might professional social science add to our commonplace under-
standing ? What of analytic significance would be achieved by invoking unseen forcesandclaimingthatinterlocutors’actionsareindicatorsofsome
underlying pattern, that they &dquo; ’reflect’ the behind-the-scenes operation of &dquo;
abstractsocial’forces’ (Lynch,1993,p.2)? TocharacterizetheinteractionbetweenDanielandGouletas reallybeing
a power relationship of one sort or another would not onlybe to redescribe it, it would also be to misrepresent it. By what warrant would such a
redescription be attempted? It is not warranted by the transcript. Neither Daniel nor Goulet invoke power in the theorized sense. The redescription
would be an analyst’s imposition. This is not to deny that both Daniel and Gouletcanbeseentodisplaytoeachother,andhencealsotous,anawareness thattheothercanwithholdsomespecificdesiredservice.TosaythatDaniel can denyGouletinformationandthatGouletcan denyDaniela ridetothe storeistosaysomethingmuchmore limitedanddefensiblethanthatthetwo are involvedina powerrelationship,or thatone isguiltyofracialdomination or economicexploitation,or thata memberoftheproletariatisbeingabused by a class enemy
Allthedifficultiestheanalystruns intoinattemptingtomakeaparticular motive stick will also stand in the way of making any one social force stick.
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What social forces are at work in the recorded interview? Market forces? Racial domination? Class conflict? The power of patron over client? (If so, who is the patron, and who is the client?) Each and every candidate charac- terization is in principle defeasible. If in practice closure is achieved, then the methods of achieving that closure (e.g., by fiat) can become a matter for
investigation.
The difficulties the analystencounters are identical to the difficulties he or
sheencountersas anordinarymemberofsociety.Ineverydaylife,thesearch
forunderlyingpatternsisubiquitousand unremarkable;indeed,StanleyFish (1983) remarks that
one cannotunderstandan utterancewithoutatthesame timehearingor reading itastheutteranceofsomeonewithmoreorlessspecificconcerns,interests,and desires,someone withan mtention....Intention,likeanythingelseisan inter- pretive fact; that is, it must be construed. It is just that it is impossible not to construe it. (p. 283)
Sociologists, like everybody else, inevitably construe intentions, motives, forces, and power. As far as ethnomethodologists are concerned, their obser- vations are endowed with no particular analytic import, unless, that is, analyticimportberespecifiedas an invocableelementofa specializedand self-privileging discourse: an element with pretensions to transcend, per impossibile, its local and nonextractable significance.
Keeping in mind the lessons learned from the hunt for definitive mental forces,woulditnotbereasonableforus,inour roleas analysts,toabandon the search for social forces and resolve to be constrained by the inspectable empiricalevidence?Canwe geton withtherealizableandeminentlyworth- whiletaskofexamininghow,on particularoccasions,forcesare constitutedas such and also,where feasible,what is demonstrablyachieved byinvokingthem?
We have observed how Daniel made his power available, and w e have
seen what he achieved by invoking it. We might profitably ask how profes- sional social scientists, among others, make their kind of professionally produced power available, and what they achieve in so doing. It is worth repeatingthatbyaskingthesequestions,we wouldno more becontestingthe ontological status of social science’s power than w e would be of Daniel’s. As Lynch(1993)remarks,&dquo;ethnomethodologicalindifferencedoesnot implythat members’ methods invariably lack precision, efficacy, rigor, and predict- ability&dquo; (p. 150).
THE SOCIOLOGICAL TEXT
IwoulddearlyhavelikedtohavebeenabletoofferatranscriptofaDene Thapersoninterviewinga socialscientistaboutpoweror some othersocial scientificforce,butforwantofbetter,Imustcontentmyselfwitha readingof
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a passageaboutpowerIcame across ina newlypurchasedvolumewritten bya distinguishedtheoristknownforhisresearchon thenatureofpower: Barry Bames’s (1995) The Elements ofSocial Theory.
Considertheexampleofthetwo individualsliftingthepiano.Neitherindividual
separatelypossessesthispower.Onlywhentheyactina relationshipwitheach other, whereby their action is co-ordinated, is this power created: the power to lift a piano. And it is similarly the case generally that through co-ordination individuals become able to do more; their capabilities increase; their powers
multiply.Thisisa neatandsimplewayofdisplayingtheinadequacyoftheold zero-sum conceptionofpower.Thezero-sum conceptionassumedthatthegain
ofpowerbyone agentimplieda correspondinglossofpowerbyanotheragent or agents.Itimpliedthatpowerfulagentswere necessarilyexploitingothersby depriving them of power. (p. 18)
The first thing to note is that this passage is not a record of a naturally occurringepisodeor one fromwhichconclusionsare induced;rather,itisa contrivedillustrationofa predeterminedtheoreticalpoint.Thesecondisthat thereare some strikingsimilaritiesanddifferencesbetweenthewaysinwhich BamesandDanielproducetheirpowers.HereishowBamesproduceshis:
~ Heelaborateson thenotionofpoweras beingcommonlyunderstood,buthe nevertheless treats the underlyingnotion as givenand as requiringno more elucidation than does the idea of the piano. The implication is that power has the
same ontologicalstatus as piano.
~ Hereiteratesthewordpowerbrazenly(ninetimesinoneformoranotherinthis
briefpassage),thususingthesame techniqueas an advertiserpluggingthebrand
name ofa product.Indoingso,heimplicitlydaresthereadertoobject.
~ Althoughhedoesnotmusterfirst-handwitnesses,hedoesinducethereader’s
complicity, making the reader a virtual witness, by implicitly appealing to what everybody (including the reader) &dquo;knows&dquo; when he remarks, without producing supporting evidence, that &dquo;neither individual separately possesses this power.&dquo;
~ Heimplicateshisprofessionbyendinghisparagraphwitha nine-linequotation (notgivenhere)fromtheworkofone oftheprofession’sreveredfounders,Karl Marx, in which Marx is presented as making essentially the s a m e point as Bames does. Disagree with Bames and you disagree also with Marx and risk the indig- nation of his followers.
~ He employs the documentary method of interpretation. &dquo;Lifting the piano&dquo; documents,or reflects,theunderlyingrealityofthepower;atthesame time,the powertellsus what&dquo;liftingthepiano&dquo;isan instanceof(i.e.,theuseofpower).
In drawing attention to these methods of making power available, I do not wish to suggest that they are reprehensible or that they should undermine our confidenceintheontologicalstatusofwhatBarnesistalkingabout.How else is he to make his concept available? If he were to attempt to eliminate such methods, it would be (to repeat a memorable phrase of Garfinkel’s) as ifhe were to remove the walls to see what is holdingthe roofup.
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What is achieved by producing power as the underlying reality in this passage? Instead of asserting that coordination affects power and that power
affects the lifting of the piano, Barnes could have claimed, with greater parsimony, that coordinated action affects the lifting of the piano. What is
achievedisa redescriptionofthephenomenagatheredtogetheras instances
of the presumed underlying reality qua instances of that presumed underly-
ing reality Note what is gathered together: not only the physical capacity to
lifta pianobutalsotheunspecifiedpowerthatpeoplecan bedeprivedofby
powerful agents. Here, two essentially different phenomena-one physical, theothersocial-arebroughttogetherunderthesame rubric.Theimplication
isthattheyare essentiallythesame phenomenon,even thoughalltheyhave incommon is,arguably,thename.
It could be argued that Daniel’s echint’e and Barnes’s power have little in commonbutthename.Notwophenomenaarethesame(bydefinition),and if they are made available as the same, then similarities are being accorded greaterweightthandifferences.Thisisa matterofjudgment,andjudgments are inherentlycontestable,as Bames (1981)himselfhasbrilliantlyexpounded. Thatsaid,myjudgmentisinaccordwiththatofRichardAdams (1977),who writes, &dquo;When w e refer to a Sioux medicine bundle and the Bureau of Indian Affairsas ’havingpower,’can we bespeakingofthe’same’thing?. . . The
answer tothesequestionsisyes&dquo;(p.387).
Thequestionnow arisesastowhethermethodscanbeabusedaswellas
used. Clearly, it would be a nonsense to rebuke Daniel for using the proce-
duresthathedoestoproducetheworld.Heisactinglikea competentmember
ofhiscommunity.ThesamecouldbesaidofBameswerehespeakingtous
inhisroleas an ordinarymemberofsociety.However,bywritingabookof
sociological theory, he implicitly lays claim to intellectual rigor and invites u s
to judgehim accordingto self-imposedcriteria of theoretical adequacy In this respect, he lays himself open to criticism.
He begins by referring to &dquo;the power&dquo; to lift a piano. Here, power refers
to a specific capacity; it is &dquo;this power.&dquo; By the same token, he equates
&dquo;capabilities&dquo; and &dquo;powers.&dquo; Soon, however, powers is elided to power. Pertinent here is Anderson and Lee’s (1982) observation that
Everyeventintheworldisa uniquecontingency.Itisthereforenecessaryforthe researcher to performsome heavyinterpretivework to make his &dquo;case&dquo; fit; that is to say, to see his case as a generalcase. (p.310)
Bames achieves the transformation from the unique to the general by m e a n s
of the documentary method; the underlying reality of powers points to the even deeper underlying reality of power. The fact that a quantum leap is performedfrom&dquo;apower&dquo;to&dquo;power,&dquo;fromaspecificcapacitytosome
unspecified capacity in general, is not acknowledged and is perhaps not e v e n noticed.
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Disentangling a social phenomenon (here, the notion of power) from the local occasions of its use and from the practical (as opposed to theoretical) matterswhichinreallifeitisintendedtoaddressisastandardmoveinsocial science. This m o v e produces a series of abstractions that together make up a synopticviewofsocietyas awhole(aviewthatisthenloftilycontrastedwith thenaivelyinadequateview ofparticipantsthemselves)inwhichabstractions are turned into things and credited with agency, social classes are treated as real entities with interests of their own, and power lifts pianos. That is not a
move ethnomethodologistsare preparedto make.
First, ethnomethodologists refuse, as a methodological imperative, to
considerpower(andanythingelse)as existingpriortoandindependentlyof any actual episode in which it is exhibited and recognized .7 Second, eth-
nomethodologistsdonotsubscribetotheoppositionofsocietyas seen from
within and society as seen from without~r agency versus structure-
because&dquo;wecannotconceiveofan individualactionexceptas an-action-in-
a-social-structure,anymore thanwe can conceiveofa singlewordas other
thana-word-in-a-language&dquo;(Sharrock& Watson,1988).Thatis,accordingto
ethnomethodologists, agency and structure-an opposition that Barnes (1995) relies o n in juxtaposing &dquo;individual interests&dquo; and &dquo;key institutional
arrangements&dquo; (p. 19)-are inseparably related as pattern and particular; neitherisan independentvariable.Third,ethnomethodologistsfinditabsurd tocharacterizeas inadequate,inlightoftherequirementsofsocialscientific methodologyandtheory,actionsthatare intendedtoaddresspracticalpur-
posestohand.Theydonot,forexample,treatlayconversationsas degenerate versions of scientific discourse that require improving. Bames, by contrast,
althoughnecessarilyrelyingon naturallanguagetotheextentthathisanaly- sisisformedbyordinaryuse-&dquo;farmore thanbythetechnicalconsiderations
of,say,surveyworkor participantobservation&dquo;(R.Watson,1994)-neverthe- lesstreatsordinaryuse (&dquo;theoldzero-sum conception&dquo;)as a flawedversion of his professional formulation. He treats the lay notion of power on which
heimplicitly,unavoidably,andpervasivelydependsas inneedofcorrection, just as Durkheim tacitly and notoriously depended on the lay notion of suicide.
The sharpest contrast to be drawn between Bames’s approach to power
and that adopted by ethnomethodologists is that although Bames presup-
poses the notion, ethnomethodologists treat it as a point of departure. For
ethnomethodologists, power is something achieved through work done by
participants; it is that work that ethnomethodologists undertake to explicate. Therefore, like Daniel, Barnes characterizes visible and tangible phenom-
ena as pointingtounderlyingforcesthatare invisibleandintangible.Also like Daniel, he sometimes reifies them. Between these forces and Daniel’s echint’e, there is less to choose than social scientists might care to admit: Not
only are both concepts whose provenance and currency are to be found in everydaylife,but both are producedbystrikinglysimilar methods. Moreover,
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if only (but not only) because they are invisible and intangible, work has to be done to make them stick. This does not constitute a problem for Daniel,
whose procedures need only be adequate for practical purposes, but it is a potential hurdle for social scientists, w h o require their procedures to pass the testoftheoreticaladequacy;however,theoreticaladequacymay berespecified in ethnomethodological terms as an invocable element of a self-privileging discourse that pretends, per impossibile, to transcend its local and nonex-
tractable significance. As I have attempted to show, satisfying the test of theoreticaladequacyisno lessa practicalaccomplishmentthanisconstituting Dene Tha powers as effective.
NOTES
1. The first-person singular here and throughout refers to Graham Watson, who wrote the article. Jean-Guy Goulet did the fieldwork, wrote the transcript,and supplied
an ethnographiccommentary.
2.Thereisa vastclassicalliteratureon power(e.g.,Simmel,1950;Weber,1947)and
a numberofcompetingperspectives,suchas thoseofconflictandexchange(Blau,1964). Forasenseofhowvariedareconceptionsofpower,seeArensandKnapp(1989).
3. Perhaps the most accessible introduction to ethnomethodology is Benson and
Hughes (1983). That by Heritage (1984) is the most comprehensive.
4. The distinction between participants (or members) and analysts is perhaps most
famouslymade byZimmerman and Wieder (1974).
5. This comment raises the thorny problem of to what extent, if at all, it is legitimate
tobringethnographicbackgroundtobearon an analysisofa conversation.Michael Moerman’s (1988) advocacy of "culturally contexted conversation analysis" has been poorly received by ethnomethodologists and conversation analysts alike (see G. Watson, 1996).
6.Thenotionsofdocumentarymethodandreflexivityare Garfinkel’s(1967).How
heuses reflexivityistobesharplydifferentiatedfromhowinterpretiveanthropologists use it (seeG. Watson & Irwin, 1996).
7. Hutchby (1996) breaks ranks with the interesting claim that
AgooddealofCA[conversationanalysis]can beseen as dealingwitha possible analysis of power, where power is viewed in terms of differential distributions of discursive resources. These resources enable certain participants to achieve interactional effects that are not available (or are less available) to others in the
setting. (p. 16)
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