Ethnomethodology and Kabbalah: The Connection Revelaed

This brief essay explores the origins of ethnomethodology and reports something that I have learned from a member of the family of Harold Garfinkel (1917-2011), the founder of Ethnomethodology.

According to Wikipedia, Ethnomethodology's research interest is the study of the everyday methods people use for the production of social order. Ethnomethodology's goal is to document the methods and practices through which society’s members make sense of their world.

According to Harold Garfinkel's granddaughter, Atty Garfinkel, who is a friend of mine at Antioch University Santa Barbara, there was an influence from Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical system, on the origins of early ethnomethodology.

According to Atty, Harold Garfinkel was raised in Newark, New Jersey, in a Hasidic home, in which English, Ladino and Yiddish were spoken.  And, while later in life his family was outwardly religiously conservative in appearance, and only went to temple on the High Holidays, Atty reports that the family was "spiritually" Jewish at home and that Arlene Garfinkel came from a family in which Kabbalah was practiced.  

Atty Garfinkel specifically stated that her grandfather had an interest in Kaballah and it shaped the family's religious practices at home.

More research is needed on the links between Ethnomethodology and Kabbalah, and according to Atty Garfinkel, Professor Anne Warfield Rawls (Bentley College), the biographer of Garfinkel and executor of Garfinkel's "nachlass", already has a lot of information on this topic from the Garfinkel Archives (UCLA?).  

We must wait to see what information get released.

I also wonder if Garfinkel's meetings with Alfred Schutz, an Austrian Jew and phenomenologist, might have had some Jewish mystical connections.

Harold Garfinkel held, and much of the Garfinkel family still holds, dual citizenship as Israeli and American citizens.

Moreover, it is curious that  many of the original founders of Ethnomethodology and conversation analysis were all of Jewish origins, including Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, Gail Jefferson.  Although decidedy not an ethnomethodologist, the Canadian Jew Erving Goffman had his own mystical orientations.

Similarities between the two systems (Ethnomethodology and Kabbalah) include: 

  1. the importance of language, textuality and hermeneutics; 
  2. the use of a meditative method in which focus on symbols leads to extraordinary insights; 
  3. both are mystical alchemies of everyday life; 
  4. both involve a long concealed and supposedly esoteric tradition that is now revealed and not so esoteric;