Rod Watson: Analyzing Practical and Professional Tets

Analysing Practical and
Professional texts
A naturalistic Approach

rod WAtson

Institut Marcel Mauss, Paris, France
© rod Watson 2009
All rights reserved. no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.
rod Watson has asserted his right under the copyright, designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Watson, rod.
Analysing practical and professional texts : a naturalistic approach. -- (directions in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis)
1. Written communication--social aspects.
2. ethnomethodology.
i. title ii. series

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Watson, rod.
Analysing practical and professional texts : a naturalistic approach / by rod Watson.

p. cm. -- (directions in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis) includes bibliographical references and index.
isBn 978-0-7546-7897-7 -- isBn 978-0-7546-9768-8

(ebook) 1. social sciences--Methodology. 2. social structure. i. title. H61.W376 2009

isBn 978-0-7546-7897-7 (hbk) iBsn 978-0-7546-9768-8 (ebk.V)
Acknowledgements vii
introduction 1
  1. 1  the ethnomethodological Analysis of texts and reading 7
  2. 2  “going for Brothers” in Black American speech:
    Making textual sense of Analytic observations of
    Black ghetto culture in the U.s.A. 37

  3. 3  the textual representation of nacirema culture 57
  4. 4  the textual incarnation of sociological Analysis:
    the case of erving goffman’s Writings 101

Endnotes 121 Bibliography 129 Index 139
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Many longstanding friends and colleagues have helped me in pursuing my analysis of texts and other ethnomethodological concerns over what is now decades rather than years.
Wes sharrock and John r.e. lee (University of Manchester) pioneered ethnomethodology and conversation analysis in Britain and adapted it quite radically to a British intellectual context. i learned a very great deal (though they would say never enough) from them, not only in lectures, seminars and conferences but also, blotto voce, in the hostelries of Manchester. Jeff coulter (Boston University) has, again as friend and colleague, been a constant encouragement and inexhaustible source of intellectual advice.
i have gained much from former students, now of course friends, and Andrew carlin (st. columba’s college) and Maria t. Wowk (Manchester Metropolitan University) have been immensely helpful over several years, often explaining my own work to me, and roger s. slack (University of edinburgh) and christian greiffenhagen (University of Manchester) again have enhanced my academic work in many ways. i have greatly valued eric livingston’s (University of new england, Australia) work, advice and encouragement concerning my textual and other analyses, and James l. Heap (ohio University) has added much to my understanding both on reading and on ethnomethodology.
Many french or francophone ethnomethodologists and conversation analysts – again, valued friends as well as colleagues – have helped advance my work, and Michel Barthélémy (ecole des Hautes etudes en sciences sociales) has in particular been most patient and assiduous in his input into my textual analyses and other works but there have been immense contributions from Bernard conein (University of nice), Michel de fornel (ecole des Hautes etudes en sciences sociales), louis Quéré (ecole des Hautes etudes en sciences sociales), yves Winkin (ecole normale supèrieure, lyon), and the late Jean Widmer (University of Fribourg, Switzerland). I have also benefited greatly from the analytic insights of Marc relieu (ecole normale des telecommunications de Paris at nice-sophia- Antipolis) and Bruno Bonu (University of Montpellier). i trust that the intellectual standards and integrity of francophone ethnomethodology and conversation analysis will come to be far better acknowledged within the confines of Anglo- American scholarship in these spheres. in Manchester, the Manchester ethnography
viii Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
group and the Mind and society seminars have been a constant stimulus, as has
the international institute of ethnomethodology and conversation Analysis.
i have gained a great deal from discussions over many years with colleagues such as Peter eglin (Wilfrid laurier University, canada), Jef Verschueren (University of Antwerp, Belgium), and thomas s. Weinberg (Buffalo state college), Édisón gastaldo (Universidade do Vale do rio dos sinos, Brazil) has spurred me on with his knowledge and enthusiasm, as has graham Watson (formerly of University of calgary, canada).
i thank all these people for making this book possible and david silverman and Mike emmison (University of Queensland, Australia) for making it necessary.
Some considerable portions of Chapter 1 of this monograph were first published under the title “ethnomethodology and textual Analysis”, in d. silverman, editor, (1997): Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice: london: sAge publications, pp. 80–98. The passages have often undergone some modification and the overall analysis has been greatly extended. The final chapter was originally published in greg smith, editor, (1999): Goffman and Social Organization: Studies in a Sociological Legacy: london: routledge, pp. 138–55, under the title “Reading Goffman on Interaction”: again, there have been many modifications and a few extensions to the original text. i hold copyright on the other chapters but wish to thank Analytic Sociology, and Manchester Occasional Papers in Sociology for facilitating the reprint of the “going for Brothers” and “nacirema” papers respectively. i thank these publishing houses for permitting me to reprint these articles, and in particular i thank greg smith (University of salford) for his encouragement and suggestions.
in completing this book, i have constantly had some particular people in mind. these are my late parents, douglas and May Watson. My late father-in-law, elio f. Alzamoro always encouraged me in my work and my mother-in-law Kathryn Alzamoro continues to do so. this book is an attestation to these particular people and to my wife Anita.
To my wife Anita.
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A sketch of some ethnomethodological concerns and precedents for textual analysis
this volume consists of a series of chapters that establish a family of “takes” on texts and their analysis from an ethnomethodological (eM) and conversation Analytic (cA) standpoint. each “take” involves a shift in methodology, always within the general eM and cA frames of reference. the “takes” are designed to reveal differing facets of the “same” central concerns.
My central concerns are as follows. first, i wish to examine natural language practices. the term “practices” is important, for eM and cA are praxiological approaches. language practices are seen as constitutive of social order: language is seen as the core instrument of social life. social order – that is, intelligible, sensible, coherent social order – must perforce be a communicative order. this is a fact that mainstream sociologies often overlook, although, ineluctably and inadmissibly, they depend upon the fact. that the object is natural language is important, too, for the intelligible, sensible nature of social order is something that is fully available to lay society-members themselves. in literate societies, writing and reading practices are central to that laic intelligibility, and this book will focalise those practices.
When the professional sociologist describes social order, s/he describes an object that has already been described, namely by lay society-members themselves. the sociologist’s descriptions are of the second order, premised upon these primordial ones and are moulded by them in a variety of ways that i shall attempt to begin to untangle in this volume: indeed, the complex relations of professional descriptions to their laic antecedents will be a recurring theme.
to be sure, language is a central resource for both kinds of description, and the practices of description will be approached here. thus, categorisation practices, practices of serial ordering, glossing practices, etc. will be addressed here in varying degrees of detail and directness. it will be clear from these examples that language is indeed a central resource in rendering society intelligible and sensible. sacks attests to the “elegance” of ordinary language in its adequacy for the generic and multifarious practices this involves – a lay sociological elegance.
2 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
What i am referring to, then, is the lay (and professional) accountability of the social world. language, including language in its textual incarnations, is, clearly a modal instrument in members’ and professionals’ accounting practices. one way or another we make linguistic sense of the local settings we inhabit, and this sense may be “simultaneous”, retrospective or prospective. We might say that language practices in all forms are modally involved in the self-commentating, self-describing, self-explicating features of social settings.
these features are central constituents of the activities sacks renders in terms what he calls a “representative metaphor”. the metaphor (or, better, simile) is that of a “commentator machine” (sacks, 1963, 1990). the image is that of a machine exhibited in scientific and industrial congresses which, in laic terms, might be conceived as having a “saying part” and a “doing part”, where the former part simultaneously comments on what the latter is doing. A foreign engineer might figure out what the saying part is saying by extrapolating from what the doing part is doing. from a native layperson’s point of view, the doing part may be understood from the saying part. A lay sceptic or lay theorist may question, critique or assess what the doing part is doing from what the saying part is saying: or vice versa – and so on.
Producing a rendition of society, or its local contexts, in terms of the trope “commentator machine”, gives us a way of conceiving of the self-explicating, self- describing, self-commentating features of society locally construed. expanding on sacks’ “commentator machine” trope, we can also focalise the notion of society- locally-conceived as not only self-commentating but also as self-organising, where as an ongoing matter the “doing part” is accountably “organised” as a coherent entity by the “saying part”. the notion of “self” in “self-organising” points to the fact that all these descriptive and organising activities are done from within the organisation, as an integral feature of the society (or the “machine”). it denotes the intrinsically transparent nature of social organisation and practice, a built-in availability to lay and professional parties alike.
All metaphors and similes can mislead, and sacks’ “commentator machine” is no exception. one might conceive of the “doing” and “saying” parts as mutually exclusive, as though (for instance) “saying” were not “doing”. this though, is not a sustainable interpretation of sacks’ intention. He insists in many parts of his writing that saying is doing and, therefore, that describing is itself “doing”. that is, members may seek to describe a given activity, but the describing comprises an activity in itself. in that sense, sacks initiated an approach to language and accounting that can be characterised as “praxiological without residue”. indeed, the textual analyses found in the present volume adopt a similar approach: the focus is on textual practices, the activities that comprise writing and reading. texts themselves are treated as nothing other than complexes of interwoven practice – “textual accounting practices”, as one might put it.
Introduction 3
However, sacks’ construal of social organisation in terms of a “commentator machine” helps us understand that the project of laic description, i.e. members’ production of sensible descriptions of (local) organisation, must and should be conceived as being at the very heart of the sociological project – not least because professional sociologists themselves describe that selfsame social organisation. often – perhaps typically – amongst conventional sociologists, that description is an implicit one, tacitly built in to some “other” professional project espoused by the sociologist – e.g. assigning function or dysfunction, analysing modernity or postmodernity and the like. if professional sociological description is mentioned by these sociologists, it is assigned purely preliminary, even superficial status. thus “description” stands as a poor relation of “analysis”, where the latter is conceived as “deeper”, as the sociologist’s “real” or “central” task. By contrast, sacks points out that issues of professional, as well as laic, description have both primacy and centrality. one such issue, of course, is that of the “relation” between laic and professional sociological descriptions of a given local social organisation: the implications of this and other issues concerning such descriptions furnish a major theme of this book.
As an example of the applicability to textual analysis of the “commentator machine” simile, we can consider an utterly mundane example, that of vacations. it is an example that Wes sharrock and i have considered before. the mundaneness of the example is quite in line with the eM-based approach adopted in this book, (see chapter 1). eM emphasises the primacy and paramountcy of the attitude of everyday life and of course this, in turn, primarily directs our attention to the scenes, settings and objects of everyday life that are constituted in and through this attitude. It is in this sense that holidays are a salient case of the “reflexive”, i.e. self-commentating, properties of social settings and activities.1
considering the textual features of this built-in, self-commentating aspect of vacations, how they can be textually self-recording through participants’ activities? People may render their vacations self-recording through the writing and sending of postcards, the taking and labelling of photographs, perhaps the keeping of a holiday journal, and the acquisition and use (including annotation) of souvenir books and pamphlets concerning the places that have been visited. other textual self-commentating features of the vacation may involve “walkabout guides” which formulate walking routes along with potted histories and other characterisations of the landmarks, etc. encountered, occasioned maps sketched perhaps by locals to inform tourists where a given landmark is to be found, (viz. Psathas, 1979, 203–26) commercial “flyers” advertising this or that feature.
in one of his earliest works, sacks gives us an incipient case of what came to be called “textual analysis” by some ethnomethodologists (sacks, 1999). the work was written in the early 1960s but published much later. in line with his “commentator machine” analogy (which also derives from the early 60s), he
4 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
submits to praxiological examination Max Weber’s reading of the old testament texts in the Bible. sacks refers to the “commentator machine” as affording an “interrogation procedure”, where an interrogator can question the “saying part” of the machine. As schegloff, (op. cit., pp. 20–1) in a masterly article, (to which i direct readers for a far more extensive treatment), observes, Weber employs the old testament to descriptively “reconstruct” Ancient israel and the Jews as a pariah people there. Weber is conceived by sacks as “interrogating” the old testament texts.
As schegloff (1999: p. 21) expresses it with reference to the “commentator machine”, those texts are seen by sacks as:
... supplying answers to the questions which Weber puts to [them], answers which constitute successful descriptions of Ancient israel ... (the old testament) is cast as the “saying” part of the machine which responds when queried with a description of what the “doing” part is then doing.
through this textual “case study” of sorts, sacks confronts the generic issue of practical or natural theorising, which he construes as a set of methods formulated as instructions, here with regard to the ancient writings. in particular, he confronts the issue of how – the “how” is central – Weber transforms the old testament texts into a recognisable reconstruction for sociology of Ancient israel and, especially, its pariah culture, and his “commentator machine”-type interrogation procedure comprises the “how”. sacks notes that the mastery of the natural language is central at every stage of the descriptive process, as means and as object of study.
some ethnomethodological things can be noted, here. firstly, sacks is conducting a textual analysis of another (practical) textual analysis, that effectuated by Weber. secondly, sacks conducts much of his analysis with reference to a single case, a sample text, thus at least signalling at a very early point eM’s eschewal of sweeping, unconstrained theorising and refusal to endorse what Wittgenstein termed “the attitude of disdain for the particular case”. We thus get a hint of eM’s concern for the detailed, local – in this case the “local-textual” – organisation of phenomena. in these and his concern for natural reasoning and theorising, the role of the mastery of ordinary language, the “how” and “instructability” of social practices, sacks’ article on Weber’s Ancient Judaism counts as early and genuine eM and not as some kind of prolegomenon (viz. schegloff, 1999: p. 21).
other textual analyses have also been integral to the earliest development of EM. In Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967) one section is devoted to a study of how medical records (“clinic career forms”) were used by personnel. He, along with his co-researcher egon Bittner, examined various issues, including those related to how the records were produced in order that the doctor-patient relationship could, if necessary, be depicted in the future as having been in
Introduction 5
accordance with the expectations and requirements pertaining both to practitioner and to patient.2 We see in Garfinkel and Bittner’s work a concern with the production of texts – something which very many textual analyses leave out.
In a related study, Garfinkel (1967) examined how researchers applied a coding scheme to the medical records.3 He showed how coders regularly encountered an “interpretative gap” as between the coding scheme and the particular record to which it was intended to apply. this gap was “bridged” through the use of ad hoc practices – “let it pass”, etc. these ad hoc practices were, in turn, deployed in conjunction with the researchers’ prior background knowledge of the organised practices of the clinic – that is, knowledge of the very phenomenon their research project was designed to “discover”. complaints that the records did not meet sociological criteria of adequacy themselves revealed that the records had been addressed to practical purposes – clinical and professional, not sociological ones, and that each folder’s text “expressed” this fact. the texts thus had practical adequacy to the specific purposes in terms of which they were cast. It is not difficult to see some canonical EM themes in these textual analyses, nor is it difficult to see these studies as precedents for future ones.
Following upon Garfinkel’s and Sacks’ early studies which set up so many facets of subsequent EM approaches to texts-in-use, there have been a significant number of studies of texts. some of these employed, along with eM themes, themes derived from sacks’ later approaches in cA. Among these were John r.e. lee’s well-known application of “Membership categorisation Analysis” (McA) to newspaper headlines and articles and Jim schenkein’s (1979) study of the serial development of a newspaper story. each of these articles also focalises the sequential organisation of a given article – an issue that again bears some affinity to sacks’ studies in the sequential organisation of talk-in-interaction, (sacks, 1992). these studies look at familiar, ordinary texts in routine everyday use, “texts-in- action”, one might say, – texts as practical matters. they discuss how texts are “assembled objects”, how texts are read, how texts are inserted into courses of action and the like.
As i said at the beginning of this Preface, a recurring theme is that of professional sociological writing. sociology itself can be conceived as an inscriptive pursuit, conducted in one of a huge range of natural languages: indeed the discipline can be said to be dependent upon inscriptive practice. sociologists do describe the world, but they do so largely by virtue of the inscriptive natural language conventions at their disposal. indeed, even the “technical vocabulary” – “role”, “association”, etc. deployed in such inscriptive practice can be shown to be rooted in evolved ordinary meanings of just those terms, as edward rose (1960) has so aptly shown. Their incarnation in specific inscriptive practices has been little studied. Whilst it has been the fashion to examine the inscriptive practice of social science, these approaches have typically involved theory-driven formal abstractions,
6 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
idealisations and the like. As such, the locally-embedded, concretely identifiable detail of specific inscriptive practices has been lost. I hope in this volume to have begun their reinstatement and to have pointed to other studies that share that same objective – examining textual orderliness in the concrete, not the abstract.
the import of this approach is that the organisation, character and content of the professional sociologist’s descriptions is ineluctably shaped by the inscriptions of ordinary language quite as much as – indeed more than – by the technical and methodological instruments of the discipline. We must recall how Garfinkel’s empirical studies have often shown the primacy and paramountcy of the attitude of everyday life, of everyday practical reasoning and language practices (e.g. glossing practices).
At the moment, we know little about how our professional descriptions and analyses are fashioned by such inscriptive resources and practices, since these concrete resources and practices have very seldom been turned into an explicit topic for analytic attention for their own sake. typically, the particular, situated resources and practices are implicitly counted upon and employed by analysts: they are the tacit resources of sociology. to once again intone don H. Zimmerman and Melvin Pollner’s famous phenomenological recommendation, we need to turn these tacit resources into topics in their own right. We need to do this without losing their “phenomenal field details”, as Garfinkel states it. To treat sociology as, (in large part) a locally inscriptive phenomenon is one way of pursuing that objective. texts are, then, treated in this volume as objects on their own behalf, not merely as standing on behalf of some “other” phenomenon.
Above all, we must not forget the primacy of ordinary, everyday, often “non- professional” texts and documents and the inscriptive practices through which they are produced and the reading practices through which they are used – and incorporated into utterly unremarkable everyday uses. How do these ordinary inscriptive practices shape the professional-sociological ones, and how does the intersection of these practices figure in actual, specific characterisations of a given society and its settings? i hope to cast some light, however prismatically, on these matters but i hope too to cast light on ordinary texts and ordinary inscriptive practices: these are where it begins.
the analyses in this monograph are intended to take forward these concerns. they address texts-as-read, everyday and professional-sociological texts. they bring in a range of eM concerns as well as the McA and sequential concerns of sacks’ later cA. there is an attempt not to reify “textual analysis” as a topic, as, perhaps, many orthodox sociologies might do, but instead to see texts as figuring in myriad ways in an array of sense-making practices as incarnate in a range of local complexes of practical action. chapter 1 of this volume sets out these matters much more fully as i can do in this introduction.
chapter 1
the ethnomethodological Analysis of texts and reading
tattoos, autographs, text messages on mobile ‘phones, bus tickets, pay slips, street signs, time indications on watch faces, chalked information on blackboards, computer VdU displays, car dashboards, company logos, contracts, railway timetables, television programme titles, teletexts, t-shirt epigrams, “on” / “off” switches, £10 notes and other banknotes, passports and identity cards, cheques and payslips, the Bible, receipts, newspapers and magazines, road markings, parking tickets, computer keyboards, medical prescriptions, birthday cards, billboard advertisements, maps, Hansard, graffiti on walls, music scores, church liturgies, drivers’ licences, birth, marriage and death certificates, voting slips, degree certificates, book-keepers’ accounts, stock inventories, cricket scoreboards, credit cards – these and countless other items that involve written language and diagrammatic forms indicate the immensely pervasive, widespread and institutionalised place of texts in our society.
this list also indicates the extraordinary diversity in the work done by texts – contractual commitment, ratifying work, facilitating work, record-keeping, persuasive work, identity-establishing work, and so on. in fact, one might suggest that virtually every recognisable activity in our society has its textual aspects, involving and incorporating people’s monitoring of written or other textual “signs” – texts that, in a wide variety of ways, help us to orientate ourselves to that activity, occasion or setting and to make sense of it.
As analysts interested in language, we can examine a text as simply marks on a page, or conceive of those marks in alphabetical terms, or in terms, say, of a signary or syllabary, but none of these will in themselves allow us to analyse what a text does – particularly if we are interested in what just this text specifically does, here and now. in this sense we consider texts as effecting social actions, actions of a local, situated kind.
About a century ago, Max Weber – whose work has some, if indirect, influence on ethnomethodology – noted that the massive expansion in legal-rational bureaucracies was itself visible in terms of the major increase in texts. these texts included documents such as files, reports and, not least, numerical records such as accounts. expanding bureaucratisation also ushered in or proliferated new textual practices such as accounting techniques. However, there has been a relative
8 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
neglect by sociologists of Weber’s important observation, not only in relation to bureaucracy but more widely in our everyday lives. considering the huge number of professional sociologists, few have focused upon the ways in which texts operate as utterly mundane, routine features of contemporary everyday life, or of the great extent to which textual work is built into “other” everyday activities such as watching the speedometer, reading road signs, checking the odometer, glancing at the radio display, all whilst driving one’s car. ethnomethodology focalises such features of everyday life as society-members themselves understand and recognise them.
However, the virtually inconceivable variety of texts and the thoroughly ordinary, mundane and practical nature of a very large proportion of these, has received comparatively little attention from sociologists. A great many textual analyses concern themselves with the textual phenomena of “high culture” – novels, academic texts, exegeses of biblical or talmudic texts or the texts of classical antiquity. these by and large exegetical studies have taken a variety of academic forms or positions – textual interpretations, etymological work, and so on. Whilst certainly valuable in themselves, these analyses tended to address texts that were, at best, of narrowly restricted relevance to everyday, ordinary life as opposed to the habitus of a literary or intellectual elite. they tended to divert attention from the myriad mundane textual phenomena in our society and, indeed, to selectively focus on the exotic rather than on the ordinary, the esoteric rather than the commonplace, the remote rather than the familiar.
However, even these textual exegeses sometimes constituted an advance over the conventional approach in the humanities and social sciences to the written or printed word. this approach is to treat language as a kind of transparent “window on the world”, as a conduit, a direct channel to some “real thing” in the social world. thus, the anthropologically inclined historian Alan Macfarlane (1978) used the rev. ralph Josselin’s journal as providing a “window” on the family and individualism in sixteenth-century england.1 Anthropologists treat their field notes as providing and preserving access to (say) the kinship structure of a tribal society.2 survey analysts in social science treat their statistical tables and charts as providing access to (say) the income distribution in society, and so on. often, indeed, the text seems to be treated as unproblematically standing on behalf of some object(s) in the objective domain, as simply “adhering” to those objects- in-the world, as effectively indistinguishable from them. they seldom if ever pay serious or sustained attention to how the written records used themselves predispose our “access” to, and conception of, these historical phenomena. the texts are relatively seldom considered as objects for attention in their own right.
the language, numerical constellations, diagrams and other features of these texts are, by and large, thus regarded by these analysts as unproblematic, as mere channels to the phenomenon of their analytic interest, be it family, income,
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 9
individualism or whatever. from the standpoint of these scholars the text operates as a more or less unnoticed and unremarkable means to an end. texts are placed in service of the examination of “other”, separately conceived phenomena. from this standpoint, the text purportedly comprises a resource for accessing these phenomena – phenomena existing “beyond” the text, as it were, where the text operates as an essentially unexamined conduit, a kind of neutral “window” or “channel” to them. texts are taken as “conveying” us to those phenomena.
this contrasts in a major way with the work of scholars such as edward rose (1960). in his important work, rose does not treat “words” and “(things in) the world” as two separate phenomena. instead, the world itself is seen as “worded entity” and ordinary words are seen as inextricable parts of the worldly phenomena they define. There is, from this perspective, no “thing in itself” separate from the word that identifies it. Instead, we common-sensically experience those things in terms of the words for them – be those words oral or textual. think of how a sign (i.e. text) saying “Parking” serves to define for competent society members what a particular space “is”.
the above is an important point for sociology, particularly because professional sociologists possess their own vocabulary for defining and identifying the (social) world, whether this vocabulary be orally or textually delivered. typically, these technical words are, as rose shows, derived from ordinary, common-sense ones. terms such as “status”, “role” or “society” may now be seen as part of the technical vocabulary of society but they were originally part of ordinary, common-sense usage: this usage evolved through time and its evolved forms have worked to shape their current professional / analytic determinations.
rose claims that this stock of ordinary words itself comprises a “natural sociology”, a set of shared common-sense conceptual understandings of society. A major corollary of this is that the professional sociologists’ use of a given term, such as “role” or “status”, is shaped by the common-sense cultural meanings of that term – often, meanings that have evolved since the seventeenth century or earlier. Virtually all the technical expressions used by professional sociologists have their basis in evolved ordinary usage, and that basis sets the terms for the conventional meanings that professional sociologists impute in those expressions. that professional sociologists are, at best, often dimly aware of this does not change the fact that their discipline, for all its technical vocabulary, is premised upon a natural sociological vocabulary. rose’s argument is that sociology is a natural language pursuit and that sociological analysis is linguistically constructed. this argument gives us our position on sociological texts, whether these be research reports or instructional textbooks. these texts themselves manifest the fact that professional sociology is not only a discipline whose technical vocabulary has a lay or common-sense origin but is ipso facto also a discipline that is conducted, whether orally or textually, in some natural language or other – Japanese, english,
10 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
french, and so on – and depends utterly upon the descriptive and other resources of that particular language. sociologists can and do provide analytic descriptions of social order but they are only able to do so because their own ordinary, natural language furnishes the general resources for them to do so. the form, character and development of their academic analyses are, consequently, shaped or fashioned by the conventional properties of the natural language that they necessarily employ quite as much as by the methodological constraints of their discipline.
certainly, sociologists and other academics cannot exempt their own work from textual analysis. it would, for instance, be interesting to analyse the ways in which Alan Macfarlane’s (1978) historical claims are shaped by the texts he uses as data sources and by his own textual practices in making sense of those texts and in writing them up into a report. for an ethnomethodological example of how textual resources shape academic disciplines – even to the point of actually helping to produce the segmentation of those disciplines – see g. Watson’s (1984) paper on the textual construction of the boundaries between social and cultural anthropology. Another such example is furnished by A.P. carlin (2007). He shows how the textual practices involved in assembling a bibliography within a discipline such a sociology – or a sub-branch of it – serves to socially delineate that discipline. In turn, these practices, reflexively, also serve to establish the legitimate place of each book or article as “belonging to” or “representative of” that discipline, as having “corpus status” within it.
so far as sociology texts are concerned, we might observe that not only do these texts unavoidably partake of the general properties of the natural language that is used, but they will also necessarily be shaped by the ordinary textual conventions employed by that language. these textual conventions vary, of course: in some cultures one does not read from left to right and progressively downward line by line.
An example of this textual structuring of an analysis is to be found in the transcription procedures of some conversation analysts in sociology. conversation analysts have a highly crafted technical system for “entextualisation”, that is, the transcription of actual oral discourse into a written-textual format. this involves the inscribing of very many of the minute social-interaction details of these oral-aural interactions. A considerable number of these procedures derive from ordinary, commonsense textual practice – not only the “left to right”, progressively downward nature, but also their identificatory characterisation of utterances and utterance sequences. on other words, verbal or non-verbal actions are characterised in terms of “the” (or a) category or other identity of the speaker. in this sense, the conversation analyst’s transcription formats are derived from broader sources – sources that are familiar in our culture, originating, for instance, in the formatting of the scripts of plays, from courtroom transcripts as presented in court and newspaper reports, and so on. indeed, conversation analysts
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 11
have actually employed court or tribunal reports as their “raw data” on speech exchange between “legal counsel” and “Witness”. note that “legal counsel” and “Witness” are social categories for the identification of persons, and these categorial identifications are a built-in feature of such reports, (see P. Drew, 1978, and J.M. Atkinson and P. drew, 1979). Many conversation analysts have actually appropriated this categorisation technique, using it as an unexamined, taken-for- granted resource for the conducting of their analysis. for instance, they may use it to render courtroom discourse in institutions such as courts of law analytically treatable as “institutional talk”, where, e.g., questions are systematically “pre- allocated” to the person categorised relative to the court as an institution – e.g. “legal counsel” and answers to the person institutionally categorised as “witness”.
We can give an example – though from a different context – of how this works. this is a linguistic interchange between two persons. the original transcript identified the interlocutors in the left-hand column not by any social category but by their names, here pseudonymised as “riley” and “corcoran”. i have adapted the original transcript for ease of reading.
Riley: see... i stole it from the house. cause i, my mother she’s kinda off, too, y’know. she used to tell me how she’s gonna get rid of me, y’know.
Corcoran: Mm hm
Riley: she used to threaten me too, yihknow, i ain’t threatened her, she
used tuh threaten me all the time.
Corcoran: What d’you mean, she wuz gonna off you?
Riley: yeah, she always usetuh threaten me. one time i almos’ hurt
her before, like, when she was, in the bathroom: she kept on about how she gonna kill me, i told her to quit saying that stuff y’know, cause i say i might hurt her.
Now, this excerpt of transcript might be commonsensically defined in a variety of ways. it might, for instance, be seen as a piece of ordinary, informal, vernacular conversation between (say) two friends, intimates or, perhaps, relatives. or it might be seen as an exchange in an institutional setting between, say, a social worker or a probation officer... officer and client? Alternatively, even though the excerpt contains vernacular elements, it may be seen as an exchange in another institutional setting between a police officer and suspect (or witness) in an interrogation or interview. or it might be seen as an “institutional” exchange between a therapist, e.g. an examining psychiatrist, or counsellor. note the way in which we use social categories to identify the particular possible discourse types, “friends”, “intimates”, “relatives”, “social worker”, “police officer”, “therapist”, etc. or, sensibly, we might treat the data sequence as equivocal. of course, we could, again sensibly, use additional techniques to make sense of the transcript, e.g. reading more of it to see what was said (particularly, perhaps, by corcoran) before
12 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
choosing between and applying those categories. in so doing we categorise those
persons rather than just treating them as persons with their own proper names.
if we choose to attribute the categories “therapist” and “patient” rather than, say, a conversation between intimates, we thus place the discourse in the “institutional talk” category rather than ordinary, informal conversation in a non-institutional setting. this has huge consequences for how we analyse the sequence, e.g. the utterance by corcoran “What d’you mean, she wuz gonna off you?” might now be analysed as a therapist’s utterance, or the type of utterance that therapists produce as a “pre-allocated” activity. if, instead, we choose to treat it as a different type or class of institutional discourse, e.g. a police officer’s interrogation of a suspect or witness, then corcoran’s utterance might be analysed as an interrogating move, as the kind of utterance tied or pre-allocated to the institutional category “police officer”.
thus, what categories we put in the left-hand column of the transcript does “instruct” us to read the accompanying utterance in a certain way, in the first moment,
Police officer: What d’you mean, she wuz gonna off you?
Suspect: yeah, she always usetuh threaten me... i told her to quite
saying that stuff y’know, cause i say i might hurt ‘er.
– such that the utterance, in the second moment, can be taken as “reflecting back” on the categorisation, as a “police officer’s utterance”.
These categories, “police officer” and “suspect” are particularly influential given that they are in the left-hand column and that we read from left to right: thus, we read the category before the utterance. Of course, the reading of the specific utterance, as e.g. a police officer’s utterance may then be read as “reflecting back upon” or “reinforcing” the imputed category, or even as helping us to impute the category in the first place. Thus, there is a “reflexive”, back-and-forth, relation between category and utterance.
in fact, this was a police interrogation of a murder suspect: those, then, seem to be the salient identification categories. Even here, though, placing these categories in the left-hand column may be unduly stipulative, for as e.A. schegloff (1991) has aptly observed, in (say) telephone calls made by members of the public to the police, there is no guarantee that, for a given utterance or sequence of utterances or overall conversation, the category “police officer” or “member of the public” is the one that is salient for the interlocutors. instead, the category “friend” may be the relevant one for that particular utterance, sequence or conversation. thus we see how seemingly simple and innocuous textual practice of putting an identification category in the left-hand column of a transcript can be highly (and sometimes
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 13 unduly) consequential in how we make sense of, and analyse, an instance of
indeed, conversation analysts tend to be a good deal more scrupulous and judicious than other sociologists in attributing identification categories to discourse and in warranting such attributions.3 Many ethnographers, for example, are quite cavalier, even unselfconscious, about stipulating what category is relevant to a particular respondent’s statement (see, e.g., Atkinson, 1982). We might say that the transcription or entextualisation procedures themselves incline us as researchers towards one characterisation rather than another and thus what analysis we end up with. in a strong sense, our ethnography (for instance) is done before the transcribed data are analysed: once the categories are provided, a predisposing interpretation is activated and it is “all over bar the shouting”. this reminds us that all writing, e.g. entextualisation, is a practice, an activity with conventions.
this extended illustration is simply to show how the textual practices of professional sociologists shape both their data and their analysis, and how many of these practices are rooted in lay textual reasoning. Unsurprisingly, professional sociologists unavoidably rely upon these ordinary “commonsensical” cultural procedures of reading and of making ordinary “textual sense” of what we read. We have already outlined one such procedure, “left to right”, and how it can be used as a resource. Clearly, finding out about these resources is important, particularly as much remains unknown about them (and, consequently, we do not fully know how these procedures shape the discipline of sociology). even those procedures that are known about tend to be disattended by sociologists: consequently, our discipline of sociology is shaped in more or less unknown or unacknowledged ways by ordinary linguistic (including textual) resources and procedures that are, currently, at best dimly known by its practitioners. thus sociological textual practices rely heavily in tacit ways on ordinary, “common-sensical” textual practices. We may now turn to an examination of the place of texts in ordinary, everyday cultural reasoning and conduct.
Texts as active social phenomena
As i have indicated earlier, texts of all kinds have typically been employed by conventional sociologists as “information on something else”, as dorothy e. Smith (1982, 1984) has put it in a series of influential papers. That is, texts have been used to “convey” the reader to some “other” phenomenon such as family life four hundred years ago, a train accident, and so on, or something else existing “beyond” the text. As Smith puts it, we are, quite simply, used to finding out what texts say, what we have learned from them as a resource. texts have, therefore, often been regarded by sociologists as transparent, as “windows” giving onto this or that “other” phenomenon. in this sense, most sociologists have oriented
14 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
themselves towards texts in the same way as have ordinary society-members: that is, they have been treated as “conduits” to a reality beyond the text. texts have seldom been treated as analytically significant phenomena in their own right, as comprising self-contained data in themselves, to be taken as objects of attention on their own behalf.
linked with this tendency amongst sociologists to treat texts as mere conduits to a separately conceived reality is an assumption of what dorothy e. smith terms the “inertia of the text”. that is, the text is very often taken as mere marks on a page, docile, inoperative and inert. However, smith attempts to replace this notion of the text as a passively transparent “channel” with a conception of an active text, a text that has its own structuring effect, that actively potentiates the sense of some phenomenon, for example how one newspaper report may, in its profile of a train accident, lay the blame on one party and a second newspaper report on another.4 to use smith’s simile (it is no more than that, and even then has its dangers), the text is akin to “a crystal which bends the light as it passes through”.
An example: in the journal Women’s Studies International Forum, John lee (1984) analyses an actual newspaper headline: girl gUide Aged 14 rAPed At Hell’s Angels conVention. lee makes the point that newspaper headlines work actively (a) to attract readers’ attention to particular stories; (b) to persuade them to read those stories; and (c) to predispose them towards a particular way of reading the following story, a particular way of making sense of and understanding the contents of the story.
the headline, then, has impetus. not only does it actively capture readers’ attention but, also, it furnishes them with an “instructed reading” of the story: newspaper headlines may be seen as incorporating “interpretive practices and schemata” to use smith’s phrase, which itself is not without problematic elements. these “practices and schemata” often take the form of instructions for reading what follows. Part of the “attention-getting” work done by this headline is its puzzle format: what was an incumbent of the category “girl guide” (let alone one categorised as “aged 14”) doing at a get-together of incumbents of the category “Hell’s Angels”? the membership categories do not seem, conventionally, to “go naturally together”, as, for instance, might the categories “Hell’s Angel” and “sidekick”. (for the procedural rules in terms of which membership categories are sensibly co-selected, see H. sacks, 1972.) the headline directs us towards the story in order to find a solution to the puzzle: after all, we might even find the Girl guide to have been complicit to some degree, looking for “cheap thrills”, and so on. However, the story presents another solution to the puzzle generated by the co-selection of these categories, namely that the girl guide had been abducted by the Hell’s Angels and that her prior movements were such that it was simply ill- fortune that she was in a certain place when the Hell’s Angels arrived.
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 15
Puzzle-solution formats abound in newspaper headlines: note another “puzzle” analysed by Jim schenkein (1979), from a copy of the Guardian: Police inQUiry into WHy tHey Missed tHe rAdio rAiders. schenkein reports his initial bafflement on reading the headline: to what did it refer? To whom did it refer? Hence his characterisation of the headline as a referential puzzle (and, indeed, we can see that Lee’s headline is a similar kind of puzzle). His bafflement induced him to read the story to find a solution. Perhaps the reader of this article has been “hooked” by the puzzle: i am not going to provide the solution here (but the issue of The Guardian was published in autumn 1971). schenkein’s article does, in a way, echo smith’s simile of the text as being like a “crystal which bends the light as it passes through”. He refers to the way in which the headline begins the task of transforming “events in the world” into “stories in the news”: again, we have the notion of an active text, a text with impact, with impetus.
Part of the active, operational, predisposing character of the text is the so- called “slant” imparted to the story. As lee records, he once observed a news editor on a local radio station reading a report of a record football pools win in another area of the country. the story was put out under the heading: locAl MAn loses record of lArgest Pools Win. the headline, and the text that followed, gained its impact by presenting the story with a “slant” derived from the geographically local frame of reference. the text actively effects a particular transformation of the story. texts are, therefore, practical matters.
As an exercise in analysing what texts do, you might like to examine this actual – and again pseudonymised – U.s. police report of an alleged murder: indeed, it comes from the same case as the transcribed interrogation above. Amongst many other things, this report is an entextualisation of a considerable array of police investigative activities and their outcomes. the text itself actively brings about many related consequences, but one of them is what we might call an “activity of implication”. By “activity of implication” i intend the way in which the suspect, stuart riley, is, through this text, which is a bland, unremarkable police report, potentially implicated in one murder but not (so far as this document is concerned) in another:
Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
to: dAte:
lieut. donald o. corcoran Homicide Bureau – commanding
froM: Alan J. rimsky – detective Michael d. Holt – detective
evidence Unit ident. Bur.
re: latent print comparison against inked impressions of stuart riley.

fActory city Police dePArtMent intrA-dePArtMentAl corresPondence
on september 3, 1983, and at the direction of lt. david o. corcoran, commander of the Homicide Bureau, a latent print comparison of all the latent prints developed from the following two scenes were compared against the inked impressions of stuart riley, factory city Police Mug no. 96713:

  1. 431 Ash st. – Homicide Victim – Herb Morris – 23.8.83
  2. 826 sycamore Ave. – Assault Victim – Hank stebbins – 31.8.83
from the latent prints of 431 Ash street a latent print developed from the top of a stereo player was identical in ridge characteristic to the left thumb of the inked impression of stuart riley no. 96713.
From the latent prints of 826 Sycamore Ave., no identification was effected
comparison effected by detectives Michael d. Holt and Alan J. rimsky of the evidence Unit.
lt. corcoran Homicide file
Alan J. rimsky – detective evidence Unit

files no 1216 and no 1217
(stamp received)
sept. 9 1983
Homicide Bureau
factory city Police department (signed) donald o. corcoran

note that this document is a very small, utterly routine, practical part of an overall investigation, but that nonetheless the statement of evidence – that riley’s fingerprint matched in one respect a print found in the murder victim Morris’s home but that there was no such match established in victim Hank stebbins’ home – renders inferentially available a putative guilt-implication for riley in one case rather than in the other. of course, the rest of the investigation may even, eventually, implicate Riley in the second case and exonerate him in the first, but here we are concerned simply with what this text actively brings about here and now, however provisionally and inferentially.
some concerns that you may (or may not!) wish to bear in mind in considering how the implication is actively brought about by and through the report as a text
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 17
are: (a) the invocation of a method, of systematic police procedure; (b) the various and diverse provisions of persons’, including the investigators’, identities; (c) the formal, “official” style of the text and the stamps, signatures and ratifications it includes; and (d) the precision of the formulation of the statements in the text (the precise nature, and, by implication, the limits of the comparison effected). these and other textual methods actively bring about an “implicative placing” of riley in one scene rather than another, where this “placing” is also textually authorised as an account. note that no direct statement of guilt is made: instead, such a judgement is actively potentiated by the text. it is through such undramatic, practical, seemingly straightforward texts that “guilt-implicativeness” may be actively implied or pointed up: such routine texts are active indeed.
A similar guilt-implicative text – again without any explicit accusation or other guilt-attribution – may be found in the following newspaper headline: Wife foUnd MUrdered At HoMe – where, given the conventional category- pair “wife” – “husband” and the setting (“home”) being a conventional location for such a pair, the husband may (rightly or wrongly) be deemed by readers the favourite candidate for the additional category “culprit”. Again, the categorial organisation of texts takes us far.
When considering the resources that comprise the “active” and “practical” nature of texts, we much acknowledge that texts themselves are often a concerted accomplishment, are often not the work of a single author but of a number of persons who may well have differing relevances. for instance, david omissi (1999) has written a book presenting a large number of letters from indian soldiers in france during World War i: many of these letters were, of course, written to their families back in india and are clearly designed for familial recipients. they were written in Hindi, Urdu, gurmukhi, Pashtu, etc. However, as omissi points out in his “introduction” to this compilation, the text of these letters can not necessarily be construed in terms of single or unitary authorship: omissi is not an ethnomethodologist, but his observations can readily be re-specified in terms of ethnomethodological precepts.
the letters were sometimes written by the soldiers themselves, but were frequently written through scribes – scribes who, for instance, could recommend turns of phrase, etc. (as well as often reading letters received by the soldiers). the inscription of the letter was, therefore, a “semi-public” matter, as omissi puts it, rather than an entirely private or intimate one. then the letters had to go through the army’s system of censorship, to ensure, e.g., that military information or place names, etc., had not been inadvertently conveyed. there were two levels of censorship – the British officers within the regiment and the Indian Base Post Office, whose job it was to excise “seditious” material from incoming and outgoing letters.
18 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
the situation was even more complex than that: some soldiers wrote their own letters; scribes might also be censors; sometimes censorship was more lax or perfunctory than at other times; British censors often relied upon indian scribes to translate the letters into english, etc. consequently, the letters themselves are not “stabilised” in the sense that they were not the product of a consistent set of “stages” or what Omissi terms “filters”. Instead, they were the outcome of a variable “mix” of there-and-then local, situated evolving practices. even the notion of “filter” is a simplistic reduction, since in some cases the persons dictating and / or writing the letters might well have been prospectively aware that their censoring officers, etc., would be checking the contents, and they might well take this into account in composing the letters in the first place. In this sense, the letters might well have been knowingly fashioned for multiple recipients, for some or all of a series of readers. the resources or information the letters furnish for us are, therefore, variable rather than constant. this might well provide a problem for a conventional sociologist or historian treating the letters as a stabilised data-set. However, the ethnomethodological approach treats phenomena such as their variable design for multiple recipients as itself a rich phenomenon for analysis. this approach has, then, to begin with the text of a letter as received (if it was) by a soldier’s family in india as a complex, composite and multiplex product or evolved outcome. ethnomethodology would then seek to examine the variable situational contingencies and relevances in the temporal course of any cohort letter’s production. the very presence or absence, or the mix, of resources or information in the letter is successively re-constituted. it is clear that we can speak of a “production cohort” rather than a single authorship or single “recipient”, of each particular letter, and each letter as a situated, local, diachronic accomplishment. of course, the “production” and “reception” cohort may be coterminous; after all the reading of a text is part of the course of its production. to be sure, its procedures may well not be the last, or intended, readers of the text. if not, this will in all probability be built in by the producers as a design or particularisation feature of the text. in this sense, text-producers may build a “cohort independence” into the text, i.e. that the text will be used by parties other than, or in addition to, the production cohort and thus transcends the interests, uses, relevances, etc. of that production cohort. this cohort independence is itself a local achievement of the production cohort.
this concern with the production of texts leads us to issues concerning writing, which for reasons of limited space we can not consider here. Suffice it to say that writing is conceived by ethnomethodologists not as a solitary, freestanding, psychological production of the individual but as one which occurs in a very specific social setting and comprises the author’s (or authors’) situated activity, capitalising on all kinds of “scenic” resources in that setting – the availability of particular writing materials, the orientation to the co-author (which may be one of contestation) or others in the situation, and so on, (J. Heap, 2000). in this sense, writing is a “setting-permeable” activity, genuinely social. Moreover, another local
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 19
social dimension is how a given writing shows a particular “recipient design”, i.e. how it is tailored for the person receiving or reading that item, in just those circumstances.
To return to the issues of reading, one way in which we can see the significance of reading is to be found in a classic book on card-playing written by the expert John scarne (scarne, 1965). Putatively, the book is about how to win at cards and how to spot cheats. in the chapter (ch. 27) on cheating at poker, he refers to such card sharpers’ moves as “stacking the deck”, “crimping”, “shifting”, “false cuts”, “bottom dealing”, “sandbagging” and “signalling”. scarne writes this about “signalling” to a confederate (p. 289): “If the (first) upturned card almost covers the hole card but permits a quarter of an inch of the hole card to be seen, it represents an ace, etc.”
A first observation is that the phraseology in terms of which the statement is made itself casts a conception of the intended recipient of the text – card players who already have some technical savvy. secondly, the text can be read, and particularly by such readers, in two – though not unrelated – ways. first, it can be read as a way of helping the reader, as an honest poker-player, to detect two cheats colluding in a game. However, it can also be read as a set of instructions to the reader concerning how s/he, too, could cheat at poker. there is, then, what we might term “interpretive leeway” in the reading of a given text: which interpretation the reader draws from the text depends on his or her practical relevances, interests, etc. – though this is not to say that such leeway is infinitely extensible: on the contrary, in some cases it may well be quite minutely circumscribed, e.g. alternatives may overlap considerably. still, written items may be “open-textured” to a greater or lesser degree, – particularly from the perspective(s) of specific readers: texts do not “straightjacket” readers, and in scarne’s book we can see that readers may “localise” or “particularise” texts in at least two ways.
of course, the reader of the text plays a crucial role in all this, not simply passively receiving that text but also actively “interpreting” it, as we might provisionally put it, (including, sometimes, generating different or divergent versions of a textual account). it is to the act of reading that we now turn.
the studies by omissi and scarne – neither of them, of course, ethnomethodological – both attest to the ethnomethods in a text’s production. these ethnomethods are laic, not professional, and they afford a necessary supplement to smith’s notion of the “active text” by focalising the production procedures for the text. We might see these processes as very complex indeed – highly sensitive to anticipated recipients and, perhaps, as evolving through various stages of production – what we might call a “production career”. the active text is thus a locally evolved text.
20 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts Reading as activity
texts, then, in the resources they mobilise and in their fashioning and formatting, are anything but passive, anything but mere inert marks on a page or screen. texts have their own active structuring effect. However, this effect has to be activated or animated by the reader(s): when referring to the active text we are always referring to the text-as-read.
In an influential book, the ethnomethodologist Eric Livingston has conceived of the inextricable intertwining of the text and its reading on specific occasions in terms of a “text-reading” pair. the text and its reading can be conceived as “two sides of the same coin”. the twinned parts of the pair are i) a given printed text and ii) the “lived work” or experiential practices of reading of just that particular text, in just these circumstances, here and now. in this respect, reading is not just a general or diffuse activity: it is one that is specifically addressed to just this text now, in these particular circumstances. consequently, texts-as-read comprise a single unit, a single object of our analytic attention. to analytically focus on one half rather than the other would be to wrest that half out of the context that gives it its specific sense “there and then”. Thus, a given text is invariably fused with the situated, lived work through which it is read. this is why the present article aims always to construe textual analysis as the analysis of texts-as-read, as the analysis of readers’ arrival at a specific textual sense in this particular case, on this specific occasion. the characteristics of texts are, in fact, the characteristics of the text-as- read: these characteristics of the text are construed within, and by virtue of, how it is read on and for a given occasion. reading, too, is an embodied practice (see e.g., André Kertész’s photographs of ordinary readers).
As we have seen, this does not mean that readers can idiosyncratically or arbitrarily impute just any characteristics to a given text: texts themselves afford resources to readers, but readers activate those resources and it does not, therefore, make sense to consider the inscriptive characteristics of texts as freestanding. By consequence, it means that the ethnomethodologist qua analyst should never stipulate a freestanding meaning to the text, should never pronounce as an “academic authority” upon what a text “really” (or “ultimately”) means, irrespective of how ordinary readers construe the meaning in real, local, everyday circumstances and for their own practical purposes. the analyst, after all, is ultimately just another reader and – if s/he be an ethnomethodologist – can claim no privileged position in stipulating the “ultimate” or “real” meaning of a given text. this position is, however, claimed by many other types of textual analyst who will, e.g., seek to impress on you what this or that passage in the Bible, or in the dramas of shakespeare, samuel Beckett, etc., “really means” and how all other interpretations are just plain wrong. the ethnomethodologist should avoid such analytic absolutism. livingston’s notion of the “text/reading” pair helps her/him to do so, though we shall return to this issue with some caveats later.
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 21
Again, reading has often been presented as a passive reception on the part of the reader, a simple, one-way inflow of the “message” of the text into the reader’s head of the message of the text. in fact, reading a text is an extraordinarily complex sense-making activity employing the wide-ranging, sophisticated sense-making procedures as furnished within the respective culture involved. thus, as Alexander W. McHoul’s (1982) study points out, we may talk about the readers(s) producing a “culturally competent course of reading”.
McHoul’s formulation is quite apt, since it at least begins to move us away from a cognitivistic analysis of reading. Many non-ethnomethodological analysts of reading reduce it to purely psychological terms, so that an item of text is conceived by the analyst in terms of the individual reader’s cognitive-psychological response, e.g. in her/his intake of the text’s message or other information. Here, the reception model of reading is one of (textual) information receipt, information processing, storage, retrieval, and output. By contrast, ethnomethodology as a sociological approach is uncompromisingly anti-cognitivistic and refuses any reduction of reading to individual-psychological processes. instead, it treats reading activities as culturally-based and socially-organised and above all as local: that is, these activities are conducted on the basis of the cultural knowledge shared by members of a given group or society, where such knowledge is frequently employed conjointly by people, e.g. the writer(s) and recipient(s) of a letter. consider, for example, school pupils discussing a mathematical formula written by the teacher on a blackboard and explained by the teacher. the pupils and teacher are “making textual sense” together. Making textual sense is, however, a social matter even if we are dealing with an individual reader, since solitary readers are still employing socially shared resources and sense-making practices in situ. Here, of course, we are treating readers as active, knowledgeable sense-makers, not passive recipients.
A culturally-competent course of reading might well involve readers’ active ability to use identities or categories of society membership (termed “membership categories”) such as “girl guide” and “Hell’s Angel”, their ability to understand the serial or sequential aspects of the text (the beginning, middle and end and as, e.g., a series of event-descriptions, etc.) and the able deployment of other culturally based sense-making procedures that s/he brings to the text as part of his/her “background knowledge”.
McHoul (1982: Chap.2) made up a “poem” from randomly selected first lines from other actual poems and then recorded readers’ attempts to make sense of it: he considered that their efforts in trying to understand this “strange” poem would make explicit techniques of reading that are usually implicit. He found that readers made sense of these randomly collected lines as lines of a single, meaningful poem, that they relied heavily on following through its temporal sequences in order to gain an understanding of it. readers also treated each line as an evidence of a single emerging pattern of meaning, a continuing course, but they were also ready
22 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
to revise their interpretations line by line. they treated the lines as, by and large, fitted to each other and a second line came to be seen as having been projected by a prior line – even if some succeeding line were apparently disjunctive, it was often seen as “metaphorically related” to the prior one or to the overall pattern evidenced by the prior one.
some or all of these cultural methods for competent reading can be found in our everyday reading of all documents, for example receipts which record each item purchased and the sequence of purchasing at the till. of course, some texts such as “no Parking” may be designed for “at-a-glance” reading, so there is, for instance, no serially ordered lineage. However, a “no Parking” sign placed halfway up a wall still requires the readers’ active interpretation: for instance, readers will know that the sign does not simply prohibit parking halfway up a wall, but refers to a space in front of the wall, and they will have to try to figure out how far that space extends, and so on.5 obvious as this may seem, active interpretive or sense-making work is, clearly, unavoidably involved on the part of the reader of that sign.
it is in this sense that the reader “activates” the text. Whatever active potential a text possesses, this potential has to be activated through its being read. this, surely, is what lee has in mind when he says: “Headlines must be so constructed as to allow readers to employ a variety of methods and techniques of sense- assembly which enable them to decode the headings so as to discover the message and instructions which they impart” (1984: 69). readers’ active employment of these sense-assembly methods and techniques are, quite evidently, central to the activation of the properties of the text.
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of activating a text is when lecturers “read aloud” a set of notes they have written. erving goffman (1981) writes at length about the varied practices involved in what he terms “animating” such a text: among these is what he terms “text-parenthetical remarks”, where a lecturer departs from “strict adherence” to her/his prepared text per se to introduce asides or parenthetical remarks, qualifications, elaborations, clarifications, editorialising, and so on (1981: 176–7). these “extra” commentaries are often addressed to making oral sense of a written or printed text, drawing out its significance, and so on. in the case of the lecture, the text’s author is also its principal (i.e. its advocate) and animator (presenter and interpreter to an audience). the “animation” of a lecture-text involves its transformation into a “spoken-aloud” form designed for a particular social occasion or face-to-face encounter. Whilst goffman himself was not an ethnomethodologist, his argument here closely parallels some ethnomethodological “takes” on the “animation” of texts.
reading a text, then, has two aspects which are only analytically distinguishable. When one is reading a text, as a practical and situated matter, one is, in all likelihood, unaware of the distinction. The first aspect is the way in which the
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 23
text is organised so as to potentially predispose readers towards a given set of relevances, and the second is the way that the actual practices of reading the text actualise those relevances.
Indeed, texts are often designed to engage with a specific set of presumed relevances amongst readers – hence we get texts slanted towards particular categories of person – Woman’s Own, Men Only, Motorsport News, The Dalesman, The Jewish Chronical, The British Journal of Sociology, and so on. these texts are slanted or designed so as to address the putative relevances of what has been called the “implied (or intended) reader”. Many texts are designed for readers from groups characterised by special distributions of knowledge – lawyers, doctors, clergy, engineers, and so on. each of these groups has been termed “interpretive communities” since their members bring special (or specialist) interpretive resources to their particular class of text – legal, medical, religious and engineering texts, respectively. Note that the specific presumed relevances may, therefore, be glossed by membership categorisations – women, men, motorsport fans, Jewish people, sociologists, and so on.
readers, then, actively “interpret” texts but cannot interpret them in just any way they wish. the texts-as-read contain “instructions” which may yield strongly preferred readings. there is a dialectical, back-and-forth process in operation. the text makes available various interpretive schemata and the reader activates these schemata in particular instances by bringing his/her sense-making work into alignment. As lee’s (1984) article suggests, readers must be able to employ congruent sense-making schemata in order to identify the message and instructions projected by the text. Again, we can see the social (“alignment”) aspects of reading even if the person is reading the text on her/his own. one might say that in effecting this alignment the act of reading establishes a presumed reciprocity of perspectives – that potentiated by the text and that deployed by the reader. this does not necessarily mean that readers always agree with the “message” of what they read, only that they can, initially, understand the message. the matter of agreement, disagreement or neutrality is a further, and often crucial, aspect of the act of reading. one thing seems sure: we cannot have anything approaching an adequate textual analysis without including an intricately interwoven consideration both of textual organisation and of reading as an activity. in its focalising of the social practices of text production, and reading, ethnomethodology’s character as a praxiological approach is evident.
Textually mediated social action: Professional and everyday
let us return to the opening paragraph of this chapter, to the list of examples of textual items. Most of these examples derive from the situations and settings of everyday life, the scenes of daily activity. However, this is also a branch of textual
24 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
analysis which focuses upon social scientific (and particularly anthropological) practices. this tendency in textual analysis addresses issues concerning so-called “high culture” – novels, drama scripts, poetry, religious or academic texts, and the like. textual analysis was, as i have indicated above, devised as a way of analysing these “high-status” textual artefacts – perhaps for the purposes of biblical or talmudic exegesis, the literary criticism of novels or drama scripts, and so on. As such, there was an “in-group” or elitist element to this exercise: it was, typically, one segment of a literary, cultural or academic elite commenting on the work of another segment of that elite, as part of a debate with that segment – or, even more pleasurable, one segment of that elite talking about itself.
the most pervasive level of social practice is, though, that of everyday life and of society-members’ culturally based sense-making and reasoning. newspaper articles, text messages, road signs, shopping lists, and so on, are all, clearly, of the “everyday” rather than the scholarly or professional kind of text. their everyday or commonsense status does not mean they are of any less significance: quite the contrary. this is the most generic level of “textual work” and it is the scholarly / professional one which is in many respects derivative, as was again indicated earlier in our discussion of rose’s work.
As indicated in the “introduction” to this volume in relation to sacks’ “representative metaphor” of the “commentator machine”, ethnomethodologically- relevant analysis of how commonsense and academic resources combine in a sociological author’s production of a professional text is to be found in sacks’s (1999) examination of Max Weber’s study Ancient Judaism. sacks examines Weber’s study as itself comprising a textual analysis – the analysis of texts from the old testament of the Bible. sacks considers Weber’s approach as what i shall term a textual transformation – a transformation of a Biblical text into a sociological one, and sacks analyses Weber’s own text from this point of view. in a sense, sacks’s study involves a textual analysis of Weber’s textually-based investigations, and sacks uses actually passages from the Bible as part of his study. sacks sees Weber as “reconstructing” the features of Ancient israel from Biblical into recognisably sociological terms. sacks indicates that Weber uses what i shall here call a “textual interrogation” method in order to bring about this transformative reconstruction. the resources of natural language are central to this task: our natural language is, says sacks, “sociologically elegant” and entirely adequate to such tasks, be they laic or professional.
texts may be seen as “mediating” in a variety of ways, for example an anthropology or sociology text may be regarded as mediating between its author (including, indeed focalising, that author’s definition of the circumstances of his/ her reports) and the reader. However, there is perhaps a more directly apparent mediating effect, and this becomes most evident when we move away from professional / academic texts and turn towards ordinary, everyday textual items.
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 25
consider some initial, basic observations for further analysis that John lee and i made of some video recordings (with soundtrack) as part of a broader range of analytic projects of a research team investigating the social organisation of public space in urban areas. lee and i collected and examined (inter alia) some data on bus stops and shelters in an inner suburb of Paris.6
People formed a cluster in and around the shelter. the cluster was not haphazardly organised but, as we increasingly learned, had a dynamic, evolving internal order. A bus came with the sign “16” on its side. on the front was another “16” plus the name of the destination. some people in the cluster self-selected for the bus and formed a queue in order to board it. Others “disqualified” themselves for this bus, often visibly pulling back to let past those visibly wishing to board. the bus route (and destination) sign-as-read served to “partial out” or partition those passengers wishing to board that particular bus and those wanting a bus for another destination. in addition, there were some young people “hanging around” the outside of the shelter for a considerable time with no apparent intention of boarding any bus, and it is arguable too that the sign on the bus helped to “partial out” “waiting passengers” as opposed to “non-passengers”.
in other words, the reading of the bus sign(s) worked to activate a variety of practical relevances and courses of action amongst parties to the shelter: the self- inclusion and subsequent queuing of passengers for this bus, the self-exclusion of passengers waiting for other buses on different routes but who still manifested “waiting behaviour”, and those whose activities were those of a non-travelling spectatorship, including the researchers. this list is still not exhaustive of those with an interest in the bus stop or shelter; for instance i have indicated elsewhere how bus stops or stations might be constituted by pickpockets and other criminals as prime locations for the transaction of their practical relevances. these courses of action resulted in the re-formatting of the configuration of persons in and around the bus shelter in somewhat the same way as a kaleidoscope re-formats patterns – something like a change of gestalt in interactional patterning. this example also shows us that “interests” in a particular setting (e.g. the bus stop) are, in fact, glosses for a contexture of relevances which may include various individuals’ particular projects vis-à-vis the setting. A “local” setting, then, integrally includes the contexture of relevances through which participants render it sensible. Texts may figure centrally or peripherally in such contextures. for example, the bus shelter showed numbers indexing a variety of routes, of which no. 16 was only one.
Here, we can observe that the common-sensical “textual work” of the sign(s) comprises a “duplex action”. The first “moment” of this is parties’ monitoring of the sign(s), and the second “moment” is the incorporation of the sign into a “further” action, for example self-inclusion, self-exclusion, meeting someone alighting from bus no. 16, and those “simply” watching such scenes, – not so simply, in fact, as one may watch for “criminal”, “idle” or “research” purposes. the monitoring of the no.
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16 sign is an integral feature of such ordinary sorting or triage activities, so the two “moments” are, in a certain sense, only strongly distinguishable for the purposes of analysis. it is in the practical, everyday world, however, that the careful observer can, perhaps, discern the operation of this duplex action most clearly.
the course of action of (say) boarding the no. 16 bus is what many ethnomethodologists term a textually mediated one: that is what imparts to it its specifically duplex character. This example also shows how the textually-mediated conduct of people at the bus stop can only be understood as conjoint activity: self- selection means selecting oneself in relation to other co-present readers of the “16” text exhibited by the bus. the text is highly consequential in how people act, there and then. if this example seems trivial and all too obvious, let us also note that, as we observed, the self-selection activities were far from “automatic”. the bus number or destination notice still left an “interpretive” problem for some passengers: “does the bus go to that destination where I want to get off?”, “What is the precise route of this bus?”, and so on. thus, the text had to be interactionally disambiguated through questions put to the driver, to other passengers getting onto the bus, and so on, or, perhaps, through the consultation of another text, the route description-cum-timetable. thus, the incorporation of the reading of the bus sign into an overall project of action (e.g. “going to the latin Quarter” in Paris) was by no means always so simple as it appears at face value.
Actions and interactions produce (more or less) organised social settings and what we have in this example is not just a set of textually mediated actions but also a textually mediated social organisation7 – a locally-embedded system of action (both oriented towards and administered by the parties to the shelter themselves) which we might gloss as a system of triage: a textually mediated, self-administered sorting system. That is, the evolving, local reconfiguration of the people at the shelter, for example the formation of some of them into a queue upon the arrival of the bus, where before there had “simply” been a cluster of waiting persons, was their collaborative, textually mediated accomplishment. thus, we may speak of “textually mediated social actions and social organisations”, such organisation being a product of situated actions.
furthermore, textually mediated action clearly plays a focal part in studies of what has, perhaps misleadingly, come to be termed “Human-computer interaction” (Hci). it is evident that on-screen operating and processing instructions, textually formatted data retrieval, the textual potential of cd-roMs, and so on, are all very highly relevant to the concerns outlined in this chapter. it must be said, however, that such studies vary greatly in the degree to which they see the concerns of textual analysis as figuring in HCI analysis as such. Some HCI studies treat the displayed texts as having the same unproblematic “transparency” as did the orthodox studies that i described at the beginning of this chapter. consequently, by no means all Hci analyses can be described as “ethnomethodological” in character.
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 27
i must confess some unease at the term “textual mediation” since it is all to easily interpreted as though the text, somehow or to some extent, stood apart from the course of action into which it is incorporated. i suspect that a more ethnomethodological view might eventually supplant the notion “textual mediation”, perhaps through the employment of one of its core concepts, namely “reflexivity”. We shall, analytically respecify the notion of “textual mediation” in the next section.
the ethnomethodological version of this concept is that descriptions or definitions are constituent features of the very specific circumstances they describe. Descriptions or definitions elaborate those circumstances and are elaborated by them: they are integral to, and non-extractable from, those circumstances (see Garfinkel and Sacks, 1970). Since texts furnish descriptive resources, they may be said to fall squarely within the ambit of this definition. However, the notion of “textually mediated” social action and organisation has performed an important service in “bringing texts in from the cold” and showing their relevance within everyday social life. to pirate some of Wittgenstein’s imagery, the term “textually mediated” social action / organisation has served, and continues to serve, as a ladder to get us to a higher level, after which we shall be able to throw the ladder away.
Perhaps one of the most perspicuous examples of the reflexive or constitutive conception of texts in relation to courses of action is george Psathas’s (1979) analysis of “occasioned” direction maps. these are maps drawn by people to help others specifically for the purpose of finding a particular place – sketch maps are perhaps the most prevalent example, but such things as the linear route maps for racing cyclists and orienteers, or rally drivers’ pace notes give us more formal counterparts.
Psathas bids us consider how remarkable it is that people can interpret a number of lines on paper as being about a world they have in common. He observes that such readings do not occur “automatically” but are methodically accomplished through readers’ active situated deployment of sense-making practices (although in all likelihood they are not engaged in a self-reflection on how they make such textual sense). this accomplishment renders the direction maps readable / interpretable to others (to users), as displays of a world known in common – it displays the world in an accountable, readable, comprehensible way as being an understandable phenomenon. Part of this jointly known world is the “how” of it, that is, the methods of cultural reasoning for making, reading and using the map.
Psathas shows how direction maps are read as an eminently practical solution to a practical problem, that of finding the desired destination. They contain a set of sequentially organised instructions, arranged as being before, after, next to, and so on, some intermediate point, such that actually travelling the route covered
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by the map presents itself as a “discovery” of the features designated in the map. thus, we all know streets “go” from A to B, that points or places are arranged along (say) streets, at cross-roads, and so on, that destinations may be reached by following a designated series of those points of places, that some of these points may be critical, may be important landmarks for the route, and so on: occasioned maps count on all that common-sense cultural knowledge, and more. reading the direction map, using it to find a destination, may require all kinds of “extra”, informal sense-making work in order to “operate” the map – maybe, for instance, asking someone en route if a place actually is the one designated on the map, enquiring about distances, and so on. often, the person drawing the map will attempt to provide in advance for this interpretive problem by amplifying the drawn instructions through oral elaboration. Again, we see reading and writing / drawing as activities. elaborating on Psathas’s analysis, we can see that the use of a direction map is very much a constituent feature of the actual project of finding a given destination. it is part of the selfsame project that it describes. this very well exemplifies the reflexive properties of the map-specific course-of-action project “finding one’s way”.
the map describes a project of action that is realised through its, the map’s, actual practical use. The descriptive resources of the map will serve to define or to “foreground” points along the route, and as these points are found, they will, reciprocally, impart sense to the map as “descriptively adequate” (at least in that particular respect). finding the features symbolised in the map gives sense to it as recognisable, readable and practically usable for the next phase of finding a given destination.
thus, whilst the direction map describes the points on the route, the order in which they will be found, and so on, the route-finder’s sense of the map is itself specified, amplified, revised, respecified, and so on, in view of how, when (and if) those points are found. Particularly where some descriptive ambiguity is found on the map, actually locating a point may serve to disambiguate it. thus the map-as-used may be said to exhibit reflexive properties in that it describes (e.g. “foregrounds”) various points en route to a destination but is, in turn, re-described (specified, revised, etc.) by those points as they are found.
given Psathas’s article on “occasioned maps”, the data on police records, bus stops, card playing manuals, letters, etc., i hope to have indicated that there can be no overall theory about what texts “in general” are or what reading “in general” is. the nature of and work done by texts and reading are far too diverse for that. not only this, but texts and reading are socially situated, locally-relevanced phenomena – inextricably so. The specificities of such situations are myriad and can not be captured or formulated by the analyst imposing a standard, – and certainly not an “external” standard or pattern, derived from outside the context of the text as oriented to by participants. instead, we need to study how ordinary participants in
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 29
particular situations themselves make sense of texts, themselves find a pattern or order in the texts which suffices, for all practical purposes, for there and then. The approach, then, is to take a given text-as-read, treat it as embedded in the particular situation of practical action of which it is a part and as parties to the situation themselves recognise and use it.
We have, perhaps, spoken about “texts” and their “reading” as though members invariably treated them as distinguishable or, better, as relevantly distinct, as a “pair” that is salient across all local circumstances. However, we may well find that the distinction is not invariably relevant to their local – practical circumstances (including their confluences of interests, “in-order-to” motives, orientation to evolving local contingencies, etc). We may instead find that the text-reading distinction is only treated as a salient one in certain circumscribed circumstances. Our next section moves, admittedly tentatively, towards a respecification of the “text-reading pair” distinction that might occlude the problems attendant on the ordinary logical grammar of the term “pair” without sacrificing the undeniable gains made through the devising of that term.
In the above sections I have, I hope, transacted three moves. The first is to raise to visibility the ordinary, taken-for-granted texts in everyday life and to have at least illustrated how these texts are features of local, situated contexts and courses of action. the text, then, ceases to be treated by analysts (following lay members) as either a) a transparent, unproblematic conduit to the world of objectively-given objects beyond that text or b) as coterminous with that world of objectively-given objects, as simply “adhering” to those objects. the initial move, then, is to bring ordinary texts out of the dark and shed some light on them. given the levels of taken-for-grantedness and routinisation of these texts, their “seen-but-specifically-unnoticed” character, even this is far easier said than done, and even some ethnomethodological and conversation analytic approaches have been less than fully successful in turning texts into explicit topics for analysis rather than simply relied-upon tacit resources in analysing conversational interaction or some other socially-organised conversational interaction or socially-organised phenomenon, e.g. following a map in order to find a way to a desired destination.
A second move way to treat the text as an evolved production, a production with its own “natural history” of production practices and which possesses what we might, as a placeholder term, call its own “active” properties. these properties actively figure in social activities and social settings, such that we might, as another placeholder term, speak of “textually-mediated interactions / settings”: again, the ordinary sketching and use of occasioned maps in the activity of finding one’s way is a good illustration.
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the third move refers to the “activation” or “animation” of the text through the practices of reading in particular “local” settings. each “aspect” of the activated text thus tends routinely to be buried within the taken-for-granted and must be exhumed. the term “(the) text-as-read” was devised in order to provisionally raise each aspect of texts into visibility, to render it available for analytic inspection. As i have observed, one perspicuous device for such a rendering is livingston’s, that of the “text-reading pair”.
these moves, i believe, effectuate a real advance over some other analytic formulations which, in effect, reduce one “half” of the text-reading pair to the other whilst at the same time tacitly relying upon the disattended “half” in order to conduct the analysis of the other. livingston’s explicative notion occludes the possibility of what we might call “parasitic reduction”.
A leitmotif in the making of all the above moves is that of local organisation, of situated productions and readings of these texts, where, e.g., a localising aspect both of productions and readings may be diachronic, i.e. occurring over time as moments in a series. texts may be seen as constituents of a local weave of practical relevances and practical activities – a gestalt contexture.
the question is: after having made these moves, is that all there is? or, perhaps, can we use the moves as (to again paraphrase – and bowdlerise – Wittgenstein) a ladder to a different level, where, having reached that level, we can throw away the ladder? What might that different level look like? A good first step might be to focalise the ladder itself, and livingston’s “text-reading pair” is a good focal point. livingston (1995) presents reading a text as a laic activity, one that evolves or develops as it runs its course and which can be analytically conceived as “paired”. As livingston subtly expresses it (p.86): “one part of the pair – conventionally spoken of as the ‘text’ – is an account of how the laic skills need to be organised; the other part of the pair is the ongoing lived work of reading that finds the descriptions of the reading account (‘the text’) for organising that work. this is written as a text-reading pair.”
this analytic conception conveys us decisively towards an analytic appreciation of reading a given text, one that is deployed in a local (i.e. specifically textually incarnate) way, where such reading practices exhibit a highly detailed organisation. The “accountability” or “descriptiveness” of the text – i.e. its particular confluence of descriptive resources, instruments, formats, etc. – is construed through the situated deployment of those skills, skills which are not conceived as “private” psychological matters but as constituted through communally–held and ratified standards: in this sense, livingston’s argument resonates with Wittgenstein, Winch, ryle and others on the public nature of purportedly private phenomena. reading has often been (mis-)conceived as just such a private process.
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Just as importantly, livingston’s notion of the “text-reading pair” turns each of these aspects of reading a text into an explicit object or topic in its own right, as a topic for explicitation, for explication: neither aspect of the text-reading pair can be left buried from view. livingston’s notion also helps us consistently conceive of the reading of a particular text as a phenomenon of lived experience. livingston’s insistence on the inextricable intertwining of “(the) text” and of reading helps us avoid the oft–found debates that are, to a greater or lesser degree, based on a conception of “the text” as opposed to reading, or vice versa.
nonetheless, i feel that livingston’s notion “text / reading pair” risks at least some potential pitfalls. Most of the risks derive from the use of the term “pair”. the term may engender as many problems as it resolves. As has been indicated above, with reference to edward rose’s work, sociological accounts are natural language accounts, immensely dependent upon ordinary language. As rose shows, even sociologists’ technical re-definitions of concepts are inevitably shaped by their laic, untechnical usage. this, of course, applies to inscriptions of the natural language just as much as to its oral / aural form. it thus applies to the term “pair”.
the term “pair” might ordinarily be conceived of consisting of two parts – related, twinned, interdependent, perhaps but still distinguishable or separable. so far as the use of the term “text-reading pair” is concerned such a distinction may be unwilled, even denied by analysts in the sense that the parts are intended to be seen as forming a single, seamless whole. However, one must ask whether the term “pair” is “fit for purpose”, here, i.e. whether it is the best, most efficacious, way of rendering that seamlessness? it is at least possible that it can not, and that we might at least, tentatively, seek options for the rendition of the phenomenal unity in members’ apprehension of texts, an apprehension that, routinely at least, synthesises the text “and” its reading.
We might move along by suggesting some placeholder terms and provisional characterisations that will assist us in sidestepping at least some of the possible pitfalls attendant upon the analytic use of the notion “pair”. As ever, livingston greatly assists us when he refers to issues of “accountability” – the text as a reading account. one way of moving forward is to take the concept “accountability” in relation to the notion of the “text-as-read”. We might see the text in this sense in terms of a local scheme of relevances through which members conduct what is for them in this case an adequate order of reading, (where, of course, practical adequacy is what counts).
such allusions can be aggregated so as to furnish incremental access to the issue of the phenomenal unity of the text-as-read. By “phenomenal unity” i intend, again, that members themselves do not routinely, let alone invariably, distinguish between a text and its reading – we just conceive of a road sign as telling us to keep left, or that there is no right turn, etc. the text and its reading are coterminous,
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not paired. this is certainly not to say that members never, or can not, make a text–reading distinction, only that they do so strictly in occasioned ways – where there is some issue such as multiple readings / interpretations, where there is some competence question or learning issue concerning reading, etc. the (or one) question is, then, to ask how can the ethnomethodologist render the members’ routine, taken-for-granted apperception of what a given text means, – or, better, what it is, since issues of “meaning” are only raised by members in similar contexts to those of interpretation, where in some local circumstance, there are competing versions or definitions of some sort. Otherwise, a text and its reading are phenomenally unified.
A placeholder phrase such as “the text-as-read”, (perhaps the most adequate one) or phrases such as “reading in the text”, the “text in the reading”, etc. might initiate a shift towards the dissolution of the idea of a necessarily “paired” relation with “text” and “reading” as pair parts, instead treating them as coterminous within and integral to a single, unified contexture, a single, situated text-as-read. This phenomenon is what livingston himself, in a non-text-based example (livingston, 2003) aptly terms the “gestalt coherence” of a phenomenon and what d.l. Wieder, applying and adapting Aron gurwitsch’s concept, calls a “gestalt contexture” (Wieder, 1974). these conceptions help us get over what is often seen as a duplex phenomenon, “text” and “reading”, where there is “only” a unitary one, in this respect at least. to see the “text-reading” pair as a duplex phenomenon certainly constitutes a misreading of livingston’s intentions but, as i have observed, the term “pair” all too easily predisposes one toward such a misreading.
notions such as “gestalt coherence”, “gestalt contexture”, “contexture of relevance” also facilitates the making of a further analytic move, one which brings us back to the typewritten police record given above. We might treat the text- as-read as an integral feature of a “broader” local contexture, that is, as a phase or moment, however minor, in the conducting of a police investigation – the identification of relevant personages, the official reporting of fingerprint evidence, etc. all being made relevant to the inscribed cases. Particularly where the text-as- read constitutes a focal point in the more “inclusive” contexture, we might refer to the “curtilage of the text-as-read”. in so doing, we may also be making a move toward the abolition of textual analysis per se, or at least guarding against the undue reification of textual analysis as a separate topic to be added to the congeries of reified topics that largely comprises conventional / formal-analytic sociologies, at least in their empirical modes.8
such an approach to curtilages or surrounds of texts may also work to respecify terms current in some ethnomethodology, – terms such as “textually-mediated” social relations – social organisation, etc.
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What resources and approaches are furnished through the analytic mentality of ethnomethodology to analyse the curtilage of a given text, the local context of relevances within which a given text figures as a constitutive element? Of course, we must recall that ethnomethodology does not license any “drive-thru” method, any generally serviceable abstract / formal method or resource that can be driven through any local context irrespective of its specifically contingent nature, etc. in this respect, the main thing to bear in mind is that the analytic mentality of ethnomethodology involves finding order in the concrete, not in the abstract. it involves apprehending the distinctively-identifying, produced phenomenal detail of local orders rather than, e.g., forcing a set of a priori analyst-imposed theoretical terms through no matter what setting, no matter what the participants’ local orientations within that setting.
the approaches of formal analysis and ethnomethodological analysis are asymmetrical and incommensurate; that is, the formal analytic rendering of social order is not the mirror image of that of ethnomethodology. the ethnomethodological rendition is not one “half” of a depiction of order that fills out the other, formal– analytic half in a kind of plenum, as though they were complementary counterparts of a kind. the only way in which this can appear to be the case is by the “relaxing” or even abandonment of some or all of the key features of ethnomethodology, – by what philosophers term “a loose way of talking” and what t.P. Wilson has termed a “soft ethnomethodology” (Wilson, 2003). Whilst there is no shortage of social scientists, linguists and communication studies specialists prepared to take on such a faustian contract, the exercise can only end up as a massive, incoherent fudge of the issues.
this overview is not the place to undertake an extensive description of the curtilage(s) of police records, though an article by A.J. Meehan (1997) on just this issue is, of course, entirely salient: indeed, it deserves to be acknowledged as a classic of its kind. Meehan explicates the in situ retrospective and prospective orientations that “go into” a produced record as routinely read and used, both by internal and external agents in a whole range of local contexts, many of them serially-organised. such orientations are typically provisional and open-textured, in that (for instance) in any specific case actual uses can not be entirely specified in advance.
Meehan’s paper paves the way to an even more locally-sensitive approach to (in this case) police records, one that analyses a single instance in great detail. Whilst the analysis of such an instance may well, putatively, emerge along the lines indicated in Meehan’s article, a caveat is that each case should involve the analyst in starting again without any presumption. even if Meehan’s considerations do apply what is the particular “mix” of these considerations in this case? in this, ethnomethodologists let the data in its local incarnation set the terms of the analysis, and textual analysis, ethnomethodologically conceived, can certainly
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be no exception. Perhaps uniquely in social science, the analytic mentality of ethnomethodology can utterly counter what ludwig Wittgenstein (speaking of philosophy) termed “the contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”.
the notion of the text-as-read as integral to an enveloping sensible “contexture” or “curtilage”, (including a local assemblage of motives, practical purposes, specifically available resources and personnel, etc.) brings to bear a family of concepts that we might gather together under the aegis of the collecting term “reflexivity”, one I have already introduced earlier in this chapter. This orientation is in the spirit of ethnomethodology though the approach has best been expressed by erving goffman: it is a quotation i am particularly fond of using, and i feel Wittgenstein and ryle might have approved of it, too: “i think that at present, if sociological concepts are to be treated with affection, each must be traced back to where it best applies, followed from there to wherever it seems to lead, and pressed to disclose the rest of its family”. (goffman, 1971: pp. xiii–xiv).
The concept of reflexivity, when applied to texts-as-read, might “construe the text as part of the circumstances it describes and, in turn, as described by those selfsame circumstances. Each sensibly elaborates the other”, each reflexively constitutes the other. the family of concepts that render such gestalt contextures will bear an elective affinity with each other but, particularly perspicuously, with that of “reflexivity” – one of the classic concepts of ethnomethodology.
We may now move on to a very brief conclusion.
Concluding comments
in this chapter i have tried to make a connected series of points which textual analyses might take into account. first, i noted that texts pervade our everyday life to such an extent that they are often difficult to notice. Then I pointed out that texts of all kinds greatly depend upon the generic, commonsense properties of the natural language in which the text is written. This point was exemplified by reference to sociology texts, where it was argued that sociological analysis is itself profoundly shaped by the generic properties of ordinary language and also by the properties of ordinary textual organisation in that culture.
i then turned to these properties, arguing that texts are active and practical rather than docile or inert in that they predispose readers to a given interpretation of a text.9 reading, too, was seen as an active, practical sense-making process rather than one of passive reception. readers were conceived as “activating” or “animating” the properties of the text. this led to the notion of “textually mediated” social action – situated or “local” social action whose character and course involves the incorporation of some text. finally, i tried to indicate ways
The Ethnomethodological Analysis of Texts and Reading 35
in which we might hope to move beyond the notions of the “textual mediation” of action and “text–reading pairs” by bringing into play the conceptions that bear an elective affinity with the ethnomethodological concept of “reflexivity”. These conceptions referred to the way texts-as-read figure as constitutive elements of their environing contextures.
it is, surely, about time that texts became a central topic for sociology, rather than being tacitly accepted in the unreflective process of use by very many social scientists as being unproblematic and unworthy of notice.
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chapter 2
“going for Brothers” in Black American speech: Making textual sense of Analytic observations of Black ghetto culture in the U.s.A.
Taking an ethnographic text as data
the aim of this chapter is to explicate the “commonsense cultural procedures” through which two professional social scientists have textually produced analytic accounts of commonly-occurring activities – in this case, in a Black American “ghetto”. our major concern will be to examine elliot liebow’s participant observation-based ethnographic text (liebow, 1967) on the Black ghetto dwellers’ culturally-located activities of “going for brothers (or sisters, or cousins)”.1 liebow’s text has become, if not a classic, then certainly a highly-accredited study. My primary concerns are the examination of the rendition by an ethnographic text (or text-as-read) of membership categorisation and re-categorisation procedures: however, some allusions will also be made to the ethnographic text’s “own” deployment of categories. these issues are, anyway, notoriously embedded, not to say confused, in ethnographic texts.
According to liebow, friendships may be rooted in “real kinship” as liebow puts it, i.e. in kinship relations which may be treated as “actual blood or marriage ties” between the parties involved. However, he also claims that there also exists in Black “ghetto” culture the phenomenon of “pseudo-kinship” or fictive kinship, whereby friends or acquaintances “manufacture” kinship ties, such as in the case where two men
... agree to present themselves as brothers to the outside world and to deal with one another on the same basis. going for brothers appears as a special case of friendship in which the usual claims, obligations, expectations and loyalties of the friend relationship are publicly declared to be at their maximum.2
liebow claims that in this case kinship is used as a model for the friend relationship. Moreover, as liebow’s observations and analyses clearly indicate, “going for brothers (or sisters, or cousins)” involves an upgrading of the friend relationship as ordinarily conceived among ghetto residents whereby the
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relationship is presented as a “special case of friendship”, so to speak, where all the commitments of friendship are highlighted, and may be invoked in claims, justifications, excuses, complaints, aggravations, etc., based on the relationship.
liebow gives the example of sea cat and Arthur, who “went for brothers”. “going for brothers” meant that they shared responsibility for each other’s debts and shared in each other’s good fortune. they usually went with women who themselves were friends, even dating sisters for a time.
Another example of the interactional “power” of such “pseudo-kinship” categorisations may be found in a ethnographic text, by elijah Anderson, again a highly-accredited study of Black streetcorner men:3 like liebow’s study, Anderson’s has stood the test of time. As a participant observer, Anderson gained entrée into the streetcorner world when Herman, one of the streetcorner men, began to introduce him to the other men as “my cousin who’s getting his Ph.d.” As Anderson observes, this “going for cousins” served to publicly present him as being “close friends” with Herman, and allowed Herman to sponsor Anderson’s unchallenged entrée into the group. co-membership of a racial group was, then, not a sufficient factor in gaining such an entrée (though, arguably, it was a necessary one); the conferring of the public identification of “cousin” of a known figure in the streetcorner world was the sufficient factor in providing an entrée. Moreover, it was not only Anderson who gained from this “going for cousins”, since Herman could then present himself as having a “cousin” who, since he was a Ph.d. candidate, was a member of “decent society”.
let us now begin to turn these ethnographic texts into data in their own right. it should be noted that we are providing for, or explicating, (our reading of) texts that are avowedly based on these two analysts’ interpretation or reports of their data, their “data” being what they observed on the street corner.
Analysing texts of these observations, we shall of course be working at least at one remove from the phenomenon of ghetto dwellers’ communicative activities per se. entextualisation adds another move to the analyst’s initial observations, and, indeed, a succession of entextualisations may well be involved – field notes, write-ups, drafts of papers, etc., most or all of which may involve the introduction of analytic concepts, so that what we get are various degrees of technicised description of lay practices. However, we can, albeit guardedly, expect that our explication of these ethnographers’ understandings might also take us at least some of the way towards (our reading of) the streetcorner men’s own communicative and interpretive work. After all, considering participant observation, it would be hard to deny that there frequently exists, at least in skeletal terms, a basic two-way initial intelligibility of communication between observer and subject even in the face of arrays of stylistic and dialectal differences rooted in so-called “minority”
“Going for Brothers” in Black American Speech 39 locations within the same society. this reciprocity may well be increased as the
observer learns more of the culture s/he is studying.
Moreover, even though stylistic and dialectal differences may, of course, provide rich particularistic interpretive resources for a member of the subculture, such differences in communicative conventions can, in principle and in practice, be learned by lay and professional observers alike4 – and, consequently, can be reported upon – through, e.g., prolonged participation such as that typically undertaken by ethnographers.5 Similarly, it would be just as difficult to treat the present writer’s readings of the ethnographers’ entextualised interpretations as radically disjunctive with the ethnographers’ intentions as it would be to treat them as totally conjunctive. such indeterminacy is part and parcel of ethnographic reporting and may or may not be “resolved” by the reader.
We might refer to an ethnographic report of a given practice or “family” of practices as the “textual installation” of “events-in-the world”. the term “entextualisation” is a mere gloss of this phenomenon. How does an event or collection of such events come to be built into a given textual format – not in general or abstract terms, but in each instance where it occurs? How does such an event come to be subjected to the enablements and constraints of a given textual format (e.g., an ethnographic report, to be published) and what enablements and constraints does the event afford its textual embedding? crucially, what is the locally-specific occasioning context for such an installation?
i wish to explicate the procedural apparatus through which these two ethnographers have generated their interpretations (as we read them) and installed “events-in-the-world” into their texts. in claiming this, we should note that we are performing an analysis which is not explicitly performed by the ethnographers themselves. Whilst we are more interested in turning our own readings of their textually-incarnate interpretations into topics in their own right, liebow and Anderson are more concerned with a more or less technicised fitting of their specific interpretations of “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)” into an overall substantive characterisation of some rather broad features of reported life in the Black ghetto. liebow (upon whose work we shall largely concentrate), is concerned, for instance, to describe and document the unstable and shifting relationships among many ghetto dwellers, and to show to rapid changes or fluctuations in the intensity of many relationships, particularly, perhaps, sexual ones.
Whilst the two ethnographers are concerned to produce such broad substantive characterisations and to render them credible – and, in my opinion, they seem to perform both these tasks in an insightful way – our concerns differ quite basically. i shall attempt to examine the interpretations, as i read them, that are part and parcel of their broad characterisations. for instance, through what communicative apparatus can liebow textually describe kinship as working as a “model” for
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friendship in the “going for brothers (sisters, cousin)” phenomenon?6 further, how can we provide analytically for liebow’s intimation that “going for brothers” can be seen as an upgrading of an “ordinary” friend relationship, as it were; in the sense that all moral attributes of such a relationship are publicly presented as having been maximised, emphasised, highlighted? As Zimmerman and Pollner (1970) aptly put it in a classic ethnomethodological article:
... (ethnographers) are also well known for their reliance on informants’ reports ... When ethnographers assemble their descriptions of settings, by reference to informants’ formulations, the member’s description and the ethnographer’s description have an identical status in relation to events reported on. the member’s formulation, like that of the ethnographer, is a possible reconstruction of the setting, that is, a version of the setting’s reigning norms and resident attitudes, and it is often the case that the ethnographer must rely on the member’s formulation as the definitive characterisation of that setting.7
We are here, of course, necessarily concerned with the ethnographic author’s textual descriptions of these matters – something Zimmerman and Pollner do not really address: the casting of sociological descriptions within a weave of textual conventions and practices remains largely an assumed rather than addressed matter in their article.
Zimmerman and Pollner also invoke the ethnomethodological approach to such reconstructions, (i.e. the approach to which the present study is oriented) when they direct analysts’ attentions to such communicative and sense-making issues as:
the methods through which the production of recognizably reasonable talk is achieved, the methods through which responses are provided and appreciated as answers to the intended sense of questions, the methods through which understanding is displayed and detected as the occasion it is intended to be, the methods through which the occasion will later be demonstrated to have met the ideals of scientific investigation and description ...8
Again, to this we might add the methods through which recognisable texts are produced. We shall, in the present study, only examine certain features of analysts’ (and, we may speculate, their corroborating subjects’) reconstructions, namely, their conventional uses of a variety of commonsense categories that describe persons. our starting-point for this exercise will be sacks’ concept of “membership categorisations”.9 As a prolegomenon, though, we should observe that these concerns are textually cast, as we have noted above with reference to liebow’s work, in terms of a double context, a contrastive one which opposes the literal (“real brothers”) with the fictive (“not real brothers”), with the latter typically furnishing the identifying context for the rendition of this categorising
“Going for Brothers” in Black American Speech 41
work. The “real” – “fictive” distinction – and, often, alternation – is, then, the first “textual method” we note, a method that helps localise and particularise what the ethnographic author is doing with categorisations on this specific occasion. the distinction may, moreover, be in some respects a technicised one, leaving open the question of whether the “real” – “fictive” distinction is always, sometimes or never relevant in terms of particular, practical relevances of the streetcorner men and women themselves: in this respect, we might ask whether the distinction is intersubjectively-problematic.
Commonsense categorisations of persons
In Chapter 1, I often made reference to persons’ identities as “identification categories”, “social categories” or simply “categories” or “categorisations”. All these, in fact, are ways of referring to “membership categories” (or “membership categorisations”), as sacks has described them. indeed, even the term, “membership categories” is something of a gloss, for membership categorisation comprises a set of practices, or what we might term categorisation practices. At bottom, these practices have “first-order” status, i.e. that of mundane reasoning. Categorisation is a commonsense practice, and even when it is professional sociologists or ethnographers doing the categorising for “second order” technical purposes, the anchorages of their activities are, most decidedly, in mundane reasoning. indeed, membership categorisation comprises one methodic practice, or array of practices, in mundane reasoning work. this applies to textually-sited membership categorisations, also categorisations are part of textual practice, too.
Membership categories may be described as society-members’ commonsense, linguistically-embedded equivalence classes for the making of social reference to persons. these categorisations may be said to identify persons in a conventional, socially-standardised – that is, publicly recognisable – way. Membership categories may be said to describe certain features of persons (e.g. that the person is a child, a girl and/or a Black, and/or an elementary school student and/or a delinquent) whilst providing for a cut-off point in the description, given that any description can, in theoretical principle, be indefinitely proliferated. For instance, it may be relevant to the particular communicative event and to the occasion that the person is a Black and not that the person is a child, elementary school student etc.; nor may it be pragmatically required to provide further descriptions, specifications, etc., of the purported “racial characteristics” of the person. sacks’ formulation of an “economy rule” in the use of membership categorisations is simply that only a single category is required in order to adequately refer to a person, or to recognise that the activity of referring to persons has been adequately performed.
Membership categorisations may be treated as conventionally organised into “membership categorisation devices” (‘Mcds’), which comprise “naturally”
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grouped and bounded collections of categories that “go together” in a conventional way. Mcds, also include rules for the conventional use of the categories. the Mcd “soccer team” may be said to comprise inter alia the categories “goalkeeper”, “full back”, etc., and the Mcd “family” may be said to comprise “father”, “mother”, “sister”, etc. Moreover, some Mcds such as “family”, are, conventionally, routinely treatable as duplicatively-organised, that is, they organise the population into members of team-like units. of course, the issue of the existence of actual incumbents for every category in a particular family unit is another matter.
the fact that there is a perceptible “natural relation” between some membership categories should not lead one to the assumption that the relation therefore figures “automatically” in members’ reasoning. the relational pairing between, e.g., “mother” and “daughter” is still a product of members’ work: rather, the relational pairing is “achieved-as-accountably-natural”. After all, such pairings are part of the practical reasoning that “goes into” the activity of co-selection of these categories in the first place. Sacks’ arguments that such relations have a relative robustness to them across settings (as opposed to more occasioned sets of categories such as “parties to a given theft”) should not distract us from their achieved nature, however routine that relation may be. nor should it divert us from the need to treat these relatively robust properties as nonetheless adjusted to their situated instantiations. sacks was certainly never diverged from this fact in his Lectures in Conversation.10 He pays ceaseless attention to the oriented – to contexts (including textual ones) in which categorical co-selections are produced as “natural”. We might consider the property of “naturalness” to (pro tem) provide a form of “insulation” from certain kinds of challenge or appeal, counting so heavily as it does on “what everyone knows and accepts”.
in addition, sacks introduces the notion of “category-bound activities”, whereby a given activity may be taken as conventionally bound to a given membership category for example, the activity “crying” may be taken as bound to the category “baby”, in that crying may be taken as particularly characteristic of “babies”. sacks often notes the robustness and the massive frequency and reproducibility of such predications. However, it is an important point that, as sacks observes, many activities may be taken as conventionally bound to not one but several membership categories, although we shall see that this may only be a defensible observation when the notion of “category-bound activities” is treated analytically in a certain way.
for the moment, however, we can take the obverse of sacks’ bland observation and note that a category-bound activity may be taken as “gathering together” a “set” of categories – the set comprising those categories to which a given activity is conventionally bound. it can also be shown, i believe, that the limited set of categories to which a given activity is treatable as conventionally bound may be taken as a set in an even more robust way than in the minimal sense sometimes
“Going for Brothers” in Black American Speech 43
suggested by sacks; indeed, we can use other of sacks’ own analyses to show that such a set of categories can not only be delimited but can also be taken as internally organised, though always in ways that – as sacks himself also insists upon – are sensitive to particular contexts, e.g. the declaration of suicidal intent.11 in this sense, an assemblage of categories is not a once-and-for-all supra-contextual phenomenon but is instead a contextually-assembled configuration. In the orientation to such occasioned categorial configurations, including hierarchies, category co-selections and category boundedness, Sacks’ work prefigures the later formulation that he and his colleagues termed, somewhat infelicitously, a simultaneous “context freedom” and “context sensitivity” or, we might add, a dialectic between the two. in a prefatory sense this formulation appears in sacks’ categorial analysis before his and his colleagues’ sequential analysis of talk-in-interaction (sacks, schegloff and Jefferson, 1974). the “further” particularisation of the occasioned corpus is found when considering the personal situation / identification of the person, e.g. male or female, younger or older, married or single, etc.
sacks shows that persons who perceive and declare themselves to be suicidal and searching for help may properly look to the incumbent of a first-position membership category that constitutes a “counterpart” to a category of which the avowedly suicidal person him / herself is an incumbent. for instance, a married person may properly turn to her / his spouse, or an unmarried person may look to a parent. Specifically which category of persons a suicidal person properly turns to for help depends, of course, largely upon that person’s own incumbencies, e.g. whether she / he is married, etc.; in addition, there is an issue as to the existence or availability of an incumbent of a given first-position category.
sacks’ work, then, indicates that, given an activity such as a search for help concerning “personal troubles”, there is a set of categories to whose incumbents one may conventionally, accountably and properly turn for what we may gloss as “help”, and that, of course, a very great many categories fall outside this set, e.g. “stranger”, “foreigner”, “businessman”, “pickpocket” etc.12 secondly, within the set of category-incumbents to whom it is proper to turn for help, there exists in principle for every person seeking that help some category to whose incumbent(s) it is proper to turn. To be sure, if the avowedly suicidal person does not turn first to the incumbent(s) of this first-place category but turns to an incumbent of some lower-placed category, a first-place category-incumbent has grounds for complaint as to why s/he was not consulted before anyone else.
it is this achieved “internal organisation” to the set of categories to whom it is proper to turn for help that gives avowedly suicidal persons’ search for help its temporal organisation, i.e. its methodic, intelligible nature as a course of action. indeed, one might in a sense treat the sensible, serially-organised character of a search for help as itself given by category-bound properties addressed to the entitlement to be informed of some specified other person’s troubles and to be “the
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first to offer help”. One would, for example, regard the incumbents of the category “parent” or “spouse” as occupying, by virtue of this category-bound moral prioritisation, an advanced priority in a given person’s disclosure of, and search for, help. similarly, we might regard such categories as “foreigner”, “stranger”, or “mugger” as in principle having a low, zero or negative priority concerning the eliciation and offering of help – that is, these categorisations fall outside the set of category-incumbents that may properly be turned to for help of any given kind.
We are now in a position, again starting from sacks’ work, to formulate the relationship between what we have glossed as the specified (avowedly suicidal) person, and the incumbent(s) of some category such as “parent” or “spouse”. We can treat this issue in terms, again, of category-boundedness. the person seeking help and the category-incumbent to whom s/he should properly turn for help, can be paired into the “tied” pairs of membership categories that sacks terms “standardised relational pairs” so that pairs such as “husband”–“wife”, “parent”– “child” (and determinations of this pair such as “father”–“daughter”), “friend”– “friend”, “neighbour”–“neighbour”, may be generated. these relational pairs of categorisations may be said to involve category-boundedness in two senses:
  1. a given category-bound attribute may, as might be expected from what we have observed above, gather together and define the boundaries of a set of relationally-paired categories. Again, this means that what constitutes a “set” of relational pairs is an “occasioned” matter, in that it is an activity (which itself is of purely occasioned relevance with regard to any given instance of its use) that provides the occasion to take this collection of relational pairs as a set rather than as a more or less random collection. the activity of “giving help (for personal troubles)” may be seen to gather together certain relational pairs and to occlude others. However, such an activity is not omnirelevant – its relevance is a matter of members’ specific, local, situated judgements concerning the appeals, biographies, routines, etc., of those involved;
  2. each paired categorisation within the total set relevant for giving (or seeking) help may be seen as organised in terms of reciprocal and interlocking category-bound attributes. this matter has two claimable corollaries: i) each incumbent of a paired category has the oriented-to right to turn to a counterpart-incumbent for help regarding personal troubles, and has a correlative right to be informed when a counterpart-incumbent has such troubles; ii) the troubled person has a category-bound right to expect that a counterpart category-incumbent will indeed help after having been consulted. such reciprocally-binding, oriented-to category-based attributes may also organise particular reciprocal prohibitions such as, of course, those pertaining to sexual activity between parents and children, siblings, etc. it is in this sense that along with sacks, we can see “relational pairs” as loci for the imputation of rights and obligations; however, we must see
“Going for Brothers” in Black American Speech 45
such rights and obligations as ultimately traceable in terms of category- boundedness – namely the claimable right to expect that a given activity will be performed by a given category-incumbent.
Many of these relational pairs may be seen to possess interlocking properties that are based upon more than “mere” incumbency of paired categorisations. for instance, the properties of the “parent-child” relational pair may be seen to be underscored by the property of “duplicative organisation” of the Mcd “family”. We have observed that some Mcds are commonly mundanely, assigned “team- like” characteristics. We can further say that each team-like unit may be assigned the characteristic of “sticking together”, and it is such team-like properties which help bind some relational pairs together,13 since it may be treated as a category-bound attribute of categories from duplicatively-organised Mcds, that they should be treated as a “natural” component of a “team-like unit”.14 In this sense, the “fitting- together-as-natural” of relationally-paired categories may be seen to trade on a similar “fitting together” of the devices out of which they are differentiated.15 the duplicative organisation of a relational pair such as “parent”–“child” helps solve the local problem of which among the many incumbents of the categorisation “parent” in the population one should turn to for help – namely, a parent from one’s own unit; such a localised solution is particularly serviceable in that there often exists a conventional limitation on the number of incumbents of a given category from a unit of such a device.
Categorisations, relational pairs and “going for brothers”
it may be fairly apparent, from the above exposition, that Mcds and relational pairings of categories are highly relevant to the understanding of “going for brothers” as a coherent, observable and reportable phenomenon, both for analysts and lay observers. to make such links even more explicit, we need only note that, in terms of the cultural apparatus outlined above, “going for brothers” clearly involves a contexted re-categorisation of the “friend”–“friend” relational pair of categories. The observation that such re-categorisations may be taken as “fictive” or “metaphorical” seems, according to liebow at least, of far less interactional significance than is the actual undergoing of the re-categorisation as an activity per se. indeed, – as was indicated in the “introduction” to this book and in chapter 1 – to describe any re-categorisation as a “mere” re-description ignores the fact that any description is an activity; a re-description locally transacts the re-constitution of a relationship in important respects. such a re-categorisation may for instance be deeply implicative, from an interactional perspective, in establishing bona fide membership of a given collectivity, as Anderson’s work clearly indicates. in other words, other activities can “ride on the back” of the activity of re-categorisation: as roy turner has put it, “double duty” is brought off. We can now put the question: what new interactional sense-production and what sensible outcomes are provided
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for by such re-categorisations? How do these outcomes operate locally, i.e., in situ, in their here-and-now textual incarnations? What according to the text’s observations, can the (re)-categorisation “brother” (“sister”, “cousin”) do for a relationship that the categorisation “friend” can not?
Perhaps the major achievement in “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)” is that the re-categorised counterpart category-incumbent is advanced in a procedure addressed to seeking what we must still provisionally describe in glossed terms simply as “help”.16 As we have noted, the set of relational pairs that can be gathered together under the category-bound rubric “giving (and receiving) mutual help and support” is internally organised, such that a search for help can have a commensensically recognisable course, traced through stages arranged in terms of a set of priorities arranged concerning whom one has the right and, indeed, the obligation to consult first. A corollary of this is that a person re-categorised from “friend” to “brother” may be taken as having the rights to complain “Why didn’t you tell me first?”17 if a “mere friend” is consulted before the “brother” in the case of troubles arising for his counterpart “brother”. similarly, a person with troubles can invoke additional grounds for complaint if his counterpart “brother” does not make himself available for help or consultation when the disclosure of troubles is an occasioned matter.
in J.l. Austin’s terms, what may be “mere” complaints against friends (let alone acquaintances, neighbours, etc.) may be seen as “aggravations” when laid at the door of persons categorised as “brothers”. in this respect, what might at first glance seem to be the “same” act of omission, i.e. the non-delivery of help may be drastically re-cast through the invoking of the public identity (membership categorisation) of the person purportedly responsible for that act.18 this does not mean that neighbours, friends, etc., are not expected to offer help and support to counterpart category-incumbents in the case of personal troubles and the like; to be sure, it is with reference to these category-bound expectations that incumbents of such categories may conceive of themselves as members of a bounded “set” of relational pairs. the above comments refer only to the methodicity in the search for help, including its temporal organisation.
Here, we are confronted with the way in which membership categorisations may comprise resources or even baselines for complaints, accusations, excuses / mitigations, justifications / refutations, etc. There is extensive attestation to the blame-distributive / re-distributive potential in the analytic literature on categorisation. However, liebow’s text remains an outstanding example of how re-categorisation can either aggravate (amplify) or diminish the blameworthiness of a person and her / his deed(s). for another, more complex, example see eglin and Hester’s (2003) study of how what one might term the (re-)categorisation of a set of females from “engineer” to “feminist” allocated a purported blameworthiness that, sadly, resulted in a multiple murder.
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in examining the issue of which categorisation is selected for the perceptible “upgrading” from the categorisation “friend”, (i.e. the category “brother”, “sister” or “cousin”) it seems to hold that the selection involves a category-mapping procedure, (viz. Watson, 1978). for example, one conventionally chooses a categorisation from within the relevant set (in this case, relevant to “giving or receiving mutual help and support”) which evokes a convergent age-grading. for instance, since friends are perhaps characteristically of a broadly similar age-grade, one chooses a re-categorisation such as “brother” which preserves the broad convergence in age- grading. to be more explicit, one maps the categorisation “friend” onto a category which itself maps onto the category from the Mcd “stage of life”19 onto which the first category can be mapped. The same mapping procedures may be applied by reference to the Mcd “gender” in the selection of a re-categorisation.
A central feature of the re-categorisation process is that as sacks has pointed out, such a process serves to re-categorise not just one but two (or at least two)20 persons. this means that a person who initiates a “going for brothers” process by reclassifying a friend as a “brother” may be taken as acting in his own interests as well as those of his confrère. Again, we can recall with regard to Anderson’s text that both Anderson and Herman gained from their “going for cousins”; Anderson gained an entrée into the streetcorner group and Herman gained perceived “social honour” or prestige from his association with Anderson. We might, then, see “going for brothers”, as presented in the text, as involving stratification practices – not only in the “promotion” of “friend” to “brother” but also in, for instance, a sensible status hierarchy based on differential degrees of perceptible “social honour”.
Put another way, the process of upgrading categorisations allows incumbents of both categories to invoke (in talk and other communicative work) entitling conditions – and therefore excusing and justifying conditions – concerning the obligations not only to give, but also to seek help. such category-based invocations or claims as to entitlements may also form the foundation of complaints or accusations such as those outlined above. it is in this sense that “other” actions may “ride on the back” of the action of “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)”, and inter alia, may be textually presented as such: that is, they may be “made textual sense of ” in that way. that textual sense may be counted upon as a resource rather than topicalised or explicitly focalised in the text, but it is textual sense nonetheless.
further, we may treat the above apparatus as constituting here, in textual terms – the communicative resources out of which are built the commonsense equivalents of what symbolic interactionists term “moral careers”; to be sure, one may readily see the many ways in which these analysts’ notions (textually – sited or not) of “careers” are unrelievedly grounded upon a commonsense understanding of “re-categorisations” (or whatever they might regard as stages of successive “re-labelling”), upgrading, downgrading, etc. this commonsense (as well as the textual) understanding may be treated as premised upon the competent though
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tacit use of the apparatus here presented. it also counts on an understanding of the
durée, since these activities have a known-in-common temporal organisation.
However, although symbolic interactionists usually implicitly or explicitly take it as given that the processes they describe in terms of “careers” have some mundane analogue in commonsense usage, they very seldom explicate: a) the ordinary language-embedded sense-making resources that “go into” the commonsense production, identification, detection and monitoring of a given local instance a “career”, and b) the relation between their analytic – and, thus, textual version of careers and the commonsense versions, or, rather, the procedures that “generate that version”, (but see Watson and Weinberg, t.s., 1982).21 consequently, what we get from symbolic interactionists are versions of “labelling” and “careers” which manifest an extreme confusion of elements of ordinary members’ accounts and purportedly analytic accounts in their textual or any other incarnations.22 Amongst other things, this is a particular example of what gilbert ryle has shown us are errors of logical category, the confusion of two games embodying distinct arrays of relevances.
in terms of “moral careers”, then, we can see how a relationship between two persons may, through a given durée, have a “natural history”, such as from “workmate” to “walking buddy” or “drinking buddy”, to “friend”, to “brother” and, eventually, perhaps, back to “friend”, etc., as liebow describes. indeed, these re-categorisations mark a durée – they lend sensible structure to the passage of time, from the perspective of participants. the serial or sequential organisation of these categorisations (in each particular instance), lend an ordering that works as points of reference for time-as-experienced.
We can see how the “apparatus” – i use this trope to highlight the procedural, methodic features of the corpus of cultural knowledge – outlined at length above can, hopefully, explicate liebow’s textual rendition of the re-categorisation processes. these are a fundamental element of the analyst’s or member’s recognition that a career has reached a “new stage” in its sequential development. indeed, the notion of “career” has been used particularly extensively by those symbolic interactionists who are more ethnographically-inclined, and as an ethnographer, liebow gives us many “local-textual” or “here-and-now” instantiations of what a symbolic interactionist might term a “career”. in categorically describing in a local textual instance the development over time in the relationship between tally and Wee tom, liebow observes:
... thus, in tally’s network, Wee tom began as a co-worker, moved up to drinking buddy, neighbour and finally close friend.23
one important aspect of liebow’s text as a local organisation is how liebow himself localises it – giving ethnographic cases, or cases-in-point – of local
“Going for Brothers” in Black American Speech 49
instances that embed a purportedly more general phenomenon, that of “going for brothers”: we need to examine such local embeddings and explicate their operation. We might borrow the term “particularisation procedures” as an initial approach to this issue. other issues remain to be addressed. A major schützian one is that of the relation between the procedures composing the ethnographic text and, those procedures that compose “going for brothers” for the subjects of that text. this relational issue takes on all kinds of manifestations (viz stoddart, 1974)
Although we have here focused on the issue of mutual help and support in such relationships, it should also be noted that such re-categorisations involve (here, textually-presented) changes in displayed degrees of intimacy, mutual indulgence and tolerance, etc., all of which may be organised around membership categorisations. We might again refer to such activities as “stratifying practices”, the practical production of a stratified local order of an intersubjectively-available kind.
it should also be noted that issues of category-boundedness come to the fore in a variety of senses. for instance, to re-categorise a male-female relationship from, say, “friend” to “sister” or “cousin”, is, in streetcorner terms, a method of invoking different reciprocal category bound activities. in particular, the phenomenon of a man and woman “going for cousins” (or “brother” and “sister”) can serve to disambiguate the category-bound imputations which one might infer concerning potential sexual components in a cross-sex friendship,24 by allusively invoking the category-based taboo on sexual relations or marriage between siblings and cousins. As liebow succinctly puts it, “going for cousins” is a way of saying “this woman and i are good friends but we are not lovers”, and that “going for cousins” involves a “public disclaimer” of any romantic or sexual content in a cross-sex close friend relationship.25 it is of relevance to note that in the local instances liebow produces regarding stoopy and lucille – who had “gone for cousins” – did not have to bear the sexual innuendos about their relationship that tally and Velma (who simply categorised each other as “friends”) had to stand for continually. thus, re-categorisations can effectuate the invocation of a set of category-bound prohibitions, too. We may thus more aptly refer to “category-bound predicates (or predications)” rather than just “category-bound activities”.
Moreover, when one observes a person performing an activity which is characteristically “bound” to some category, one can “work back” to the assigning of the category. As liebow puts it in his own way, with reference to a case where streetcorner people assigned the “label” of “sister”, “the assignment of the label ‘sister’ to one already performing a function which frequently appears in association with that label (is) an easy step to take.”26
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these re-categorisations, then, may, through their “practical disambiguating work”, specify and simplify a relationship which is otherwise subject to ambiguity and attendant suspicion, or which may simply lead to confusion concerning the “basic nature” of the relationship. the re-categorisations form a central part of liebow’s “textual apparatus” – that is, an instrument for making a relational “promotion” textually available. Again, we find what we might term the “textual (or inscriptive)” installation of an “event-in-the-world”.
for all his detailed observations, liebow’s overall characterisation of the activity of “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)” seems at times oversimplified, almost a brand of what Garfinkel terms “cultural (or judgemental) dopery”. This is particularly the case given liebow’s stated reservations about furnishing cultural rather than “direct-environmental” explanations of persons’ conduct in this milieu: in view of this, “cultural dopery” is virtually guaranteed. for all its virtues, liebow’s text certainly constitutes an ethnographic example of what Garfinkel has, more recently, come to term “formal Analysis”, where a presupposed abstract pattern is driven through “empirical” materials.27 liebow’s text contains a variety of devices for such an exercise. As has been stated above, liebow characterises this activity as being a public declaration that loyalties between friends are at their maximum. even judging from the documentation that liebow himself presents in his text, we must be cautious about seeing the process of “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)” as straightforwardly involving a quantitative increase, as it were, in the loyalties, rights or obligations in the relationship. to re-categorise a pair of persons is not simply to “quantitatively” decrease or increase (as the term “maximise” implies) the degree of loyalty, mutual obligation, etc., in the relationship. to re-categorise a pair of persons is not simply to “increase” or “decrease” a given set of substantively stipulated rights, duties, activities, and the like; re-categorisation also occasions “qualitative” differences in such conventionally-organised expectations and associated activities. of course, the phenomenon of category-mapping is again visible here, where, e.g., the category-pair “brother”–“sister” is mapped onto, and trades upon, the “male”–“female” pair.
Indeed, this is the difference between simply appending a modifier such as “poor”, “good”, “best”, “close”, “distant”, “poor”, “lousy” and so on, to a category such as “friend”. We could, for instance, treat such modifiers as organising a person’s priorities in a search for help among incumbents of that counterpart category “friend”, since these modifiers may be used to resolve the problem: “Which friends do I turn to first?” Modifiers appended to the same membership category – as in “best friend”, “poor friend”, etc., help resolve such problems by means of a “first among equals” procedure – namely, that what may be expected (in terms of rights and obligations) on the basis of the counterpart categorisation “friend” may also be seen to be oriented-to as present to different degrees, either weakly or strongly present with regard to different specific incumbents of that category.
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By contrast, when a friend is re-categorised “brother (sister, cousin)” the category-bound attributes themselves may change or shift significantly, in what might term a “qualitative” way; one might expect different things, substantively, from one’s “brother” than one would expect from one’s “friend”. this, perhaps, is particularly the case concerning third parties with whom the counterpart category- incumbent is associated. for instance, one might deal with a sister’s son in a different way from the son of one’s friend. indeed, the “nephew”–“uncle” relational pairs provides for a “direct relationship” reference rather than one mediated via another relational pairing, (“the son of my friend”): and again the category-pairing maps readily onto category-pairs derived from the “age” and “sex” membership categorisation devices.
We find some local exemplification of this point concerning qualitative differences in liebow’s report on stoopy’s relationship with lucille’s son, which was, according to liebow, “conspicuously warm and avuncular”.28 one can see in this case that re-categorisation of stoopy and lucille’s relationship from “friend”– “friend” to “cousin”–“cousin” provides for the “borrowing”29 of properties conventionally-bound to such kinship categories to describe relationships with third parties that are not so obviously called forth in a relationship with “a friend’s son”.
in re-categorising a man and his female friend and “brother”–“sister”, or “cousin”–“cousin” one invokes various interlocking category-bound attributes of the relational pairs “brother”–“sister” or “cousin”–“cousin”, such as (and already noted) the reciprocal prohibition on sexual activity. We have also already noted the for-all-practical-purposes disambiguating work that such a re-categorisation can do – certainly in textual renditions and quite possibly in parties in the natural setting, too: as we have noted, it is not easy to disentangle the two. But the qualitative differences between the categorisations which provide for such disambiguation can also help us to explicate the notion of “help” or “help and support”, which until now we have used as a convenient “gloss”, a cover term or collecting term.
Although we might see a set of activities such as “(giving and receiving) mutual help and support” as gathering together a local set of relationally-paired categories, the way in which those activities are “translated” or “expressed” in terms of the particular category-bound properties of each category and relational pair of categories exhibits, as we have noted, considerable variation. “giving (and/or receiving) mutual help and support” are, as it were, highly “open-ended” activity-descriptors, always more visibly subject to “instanced” specifications than to simply categorical ones: however, even in the latter case all instances are, ineluctably, locally sited, site-sensitive and site-adjusted. it is important not to cede to the cognitivistic analysis of categorisation in language by disembedding categorisation activities from the particular circumstances of use – not least, in the
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present case, the textual tasks (claims, characterisations, etc.) of which reference
to categorisation procedures are placed in service.
Put another way, we can only see, (textually or otherwise), such activities as “mutual help and support” as relevant to a set of categories if we operate with a mutatis mutandis clause or (to use Garfinkel’s term), if we operate under the rubric of a “let it pass” rule and of other ad hoc practices.30 this means that there may be said to exist what ludwig Wittgenstein called “family resemblances” between locally specific category-based manifestations of activities which can be assembled under the aegis of “mutual help and support”.31 the matter of family resemblances (along with matters concerning glosses: see below) helps us to analytically formulate issues concerning specific textual incarnations and what (for members and analysts alike) are perceptibly “transcendent” features of categorisation.
still on family resemblance issues, we have already noted the “help” given by a brother may differ from that of, say, a girl friend. in a sense, then, we may observe that “(giving and/or receiving) mutual help and support” are not so much bound in any specifically or directly similar reproducible sense to each and every category comprising the set, but rather that such activity-descriptors serve as a “proper gloss” (upon which we ourselves capitalised earlier in the article) for a variety, a “family”, of activities that are bound to each of the paired categories within the set,32 and upon which liebow’s text unrelievedly (if often tacitly) counts. in the next section of this book, we shall see how another textual task is effectuated through (re)-categorisation – the launching of a “perspective by incongruity” in a particular textual site.
The whole issue of reflexivity in members’ language-embedded (here, textual) accounting practices33 may be approached in this way. the gross activity-descriptor “(giving and/or receiving) mutual help and support” may be seen to make locally relevant a set of relationally-paired categories, whilst simultaneously these categories, and particularly their “bound” properties, are monitored and consulted to furnish a (for-all-practical purposes) “specific setting-appropriate application” of that selfsame activity-descriptor. in this way, that activity descriptor can stand as a “proper gloss” of the explication and, indeed, the whole family of explications provided for by the set of membership categories.
We may once more observe that this family resemblance model applies to the textual sitings of categorisations, too. the invocation of categories in the text itself shifts between the specific local contexts in which categories or categorical relations are invoked – whether the categories are “simple” categories used by the text itself or whether they are textual renditions of categories used “elsewhere”, e.g. by parties in a social setting such as a minority community. either way, what we have in Liebow’s (and Anderson’s) texts is a confluence of technical and
“Going for Brothers” in Black American Speech 53
untechnical uses whose “relations” will have to be teased out in a much more substantial account than the present one. the appropriate approach whereby this might be done is one which treats the technical as being embedded in the untechnical without being merely reducible to it.
i have tried in this essay to explicate, in sociological terms, the conceptual apparatus which “goes into” the reading of elliott liebow’s (and – in a less extensive, more background-way – elijah Anderson’s) textually-sited ethnographic description of “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)” as an intelligible and plausible description for readers, both lay and professional. there are many features of that apparatus which can not here be explicated, e.g. how we come to perform a “membership analysis” of the process of “going for brothers (sisters, cousins)” as a “Black American” phenomenon. this aspect of membership analysis is worthy of the fullest consideration on its own behalf. However, it will be noted that liebow himself counts, for the success of his description, on the basic, generic thoroughly ordinary intelligibility of terms such as “brother”, “sister”, “cousin”, etc. Both the activities and (as we have observed above) categories concerned have an “open- textured” property to them, which renders them amenable to multiple overlapping contextualisations, instance by instance. Without such a contextual understanding of these terms, of course, liebow’s ethnographic report would not necessarily “come off” as a phenomenon intelligible or sensible to his readers – particularly those initially unfamiliar with the phenomenon of “going for brothers”. liebow does much to explicate these contextual matters for his readers. in this sense, liebow’s text contains “recipient design” procedures for the reader: it is designed to be read by readers who, putatively, do not share his substantive knowledge of “going for brothers” in its local context. this is just one of the particularisation procedures to be found both in liebow and Anderson’s texts. the texts are not simply intended as “representations” of a given set of phenomena in the world but as representations for particular types of recipients. in this sense, the theme of my chapter shares much with the two subsequent ones in this book.
nowhere in liebow’s report do we get any explicit discussion of such procedural issues of intelligibility and sense-assembly; liebow bypasses, or even “buries”, such issues whilst relying upon our ability as readers to assemble sense out of these basic terms through which he textually furnishes his description. in this respect he – along with Anderson – loses the phenomenon but, ironically, counts on that selfsame ability to make procedural, categorical sense of social phenomena that he shares with his readers. there is a presumptive interchangeability of perspectives here. Anderson’s text is much the same. it is this process of sense-assembly which i have tried to analyse as a phenomenon in its own right and which i hope that the conceptual apparatus outlined here goes some way towards explicating some
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of the methodic features of that phenomenon – here, a textual phenomenon (or a
textual installation and siting of that phenomenon).
At the outset, i refrained from making any comment on the role of the textual analyst, at least if that analyst evinced ethnomethodological or conversation- analytic commitments. i wanted to go through an analysis of a particular textually-sited phenomenon, that of “going for brothers”, and to treat the sensible textual rendition of that phenomenon as a situationally-accomplished order involving local knowledge. My conception of the role of the textual analyst is that of “explication” of that local order, and the analytic explication of the sense- making practices involved in the composition and textual presentation of that order. neither authors nor readers render those methodic practices explicit: for their practical purposes of figuring out what “going for brothers” is, they have no need to. it is the ethnomethodological / conversation analytic textual analyst’s job to draw out the tacitly–deployed properties and procedures of those textual sense-making practices, and in this instance i have focused upon categorisation: in other texts, the salient practices, their properties and procedures may well be quite different. there is no escape from the local relevance of textual devices, as, i hope, my citations of case studies from liebow’s text has indicated. of course, part of that order involves the “curtilage” of the text, the particular contexts or environs of its use and of which the text is itself a constituent, e.g. in seminars, but these issues fall beyond the ambit of the present chapter. the textual analyst must, then, uncover the tacitly–deployed instruments through which textual sense is locally-produced by author and reader respectively in what emerges as a single contexture, “the text-as-read”.
What we have, in liebow’s and, secondarily, Anderson’s texts, is self-avowed textual representation of a laic practice in one social group, that of “going for brothers” in a Black American community. this practice might be termed a practice of re-categorisation and thus one of lay sociological (re)-description. the ethnographic reports by liebow and Anderson seem indeed to show us something about “how” “going for brothers” works as a culturally-based social practice. local textual exhibitings (somewhat akin to d.l. Wieder’s “tellings” of the convict code) involve things such as case studies and examples, and the representation is built up through a concatenation of such local instantiations. We have however noted that what is not exhibited, either in the authors’ representations of these practices or in the authors’ own textual deployments of relevant categories, are the taken- for-granted sense-making procedures that authors, readers – and, we might guess, research subjects – conjointly use, as part of the “reciprocity of perspectives”, in their respective practices – consistency rules, economy rules, category-bound predications and the like – let alone studying the way these procedures and rules are finely adjusted, case by case, to the local instance. The very comprehensibility of the text-as-read depends upon our tacit in situ use of such sense-making procedures, rules, conventions, etc. it has also been my suggestion here that (non
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ghetto-based) readers can use a categorial apparatus to make sense of this text about ghetto practices, and that such categorisation practices may well show “family likenesses” with those used by “ghetto” residents themselves.
in the next two chapters in this book, i shall stay with the topic of professional social-scientific texts, and indeed, with that of the textual practices of membership categorisation, – and, centrally, re-categorisation. these forthcoming chapters will, among other things, examine the ways in which academic social scientists deploy activities of re-categorisation that are the professional equivalents of what liebow and others have referred to as “going for brothers” in lay practice. i shall continue to examine social-scientific representation as a topic to be explicated, as a datum, rather than pronouncing upon its “literalness” or otherwise. instead my question will remain, as it has been in the present chapter, “what are the practices (here, textual or textually-sited practices) involved in producing a representation of, e.g., practice / set of practices, in a given social group? How is a social-scientific representation brought off, textually, as a local production?”
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chapter 3
the textual representation of nacirema culture
Introductory considerations
this chapter subjects Horace Miner’s famous pastiche of anthropological writing to a textual analysis. the analysis involved a detailed examination of the textual practices involved in generating the humour of the pastiche and in establishing the puzzle formats which are integral to Miner’s “analysis”. His text will be treated as a phenomenal field, whose temporally-unfolding details are intersubjectively accomplished.
Miner’s short paper is a kind of classic. it is a pastiche and as such “humorous” rather than “serious”. the question may be posed, “Why bother at all with it as an object of analysis?” As with most “What’s the point?”–type questions, there are several answers. First, of course, for our purposes in this monograph, it is first and foremost, a written text, one deploying the laic resources of the natural language in textual form. secondly, the textual siting of humour is itself a legitimate object of textual-analytic attention. thirdly, this humour can be read as carrying a serious point, which, presumably, may well have been why it was originally published in The American Anthropologist. for all the postmodernists’ and post-structuralists’ jouissance, it is difficult to envision this article being published in a refereed anthropological journal today. Possibly at the time that august journal’s editors thought the article might tell their readership about how anthropological writing presents its object and thus might be instructive about the nature and “constitutive effects” of such writing. Perhaps, too, the editors considered that Miner’s pastiche might cast new light on a phenomenon heretofore seldom been conceived in such a manner, (though there are exceptions, as the next chapter will show). overall, though, Miner’s paper anticipates by very many years the current vogue in topicalising the inscriptive practices of anthropology and other social sciences – again, deploying a jouissance of which previous generations of thinkers are now considered to have been incapable.
each of these considerations furnishes a reason to study Miner’s article as a topic in its own right. taken together – and the considerations are indeed linked, as i hope to show – the paper presents opportunities for analysis, and derivatively for observations on social-scientific writing and reading that are too good to miss.
A central device used by Miner is the establishing of what Kenneth Burke terms “a perspective by incongruity”, using planned misnomers and redescriptions.
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the present chapter employs Harvey sacks’ formulation of the “membership categorisation” apparatus to show the coherence in co-selection as between the various redescriptions Miner undertakes, and to show the ways in which these redescriptions graft on to the conventional descriptions which the “natural attitude” might yield. In showing the “fitting” of Miner’s redescriptions to those given by the natural attitude, some observations are made concerning the reliance of the former on the latter and the primacy of the latter. some observations are made, too, on sociological and anthropological writing, and as i have just said, the next chapter takes up these observations and applies them to the texts of a celebrated author of recent date.
the article “Body ritual Among the nacirema” by Horace Miner1 is notable for several reasons. first – and not least – it is notable as a pastiche-style portrayal of the majority of America (“nacirema” spelled backwards), in terms that social anthropologists customarily use to describe tribal or other non-industrial societies; in this respect it is a welcome and all-too-rare example of humour in sociology and social anthropology, particularly since it is not only indigenously produced by, but also addresses those disciplines. It is, indeed, quite difficult to think of other examples which do not impose the dead hand of social science, though the wry comments of erving goffman and ned Polsky do come readily to mind. When one thinks of other disciplines, such as economics, the record is even more dismal. its sardonic humour makes Miner’s paper a serviceable teaching text, and many of the observations below have derived from the author’s pedagogic use of this article – using it, for instance, as a cautionary tale about ethnocentrism, exoticism and the pitfalls associated with sociological or anthropological writing and conceptualisation.
typically, some – though certainly not all – of my introductory level students who read the article took it at face value for at least a certain proportion of the time allocated in the lecture or seminar, or the time allocated for a first reading before “realisation” of its pastiche status occurred. the students who did not take it at face value, at least for long, are as interesting vis-à-vis the text-as-read as are those who were taken in by it. i shall pass some comment on the constituents of that humour, and how the text worked as humour, later on. Again, the focus will be upon the local accomplishment of that humour, on the humour as methodically produced as an in situ, in vivo matter.
for the time being, however, it might be pertinent to speculate upon the reasons why social anthropologists and sociologists – and perhaps social and economic scientists in general – seem to be so po-faced in their attitudes to their respective disciplines. Might not the lack of humour in sociology and anthropology tell us a great deal about the insecurity which its relatively marginal acceptance engenders? david Berlinski (1976: p. 123) has termed the disciplines of cybernetics, information theory and communication theory “the affable disciplines”, when incorporated
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into political science, in view of their lax and permissive employment within that subject. Maybe i should term the political and social sciences, into whose service these reassuringly “mathematical-systems” approaches are pressed, “the nervous disciplines”. Perhaps even a goffmanesque analysis of sociologists’ and others’ presentational work – at least in respect of using quantitative analysis in order for their theoretical frameworks to be “taken seriously” – might be relevant. on the other hand, as david Morgan once pointedly reminded me, rather more established disciplines such as economics and political sciences are hardly a barrel of laughs, either.
Miner’s article shows that the current modish concern with embodiment is far from new. nor have current modes actually dealt with any persuasiveness or in any salient detail with the issue of writing about the body, about embodied practice or practices concerning the body. Miner pointedly raises some issues regarding what some have called issues of “alterity” or “exoticism” in social scientific writings on bodies: what are the inscriptive devices employed in constituting the body in this way or that?
less conjecturally, we might begin with the elementary observation that Miner’s paper can be taken as an exercise (and pastiche upon) sociological or social-anthropological textual discourse – or, perhaps more precisely, upon description and re-description. there are, of course, dangers in this initial, bland characterisation of Miner’s text, as terms such as “description” may conflate very many different and disparate natural-language activities, as gilbert ryle (1973: p. 81) has pointed out.
The data
the passages to which i shall refer in my examination of the descriptive resources used by Miner are as follows:
Group 1
Para. 1 “the anthropologist has become so familiar with the diversity of ways in which different people behave on similar situations that he is not apt to be surprised by even the most exotic customs. in fact, if all of the logically possible combinations of behaviour have not been found somewhere in the world, he is apt to suspect that they must be present in some yet undescribed tribe. this point has, in fact, been expressed with respect to clan organisation by Murdock. in this light, the magical beliefs and practices of the nacirema present such unusual aspects that it seems desirable to describe them as an example of the extremes to which human behaviour can go.
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Para. 2 “Professor Linton first brought the ritual of the Nacirema to the attention of anthropologists twenty years ago, but the culture of this people is still very poorly understood. they are a north American group living in the territory between the canadian cree, the yaqui and tarahumare of Mexico, and the carib and Arawak of the Antilles. little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east. According to nacirema mythology, their nation was originated by a culture hero, notgnihsaw, who is otherwise known for two great feats of strength – the throwing of a piece of wampum across the river Pa-to-Mac and the chopping down of a cherry tree in which the spirit of truth resided.
Para. 3 “nacirema culture is characterised by a highly developed market economy which has evolved in a rich natural habitat. While much of the people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labours and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity.”
Group 2
Para. 6 “the focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. in this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. these preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners. the most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts. However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. this writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm.
Para. 7 “the charm is not disposed of after it has served its purpose, but is placed in the charm-box of the household shrine. As these magical materials are specific for certain ills, and the real or imagined maladies of the people are many, the charm-box is usually full to overflowing. The magical packets are so numerous that people forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again. While the natives are very vague on this point, we can only assume that the idea in retaining all the old magical materials is that their presence in the charm-box, before which the body rituals are conducted, will in some way protect the worshipper.
Para. 8 “Beneath the charm-box is a small font. each day every member of the family, in succession, enters the shrine room, bows his head before the charm-box, mingles different sorts of holy water in the font, and proceeds with a brief rite of ablution. the holy waters are secured from the Water temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid ritually pure.
Para. 9 “in the hierarchy of magical practitioners, and below the medicine men in prestige, are specialists whose designation is best translated ‘holy-mouth-men’.”
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Group 3
Para. 18 “in conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native aesthetics but which depend upon the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions. there are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat. still other rites are used to make women’s breasts larger if they are small, and smaller if they are large. general dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolised in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation. A few women afflicted with almost inhuman hypermammary development are so idolised that they make a handsome living by simply going from village to village and permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee.”
Group 4
Para. 19 “our review of the ritual life of the nacirema has certainly known them to be a magic-ridden people. it is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens which they have imposed upon themselves. But even such exotic customs as these take on real meaning when they are viewed with the insight provided by B. Malinowski when he wrote:
looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilisation, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilisation.”
i might, at the outset, and to specify matters somewhat, observe that all the phenomena referred to in Miner’s article, from material objects such as the “small font” (paragraph 8) to persons such as the “women with almost hypermammary development” who purportedly go around “allowing the natives to stare at them for a fee” (paragraph 18) have, for members of the culture being discussed, their own culturally-indigenous descriptions, namely “wash basin” and “striptease artiste” respectively. in Kenneth Burke’s terms, what we have, then, is a planned misnomer, a name which somehow “substitutes” for culturally-indigenous “commonsense” names.2
Names, naming and description
Let me discuss more extensively the first case, that of material objects. I must first note that their constitution as cultural objects refines and elaborates their socially- defined uses out of possibilities given by their “sheerly physical properties”, if I may adapt an excerpt from a set of comments on physical objects made by dorothy
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e. smith (1978) (broadly in accordance with g.H. Mead’s observations).3 With a rather different emphasis, one can analytically consider the place of material objects in courses of action and interaction: this kind of analytic consideration is, necessarily, grounded in and addresses society-members’ own conceptions-in-use of the incorporation of material objects into their conduct. The socially defined uses of material objects in relation to their oriented-to enabling and constraining physical properties may be seen as involving sets of “cultural instructions” for how to appropriately act towards, or deal with, the material object – or, as smith again puts it, “how (the material object) may be inserted into human programmes of action”.
these intersubjective “cultural instructions” for “handling” or “using” a material object may be seen as embedded in, and reflexively constituting, a framework of cultural understandings concerning the “nature” of the object(s) concerned. in this case, Americans’ conventional understandings of, say, wash basins (Miner’s “small fonts”, paragraph 8) may be seen to operate largely within a vernacular framework of hygiene and cleanliness, a language game within which, for instance, activity-terms such as “washing” operate and find their specific sense. One of the founding social-scientific studies which examine culturally- defined physical handlings and uses of objects is to be found in David Sudnow’s brilliant ethnomethodological study of the playing of a piano within the rubric of jazz music (sudnow, 2001). Here, we have a phenomenological analysis of the handwork, from the actor’s standpoint, “going into” jazz improvisation, whereby the actor’s orientation to the jazz frame of reference yielded an understanding of the hands’ work on the piano as appropriate (or inappropriate) moves (for jazz). Another, analytically very different though highly celebrated example concerns the physical co-ordinations involved in one person lighting another person’s cigarette whilst integrating that activity within the exchange of speech; this is, of course, Birdwhistell’s “cigarette scene”.
to return to the nacirema’s “small font”, i can begin an initial, highly apparent, formulation of the re-description which Miner has brought about. He has, in effect, transposed a set of moves from one language game (hygiene and cleanliness) to another (ritual and magic). it treats one ecological locale (the home and the bathroom) in terms of the conventions pertaining to another (e.g. witchcraft, the church). the upshot of this is that whilst in Miner’s work we can see conduct- according-to-a-rule, the rule under which that conduct is rendered meaningful by Miner is different from the rule under which that conduct derives its intrinsic meaning for members of the culture being studied. this technique is at the heart of the “constructed ambiguity” (M. czyzewski)4 in Miner’s text. in terms of language games, we can treat the “recontextualisation” or “redescription” of the phenomenon as its emplacement into a family of concepts to which, for members, it does not “belong”. indeed, this is the sense of “ecology” intended here.
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in P. Winch’s terms (which he derives from those of l. Wittgenstein), description is an integral part of action (Winch, 1958: 1972).5 for Winch, a given action is rendered meaningful by virtue of the concept(s) or “rule(s)” which describe it. for Winch, it is impossible to understand an action without understanding the concept under whose aegis it falls. one of his examples is the concept “war”. Understanding that concept is both necessary and sufficient to understanding how combatants will conduct themselves and to appropriately identifying (making sense of) their conduct. (We may leave aside, for the purpose of the discussion at this juncture, the ethnomethodologists’ potential relocation of Winch by their insistence that the analyst empirically render far more explicit the “interpretive” – itself a problematic term – methods whereby society-members bring a given item of conduct under the aegis of a rule / concept.) for Winch, sociology too is, at bottom, a conceptual enterprise, which places the language of the discipline on centre stage.
What Miner, then, is doing in his article is also to impute descriptive sense to material objects and activities in terms of rules or concepts which identify them – except that the rules or concepts derive from a language game which (in this context or ecological locale at least) is not that oriented to by members of the culture themselves. However Miner, for the purposes of the article, describes the orientations of these members as though they were addressed to a religious or magical ritual “game” rather than (say) practical efficacy cast in terms of an orientation to the rules of the hygiene “game”, and maybe germ theories of contagion and illness and the like. In Garfinkel’s (1967, 1984) terms, Miner is importing and applying an “external standard”, a conceptual scheme derived from outside the setting and beyond participants’ conjoint orientation to the setting (which is itself an integral feature of that selfsame setting) in order to describe it.
in essence, then, what we have in Miner’s article and what makes the pastiche work, is an irony, an ironic stance such that activities, etc., are assessed in terms alien to those through which they were produced – something which is quite typical of many orthodox social-anthropological and sociological approaches. in orthodox sociology, for instance, religious or legal activity is frequently conceived in terms integral to another institutional sphere, the economy. think, too, of Bourdieu’s notion of “cultural capital”. in the case of Miner’s article, the framework or “game” within which the activity of washing makes sense in terms of a set of practical relevances, or grounds, is subverted in favour of another, quite different (for members6) “game”. this is not to reify the notion of game, as spatialised as ecological conceptions tend to do. Just such a reification is risked by analysts such as norton e. long in his paper “the local community as an ecology of games”, (long, 1958). indeed, it might be interesting to explore the ways in which sacks (1992)7 terms “spatialised references” operate as parts of orthodox social scientists’ formal-analytic technology of reification and reduction.
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issues of social description are crucial because members have at their disposal a whole range of communicative devices for giving their conduct (and the settings produced through such conduct) an intrinsic, built-in describability. As ethnomethodologists have put it, members impart the actions and settings they produce with a “self-explicating”, self-describing and self-reporting quality. the setting itself is produced such that it descriptively “folds back” upon itself, as Aaron V. cicourel (1970) has aptly termed it. these self-descriptive features take on immensely varied forms, though these forms share one characteristic, i.e. they are treated by members as integral and intrinsic to the setting described, whilst at the same time, members are unceasingly involved in building those self-same features into the actions and the settings they produce. sacks (1963, 1990) has referred to this self-explicating character of society by using the “representative metaphor” of a “commentator machine”.
d.l. Wieder and d.H. Zimmerman have, indeed, claimed that if a sociologist from another planet were to land on Earth, the first thing s/he would notice is that society-members here are constantly busy with making themselves accountable, e.g. making their actions visible as having intrinsic sense, coherence and intelligibility.8 (i shall, incidentally, be making reference to the analytic use of the conjectural; devices where observers from other planets and the like are spirited into our societies in order to examine our familiar practices, etc., later in this chapter.)
this routine “building-in” of intrinsic accountability is a pervasive aspect of all actions and settings. As has been outlined in other articles, (Watson, 1985; sharrock and Watson, 1991), tourists in typical holiday settings may exhibit the nature of their membership category-in-setting through their clothing, comportment, use of maps, photographic work, travel documents, talk to other tourists, writing of postcards, etc. other “commentaries” on their holiday may involve credit card account statements, hotel bills, receipts and the like. similarly, people in queues display the nature of their setting and their participation in it, exhibiting the head / front and end of the queue, the serial placement in social space of waiting persons, the sanctioning and other treatments of “queue-jumpers”, latecomers, those who leave the queue for a while, etc. All these activities render the queue a self-descriptive, observable-and-reportable setting, thereby making it visible and otherwise accountable to all as a queue. finally, there is the case of formulations in conversation, where interlocutors produce and ratify (or otherwise) a gloss, perhaps a “gist” or “upshot” of the ongoing conversation so far, rendering it what H. Garfinkel and H. Sacks term a “self-explicating colloquy”. John C. Heritage and i (Heritage and Watson, 1979) have built upon this conception elsewhere, applying it to the sensible organisation of conversational interaction:9 an analogous task could be undertaken for textual organisation / texts-as-read. Part of the motivation for Heritage and myself was to more explicitly integrate ethnomethodological and
The Textual Representation of Nacirema Culture 65 conversation analytic concerns, and i have kept faith with that motivation in the
textual analyses in this book.
it is the analyst’s primary task to explicate the descriptive apparatus and activities involved at the “level” of everyday life and conceptions.
Members, then, typically and routinely orientate themselves towards the descriptive features that they build into their settings. It is this “first order” describability of settings – including the material objects actively incorporated into the setting – which Miner’s (re-) description of the nacirema ironically disattends and often subverts. Much of the humour and other interest of his paper derives from the reader’s skilful orientation to the contrasts between the juxtaposed descriptions by the natives and by Miner respectively: the reader’s artfulness must match that of Miner in order to grasp the ironic and sardonic intent.
it is here that we have the crux of Miner’s analysis: if readers are to recognise his work as pastiche – and as a pastiche on social-scientific writing – Miner’s ironic treatment, however subversive or “de-bunking” it might appear to be, relies unrelievedly upon his, and his readers’, commonsense knowledge of the ordinary descriptions of their familiar world. in common with all ironies, his account of the nacirema necessarily relies upon the selfsame ordinary descriptions that it subverts. this is not the paradox it appears to be at face value when one begins to explicate these relevances in detail.
However, even the process of explication is not quite so straightforward as it appears. if Miner’s pastiche is to be recognised as such by readers, his re-description must unavoidably rely on members’ primordial cultural understandings but does so in what at first glance is a tacit way. It does not, for instance, furnish instructions, guidelines, rules of evidence for the correction of decisions, “recipes”, and the like, let alone “giving the game away”, “frankly revealing the key to the pastiche” in so many words. this is not to say that there are no hints, clues, allusions, etc., provided per se. What i am suggesting is that Miner himself does not provide a “definitive” revelation per se that it is a pastiche; there is, for instance, no preface attesting to the ironic nature of the exercise: there is no provided formula or algorithm for reading the piece as a pastiche.
even if one recognises “nacirema” as “American(s)”, one still has to know about “wash basins” such that the sense, and the irony, of the term “small font” is to be retrieved by the reader. one has to possess native knowledge concerning the primitive recognisability of wash basins in order to recognise Miner’s transformation, and it is this primordial knowledge which constitutes the “bedrock”, the only scheme to which one can appeal. there is no way of proving, independently of actually performing the transformation, that one has correctly interpreted “small font” as “wash basin”. there is no independent or extractable
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criterion as to whether the reader’s decision is correct; there is no independent evidence (as, say, some idealisation of scientific method might conceive of it), to such correctness, nor are there separate ways of establishing falsification, of guaranteeing finality, or whatever. Even our unceasing, ordinary reliance upon the paramountcy of the attitude of everyday life only yields the general or “guideline” character of the transformative operation; it does not unambiguously yield the term “wash basin” for “small font” – there are other ordinary terms which this operation might yield. Indeed, the search for such finality, for the “ultimate warrant” for closure, such that the reader’s decision is deemed as having totally settled the interpretation of “small font”, is illusory. to be sure, as indicated above, the decision regarding correctness is itself subject to an ad hoc rider of the “let it pass” kind, as “nacirema” on occasion requires the addition of an “s” – Americans – in its inverted form in order to make specific situated sense.
All readers have is the primordial, commonsense recognisability of the material objects, social types and activities so exotically described by Miner. that primordial recognisability is, then, all the ethnomethodological analyst should address. in these major respects, then, the “interpretive” decisions made by readers are not explicitly instructed, nor – as Garfinkel assures us – are there external standards for the “validation” of these decisions. instead, the matter must be recognised by the analyst as a practical, not a principled, one. concluding that a given decision such as “small font” = “wash basin” can be nothing other than a matter of settling for the practical adequacy of the decision; the question is, simply, “does it work here and now?” As Garfinkel puts it, it is a decision for practical purposes; it is not to be judged in terms of scientific adequacy (and, especially, idealisations thereof).
i hope to have established thus far that Miner has substituted one descriptive frame of reference for another, whilst inescapably counting on that which he has replaced. following louch, (1966, chapter 19, especially pp. 213–6), we may treat Miner’s account of the nacirema as involving a “frame of reference” rather than a theory (though louch places what many would regard as unacceptable strictures on what counts as a theory), that is, an overall rubric for bringing a body of “facts” or “observations” into a relation with each other, into some kind of coherent pattern. the next step, then, is to consider what type of frame of reference has Miner established for his description of the nacirema?
A perspective by incongruity
My first observation is that Miner’s descriptive framework falls within a set of approaches (characterised by what Wittgenstein calls “family likenesses”) which have been termed by Kenneth Burke “perspectives by incongruity” (Burke, 1965: pp. 69–163)10. such perspectives characteristically work on the basis of some
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extended simile or metaphor such that social life, agency, etc., are conceived in terms, for instance, of games, espionage, confidence tricks, exchange, dramaturgy and the like. similar examples may be found in the sphere of philosophy, where some authors have devised analytic scenarios which, purportedly, assist us in the suspension of some elements of what Alfred schütz and others have called “the natural attitude”, or in the relaxation of the paramountcy of that attitude. these scenarios may employ devices such as “imagine a Martian came to earth...” (and, indeed, see Wieder and Zimmerman’s comments, cited above), “imagine robinson crusoe, isolated in a desert island... or someone isolated there from birth”, etc., so that an analytic framework for the examination of some familiar aspect of human life may be examined “afresh”.
each of these approaches has its ironic elements, since each involves a re- description of phenomena to which members have already imparted intrinsic, primordial descriptions (this re-description including an implied re-description of the motivated character of agency, as A.r. louch points out). they re- interpret a pre-constituted world and rely upon it as an essential resource. in this regard, Miner’s approach is by no means unique, though, as i have observed above, perhaps somewhat distinctive in its humorous approach. Here, we can conceive of irony as a methodological device in social formal-analytic science, albeit with its anchorages in the lay ironies members perform in everyday life. indeed, in a sense, Miner’s article operates particularly perspicuously at both “levels”.
We might also remind readers that incongruity has long been associated with humour: commentators on shakespeare from g. Wilson Knight right up to Ken dodd have noted this, and, clearly, the employment of a perspective by incongruity proves to be a “machine for producing humour” in Miner’s work – the humour is quite systematic in that respect: it is an extensible humour showing a stylistic unity: we may, perhaps, note the employment of a perspective by incongruity as the major source of goffman’s piquant humour, too. such incongruity-based humour involves our “looking askance” at the world or some feature(s) of it, and we shall return to this issue shortly.
in order for the lay (or at least relatively naive) reader to recognise the name- substitutions and the incongruity perspectives thus brought into play, this “mis- naming” procedure must, at bottom, be a lay or commonsense one – say, a way of ordinarily doing humour. However, these incongruity perspectives also have their analytic elaborations and associated advantages, as indeed Burke pointed out with reference to literary matters. for a start, these perspectives were often turned upon what Garfinkel and others have called “the seen-but-unnoticed” features of routine everyday life and or ordinary, quotidian activities. in this respect, these perspectives have helped some sociologists and social anthropologists to “see”, or at least cast some light upon, the more or less disattended features of the ingrained, mundane bases of cultural membership.
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As a corollary, the employment of incongruity perspectives somewhat reduced sociologists’ and social anthropologists’ reliance upon, and fascination with, “exotic” cases for such observations – cases from other cultures, from domains involving deviants, marginals, the stigmatised, etc. – the more bizarre, the better. instead, we began to get studies – many deriving from everett c. Hughes’ version of symbolic interactionism – which did not have to analytically isolate the apparently “non-conventional” social categories of persons, but incorporated them within a unified framework for the formal examination of such phenomena as conduct, licence and mandate, status etc., in general and generic terms. indeed, we have a mild, humorous example in Miner’s case of “[some] women afflicted with almost inhuman hypermammary development [who are] so idolised that they make a handsome living by simply going from village to village and permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee”. note the use of a perspective by incongruity in the humour of this statement. Another classic example, this time with analytic intent that is quite in line with that of his teacher, Hughes, is erving goffman’s application of some organisational features of the adaptation to failure in general U.s. culture.11 Here, adaptations to educational and other forms of failure are cast in terms of the dynamics and terminology of the management of a confidence trick: one family of concepts is replaced by another in the (re-)description of adaptations to failure.
Perspectives by incongruity, then, can, as Garfinkel phrases it, “help the goldfish become aware of the water it swims in.” these perspectives, as methodological or stylistic devices, help the sociologist and social anthropologist to devise a culturally indigenous analysis. As the ethnomethodologist sheldon Messinger and his colleagues point out,12 they are designed to force into visibility the features of everyday activities and settings which are taken for granted in the natural attitude. the use of a dramaturgical analogy, however, does not model the actor’s consciousness, nor is it (always) intended to do so. instead, it impels the reader to orient to his/her own culture “as a stranger”, a “foreign traveller” in his/her “own land” as it were, and to see all-too-familiar objects anew. Building upon Messinger et al.’s observations, we might suggest that these perspectives by incongruity occasion a “look-again” procedure on the part of the reader, a procedure which renders one’s own culture “anthropologically strange”. this move, however, is not effected without cost, as we may now see, and as we shall see in the chapter on e. goffman’s work.
Louch (1966: pp. 214–6) sounds the first warning bell. He points out that the extension of a simile or metaphor in order that it can comprise the basis of a general and unified “frame of reference” runs the risk of neutralizing the discriminating power which the simile / metaphor depends on for its sense and impact. He points out that the effective use, in ordinary discourse, of any given simile / metaphor is conventionally tied to (say) conduct in particular contexts, where conduct in other contexts may be defined as not conventionally being usefully or relevantly
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illuminated by reference to that metaphor. louch contends that the cogency or pointedness of such metaphors, being context-specific, is not preserved in their elevation to the level of “a framework” for the characterisation of conduct in general, and that when such extensions occur, the force of the metaphor is annulled because ordinary but crucial contextually-based distinctions are conflated.13
Analytic accounts cast in terms of the metaphor are, in louch’s view, destined to properly remain particularised rather than generalised. for louch, description of some item of conduct as, e.g., “it’s only a game” only possesses sense, impact, cutting edge, if there are some occasions or contexts in which one characterises conduct as, most assuredly, “not a game”. this point might be seen as having some relevance to s. Messinger et al.’s (op. cit.) empirically-based observation that in mental hospitals, patients typically feel that they must be “on”, i.e. performing for doctors and others who might be in a position to evaluate patients’ conduct. However, they feel that having to play such a role is onerous, in some sense “unnatural”, an interruption of their routine normal perspective. to unrelievedly “perform” for an “audience” is, for them, to falsify their ordinary conceptions and commitments. clearly, they too conceive of “play acting” as normally being a situated and occasioned activity rather than an all-pervading feature of “conduct in general”.
Whilst it undoubtedly partakes of the advantages of incongruity perspectives as indicated above, Miner’s article undoubtedly falls under the purview of louch’s critique. there are, even in so-called “modern societies” of course, particular occasions and contexts in which participants might (metaphorically or otherwise) characterise their conduct as “ritual” or “ritualistic” or even as “magical”. However, were a “serious” social-scientific writer to extend this characterisation, as Miner does, in theory reduces or nullifies its discriminating power and therefore, in strictly analytic terms (in relation to its purported object, the nacirema), the specific pointedness of the characterisation. However, this extension has the compensating virtue of keeping American culture at a satirical distance, and also of getting us to recognise a great deal about the work of social anthropologists and of social anthropology as a practice. in particular, it allows us to explicitly consider anthropologists’ work in inscribing culture, in “reporting” it to others. in a strong sense, Miner’s paper casts light on the unexpected bases of anthropology itself, especially anthropology-as-read. it also casts light on the social anthropologist’s (or sociologist’s) constitutive implication in the phenomena s/he describes. in this sense, the social scientist is an active player in the field s/he observes, in a sense far more profound than that contained in the usual objections to (say) participant observation, namely that the participation of the observer “changes” the social organisation or the activities of those s/he observes. Miner, then, can claim to be a precursor of the current “reflexive mode” in social science, referentially, self- critically aware of her/his own involvement in the field, her/his own deployment of the (problematic) resources of the discipline concerned, etc.
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indeed, Miner’s article leads us to examine a whole range of concerns concerning serious social anthropology (and all social sciences) and language.14 it presages current anthropological and (to a lesser extent) concern with the discursive practices of these disciplines, and particularly, perhaps, their textual practices. All these concerns have been ushered in by way of postmodernist and poststructuralist concerns with “reflexivity” (not the ethnomethodological version of the term). I start with the bland observation – of which most social scientists, still, (despite current postmodernist and poststructuralist concerns) seem to proceed in blissful ignorance – that ordinary language itself is generic to all societies and constitutes a vast array of social practices and thus possesses its own social-organisational forms. society-members are, inter alia, unrelievedly involved in using the resources of the language in organised ways in jointly transacting the tasks of identifying and describing activities, events and settings – including, of course, those which are highly institutionalised, falling under the rubric of, say, religion, law and family.
A corollary of this general point is that one can analyse institutional phenomena as ways of talking, as ordinary language pursuits, such that (say) religion and magic might be seen as “worded phenomena”, (d.e. smith), as linguistically produced and reproduced as (for members) recognisable and familiar states of affairs.
A further corollary of this is that social anthropology and other social sciences themselves also comprise natural language pursuits, conducted in french, Japanese, english, or some other natural language which itself contains mundane, primordial descriptive resources for the phenomena which these social sciences themselves describe. it makes sense, then, to examine the “relation” between ordinary language and (say) social anthropological descriptions, and to examine the ways in which the latter necessarily derive from, trade on, are read in terms of, and are shaped by, the descriptive resources of the former. A foundational resource with which to begin such considerations is edward rose’s conception of a linguistically-constituted “natural sociology” (rose, 1960), though there are other important references too.15
Miner’s article provides us with the occasion to consider these dimensions of language use and their interrelationships. As we have seen above, the examination of Miner’s text directs us immediately to the appreciation of social anthropology as a way of (re-)wording the already primordially-worded objects, events and settings within the society in question. in particular, his article highlights the ways in which social-anthropological descriptions rely for their sense upon the “commonsensical linguistic identifiability / describability” of the phenomenon. the social anthropological description (re-)encodes an already-encoded set of ordinary language descriptions onto which the anthropological descriptions (even those intended to ironicise those selfsame ordinary descriptions) are mapped. As we shall see, the article relies for the redressing of its deliberate mis-naming upon readers’ ability to “de-code” its analytic redescriptions. our appreciation
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of the article as an ironic exercise generated through planned incongruity relies specifically upon the specific operations we, as readers, use to effect such a de- coding: that is why we must needs treat such articles as “texts-as-read” not simply in terms either of production or reception to the exclusion of the other.
Moreover, our appreciation of the transplantation of descriptive resources that are identifiably derived from one institutional area (magic, religion)16 to another (hygiene, health, “modern” medicine), relies heavily upon our understanding of institutions as vernacular linguistic phenomena. in sum, Miner’s account comprises an anthropological “wording up” of the vernacular terms from one institutional area which he then transposes to another. the question, then, for us, is a linguistic one: what are the linguistic devices whereby this complex exercise, with the elaborate properties of reasoning indicated earlier in this chapter, is effected?
there is another corollary of the presentation of the corporeal practices of the “nacirema” in terms of “body ritual” or “magic” (which is a typically and recognisably anthropological way of talking). this is the phenomenon, (for members of a Western culture), referred to by Kenneth Burke as “downward conversion”, which is one of the effects that the use of incongruity perspectives characteristically entails. for instance, what the nacirema might, from their intra-cultural standpoint, treat as “being hygienic” (based, presumably, upon a vernacular conception of the operation of pathogens) is re-presented by Miner in terms of another set of practices (ritual, magic). this re-presentation might well be seen by the nacirema as the downgrading or even degrading of their conceptions and their grounds for such actions (perhaps by inference presenting them as “mere superstition” rather than “well-founded” or even “scientifically established”).
indeed, writing of anthropological discourse, Winch (1958: p. 12) points out a similar issue in regard to “downward conversion”: “the trouble is that the fascination science has for us makes it easy for us to adopt scientific form as a paradigm against which to measure the intellectual respectability of other modes of discourse.” i hold that Miner’s presentation of the practices of the nacirema works in a similar manner vis-à-vis the standpoint of the subjects being observed. in their discourse, to characterise their understandings and practices as “magic”, “ritual”, “superstition” or “faith” – the phenomena which the subjects would presumably characterise in terms of hygiene, as knowledge or as “scientific” – might well comprise a downgrading or downranking of their conceptions. similarly, the “distancing terminology” through which an “outsider’s position” is linguistically constituted in the text, as when “the sick are forced to eat substances which are supposed to be healing” (p. 306) might from “the insider’s standpoint” be taken as comprising another (and related) downward conversion, largely through the suspension of belief or of endorsement indicated in the item “are supposed to” – demoting the practice in a hierarchy of credibility. Again, we see the work done
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through the suspension of considerations concerning the practical efficacy of some
practice or other.
As J. coulter (1979) observes, characterisations of such conceptions as “supposition”, “belief(s)”, “faith”, serve to present these conceptions as faulted competitors of conceptions characterised as “knowledge” (rather than, say, “supposition”). the nacirema might regard Miner’s re-description of their conceptions as “supposition”, as an assessment or evaluation of those conceptions, e.g. of their truth value, their reliability, authoritativeness, credibility and the like. By the same token, it is a device for doing humour – “leg-pulling”, “put-downs”, satirising and the like.
in these respects, the linguistic devices the analyst uses in the presentation of a group’s conceptions might be taken, from within the culture, as a lack of endorsement of the group’s understandings, as being disaffiliative. This, indeed, may be the cost incurred by anthropological and other presentations made from the outsider’s standpoint. it may be seen as “typical” of an outsider – and maybe the typical way the outsider’s view is recognisable as such – to understand some set of conceptions in terms of one language game when insiders see it in terms of some other language game, particularly where the language game(s) used as an external scheme of interpretation might be said to hold a relatively privileged epistemological status on the culture concerned. Karl Marx made his reputation using such a procedure.
Another important feature of the arrangement of a text in terms of a “perspective by incongruity” is that, as Bittner17 phrased it in connection with incumbents’ use of the concept of formal organisation or bureaucracy, it can serve as a model for “stylistic unity”. the “perspective by incongruity” used by Miner (conceiving of a diverse array of “Western” activities, types of person, settings and material objects in terms of “ritual and magic”) comprises a device for generating what Bittner terms a “reproducible theme”. it is in terms of such a theme – in this case an analytic theme rather than a commonsense one such as “(the) organisation” – that a variety of (from a culturally-indigenous standpoint) apparently unconnected, or at best loosely-connected, items may be presented as part of a more general and unifying pattern with, as Bittner put it, its “coherent maps”. the “perspective by incongruity” can, then, serve to drive a pattern through such an array of items. the interpretive procedures mobilised in the use of this scheme will be outlined below and were at one stage in the development of ethnomethodology referred to as “the documentary method of interpretation” (Garfinkel, 1967, Ch. 3).
Bittner18 writes about the establishing of a single thematic focus as serving to present a diversity of items as variations on a given pattern. this issue reappears, in a context more closely approximating to my concerns with textual work conducted at the analytic level (in this case anthropology), in an article by
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Anderson and sharrock on the practical procedures sociologists use in presenting their phenomena. they refer to these as “order-enhancing procedures”, which go into the establishing of what the authors consider to be the “contextual shapeliness” of descriptions or descriptive accounts, i.e. the ways in which a given sociological or social-anthropological description is produced so as to exhibit symmetry, commonality, or continuity with other descriptions in the text. r.J. Anderson and W.W. sharrock refer to the “thematising of phenomena” (treating apparently disparate instances under the rubric of a single underlying theme), and imposing a “unity of purpose” (treating individual cases as versions of each other – this being, perhaps, particularly analogous to Bittner’s notion of stylistic unity). they also write of the ways in which such instances may be drawn together under a rubric consisting of simple principles derived from some institutionalised body of knowledge, e.g. ritual and magic.
Another consequence of the stylistic unity established through the use of a “perspective by incongruity” across a variety of instances, is that a distance is established from the phenomena being studied and (crucially) is constantly maintained. F. Cioffi (nd.) notes that Goffman, for example, more or less consistently maintains a satirical distance (and the term is a most apt description of Miner’s approach too) from his characters and situations, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, but alternates between “insiders’” and “outsiders’” standpoints in Stigma. Citing Wayne Booth, Cioffi notes that the presentation of “insiders’ views” tends to enhance our identification with, rather than distance from, the characters. Miner’s consistent use of a “perspective by incongruity”, without ever resorting to “insiders’ views” (e.g. quotations from a key informant amongst the subjects) helps us maintain an “outsiders’ stance”, forestalling any identification with the subject on the part of the reader: this consequently may trick us into (at least temporarily) treating the nacirema as people from a culture other than our own, as “them”, not “us”: we might term this the local-textual production of alterity.
However, we cannot adequately get to grips with these devices without looking at the written textual formats involved. Miner’s anthropological wording of the nacirema’s practices, conceptions, etc., is, after all, incarnate in a written text. the text must be ordered such that readers can perform the “decoding” operations indicated above. the text has to maintain the stylistic unity which permits of the formal analysis across what, for members, might well be very different substantive contexts; the use of incongruity perspectives is, to many analysts, justifiable in terms of the rendering visible of such formal properties. How are we to provide for the devices which permit the maintenance of stylistic unity in terms of a given situated, local deployment of a perspective by incongruity by authors and active readers alike?
74 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts Readership and Miner’s text-as-read
one way of analysing the devices that maintain stylistic unity is to proceed on the basis that the text, in its design features, embodies a substantive conception of the recipient, the reader – in this case, a set of presuppositions about anthropologists, their interests and relevances. this involves a conception of tailoring texts to some substantive conception (necessarily one or more categorisations) of the reader. consider, for instance, this quotation from a novel by Anita Brookner, (1984: pp. 27–8),19 where an authoress of romantic fiction is speaking to her publishers: “And what is the most potent myth of all?” she went on, “the tortoise and the Hare”, she pronounced. “People love that, especially women ... in my books, it is the mouse-like unassuming girl who gets the hero, while the scornful temptress with whom he had a stormy affair retreats baffled from the fray, never to return. This is a lie, of course,” she said. “in real life, of course, it is the hare who wins. every time. look around you. And in any case it is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market ...”
to be sure, the Miner article is redolent with the terms in which anthropologists conventionally and recognisably cast their substantive accounts. However, the level of anthropological terminology is relatively low and accessible. Also, it might be difficult to fulfil what would seem to be the methodological requisite of substantively specifying just what particular anthropological knowledge was being assumed in a given text, let alone specifying the domain of anthropological knowledge held by this occupational group “in general”. furthermore, anthropologists do not possess a monopoly over terms such as “ritual”, “magic”, “font” and the like. these are, of course, terms which are widespread in laic discourse, too. even these points, though, are relatively minor compared with the analytic pitfalls which await if one follows, for instance, erwin Wolff’s (1971) notion of “the intended reader”, a substantive idealisation cast (by Wolff) in terms of a rather reified set of norms, values, purportedly typical attitudes, etc. Whilst it is arguable that authors may “have in mind” a conception of their typical public, the analytic reference to, let alone reliance upon, such conceptions furnishes us with a relatively weak heuristic device. As i have just indicated, not only trained or professional social anthropologists can make sense of Miner’s article – hence its pedagogic uses for the neophyte sociologists or social anthropologists in my introductory classes.
stanley fish’s notion of “the informed reader” sets us on a track which is of somewhat greater analytic assistance, since he locates readers in terms of a set of procedural operations which are assumed in texts – operations of which, moreover, readers have a reflective consciousness. Fish’s competence model of the reader emphasises general linguistic skills, semantic knowledge and literary competence. However, this comprises a set of general text-processing qualities possessed and used by readers, and are of constantly-problematic relevance to any particular locally-available textual item. How does fish’s characterisation
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of these general interpretive procedures work “when it comes down to cases”, where the distinctly-identifying particulars of a given textual item (such as Miner’s “font” example) are at issue? to refer to fish’s own favourite concerns, how does a given textual item persuade or predispose its reader? How can we go beyond overall characterisations with low discriminating power when applied to individual cases? is fish’s “text processing” procedures used by readers just another decontextualised, cognitivistic conception? i suspect so.
iser20 takes us, perhaps, a little closer to a more serviceable position in his notion of “the implied reader”. He states that his notion of “the implied reader” is a transcendental model, whereby the text brings into effect a standpoint, a mode of seeing for the reader, rendering a particular point of view. so far, his notion is rather similar to that of fish in that it stresses overall processes and procedures, an overarching characterisation of a reader in relation to the overall structure and organisation of a given text. However, iser also refers to textual structure and organisation in terms of “a network of response-inviting structures” – a rather behaviouristic formulation.
i can take iser’s notion of the “implied reader” further by not simply dealing with the textually-implied reader (or readership) as a set of overall procedures or in terms of a generally-characterised “interpretive community”, but in terms of a set of local, i.e. locally-situated and locally-operative, devices potentiating particular and specifiable procedural operations on the part of readers. Here, I treat the notion of “reader” or “readership” in terms similar to Garfinkel and Sacks’ notion of membership – that is, in terms of competent and recognisable localised courses of action, not in terms of (typifications of) substantive or “real” persons. Parallel with Garfinkel and Sacks,21 i emphasise the local situatedness of these courses of action, that is, the essentially in situ way in which they mobilise or activate a set of operations on the part of (“any”) reader. instead of simply pointing to the mobilisation of overall sets of operations comprising readership of the text in general, this approach allows us to examine the manner in which specifically- placed textual items potentiate, in a here-and-now manner, a given set of sense making (not “interpretive”) activities on the part of the reader.
this is not to disattend the overall features of a given text. instead, it is to point to the fact that it is through the local textual devices that these overall features are reproduced, instantiated or highlighted anew “for another first time”, to use Garfinkel’s felicitous phrase. I believe that this focus on local, in situ, textual devices will serve as a corrective to the emphasis on readers’ general predispositions concerning the text as a whole. this, i feel, is important because even those analysts such as iser, when they focus on purportedly local structures, tend to look for the general properties of readership in these local structures rather than dealing with the distinctive in vivo, in situ, here-and-now particularities of (reading) the item. the “responses”, which, for iser, the text invites, tend to be perused by iser for
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what they can tell us about readership per se. the time-honoured British cliché about someone “not being able to see the wood for the trees” should, i feel, be reversed for many analysts of reading – they, apparently, can’t (or won’t) see the trees for the wood: with them, we end up with a wood without trees. this is not to deny that we cannot refer to the overall text but such a task is still several stages on; one has to earn such overall analytic positions.
through this analysis of locally-deployed instruments in the “text-as-read”, we might hope to at least initiate an analytic respecification of the arguments by Wolff, fish and iser. We might do this by replacing notions such as the “intended reader” by those such as “recipient design” as part of the local contexture of the text- as-read (see my first chapter in this book). This term, taken from “Conversation Analysis”, analytic concern with the particularisation procedures of “talk-in- interaction”, helps us somewhat here, – although, given the multiple recipiencies in Miner’s text, (in terms of accessibility if not “intended” readership), such design features are multiplex. At least they help advert us to the need for the analytic respecification of instruments such as Burke’s “perspective by incongruity”, in that through such procedures we can begin to target not its general or formal features but its features as deployed in situ in respect of particular textual instances. this is how we shall proceed.
As a first move in that direction, let me now turn to the “small font”, where “brief rites of ablution” are effected and the “women who travel from village to village, permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee”. Unless the paper is read entirely at face value (and this is a possibility – the text can be read as definitionally self-contained), what we have is a set of practical textual puzzles for readers, puzzles that derive in large part from mis-spellings, reverse spellings and misnomers. following J. schenkein in his analysis of a newspaper text (1979: p. 190), i may term these “referential puzzles” – that is, puzzles potentiate questions such as “Who, in particular, are the nacirema?”, “Who is notgnihsaw?”, “Where and what is the Pa-to-Mac?” and the like. in this sense textual puzzles partake of the properties of all puzzles, including those which schenkein, in another article (1978) using data from a conversational sequence (which, coincidentally, itself refers to magic), terms “identity-rich puzzles”, and this term may help us, particularly in relation to the second example. of course, puzzles must be activated by readers.
schenkein notes that some puzzles operate with regard not only to the distribution of some relatively explicit “official” identities, but also operate allusively with regard to some unofficial tacit identities where the solution to the puzzle comprises, for at least one of the interlocutors, is to establish what these tacit identities “are”. in schenkein’s insurance salesman-prospective client negotiations, the “official” identities of “salesman” and “client” are embedded in a set of “unofficial” identities concerning the use of drugs.
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In the Miner article, the “officially” – and explicitly – furnished identities such as “medicine men” trade even more intricately on the other identities since they comprise planned misnomers; in this case, the category order “doctor” / “physician” is furnished in part by a pun which nicely travels across – dangerous spatial metaphors again! – two language games, those of “Western (scientific) medical practice” and “ritual and magical therapeutic practices”. the pun operates, in part, through what sacks (1992: pp. 137–49) terms a “gist-preserving” element (in combination with a mutatis mutandis rider), i.e. a concern with illness and therapy. sacks in fact refers to a type of unplanned misnomer in natural conversation which he terms “gist-preserving errors”; an example he gives is of an interlocutor saying “the solid gold cadillac” instead of “the yellow rolls royce”, where the error preserves many of the elements of the correct form (prestige car, colour, film titles). Textual items which take on their recognisable character as puzzles through planned misnomers rely very heavily upon the base category upon which, in one way or another, the misnomer is allusively mapped. the practical solution to such puzzles comprises, then, a re-naming exercise, where in fact the misnomer may trade on a set of base names since, as Burke (1965: p. 109) himself points out, the language of commonsense is full of double or triple names for the “same” referent. even issues of what Burke calls “piety” are, then, multiplex. By contrast, a perspective by incongruity employs a range of equivoques.
What i have, using Burke’s terms, referred to as the “perspective by incongruity”, then, can take on the local form of a practical puzzle, where a given identity or object is rendered recognisable such that, say, an “exotic” misnomer can be treated as a substitute for the “ordinary” name or group of names for a referent. the local- practical application of this perspective is to work the puzzle; to examine the puzzle(s) is to examine the situated, ad hoc practicalities involved in “delivering” the perspective by incongruity. this praxiological treatment of such perspectives also assists us in understanding the apparent paradox whereby perspectives by incongruity gain their heuristic power by, as Burke puts it, depriving us of the ready-made linguistic clues to our commonsense familiarity with some object, activity or identity, in the interests of furnishing a fresh point of view, whilst at the same time being unrelievedly reliant upon that selfsame familiarity of which the incongruity perspective seeks, at one level, to deprive us.
the notion of a perspective by incongruity, then, is crucial in that it reminds us that the misnomers involved are not simply randomly selected – this is not what “local” or “situated” means – but instead are selected according to a locally- incarnate consistent “methodic” procedure, i.e. “re-name Western scientific practice as ritual and magical practice”. in gilbert ryle’s terms, we thus have a consistent, methodic source of “category-mistakes” in a wide range of textual contexts. thus, the solution to one of the puzzles can, mutatis mutandis, furnish guidelines for the solution to the others (hence the sense of stylistic unity); in this regard, the incongruity perspective can work as a lay device rather than a purely professional
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reader’s device. The process of solving a first puzzle reflexively makes available the particular incongruity procedure being deployed and which may thereafter be used as a resource for the retrospective and prospective solution of other puzzles which may then be characterised as similar in nature. this re-descriptive process, with its constituent subtle organisation of temporal procedures provides for what czyzewski22 has appositely termed “re-organizing the reading of the text”, and thus a re-constituting of the “textual contexture”: again, readers are active in this.
in such a praxiological interpretation, the next question is “How do these devices specifically work to deliberately mislead the reader and how, specifically, are the solutions to these puzzles made allusively available in the text?” My first step here is to further specify what i mean by “identities” and to examine how identities are furnished in communication.
Membership categorisations and readers’ work
Many conversational identifications for persons take the form of what Sacks, in his really work, terms membership categories: “child”, “mother”, “german”, “doctor” and “footballer” comprise examples of such categories. these categories may be defined as society-members’ commonsense equivalence classes for the public identification of persons. Any particular member of a population can, in principle, be identified through a large number of categorisations (male, husband, father, son, dentist, jogger, etc.). Which categorisation is relevant is a local or contextually- occasioned matter, where “context” also incorporates a texture of procedural rules and conventions that i shall now outline.
When i consider the practical activity of selecting and co-selecting membership categories, however, i must necessarily examine the conventions and procedures that members possess as part of their corpus of commonsense knowledge or mundane reasoning. one foundational set of conventional procedures derives from members’ knowledge that membership categories are “naturally” (i.e. conventionally) organised into collections which sacks calls “membership categorisation devices” (Mcds). thus, the categorisations “mother”, “father”, “son”, “daughter” are, of course, organised into the device whose collecting term or title is “family”. of course, there may, on occasion be more than one collecting term that is putatively relevant, e.g. “stage of life”. these categorisations may be read as co-categorisations of that device. this particular collection / device is one of a subset of devices which has a “team-like” organisation; families are divided up into notionally similar “teams” within a given society. it may readily be seen that membership categories and devices serve as the loci of a great deal of our mundane knowledge and experience of the organisation of our social world, and of the rights and obligations that are distributed (and may be claimed), on the basis of that organisation (see sacks, 1972; Jayyusi, 1984; and Hester and eglin, 1992).
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indeed, one of the considerable analytic attractions of this procedural apparatus is that it does not attempt to divorce knowledge of the language from knowledge of the world. the assumed distinction between the “two” seems to be at the heart of many of the problems of some analytic approaches to textual work – see, e.g., my comments in the first essay of this monograph as texts as conduits to a reality conceived as separate, freestanding.
A basic procedure for the co-selection of two or more categories is glossed by sacks as “the consistency rule”. this members’ rule not only provides a procedure for, say, some speaker selecting a second membership category after a first, but also comprises a procedure for the monitoring and tracking of that second selection on the part of a hearer or recipient within the conversation. on the basis of the consistency rule, an interchangeable orientation of speaker and recipient(s) can be sustained such that each interlocutor can make similar or aligned sense of the selection, rather than, for instance, simply seeing the categories as randomly or even unaccountably selected.
the consistency rule is a rule of relevance which permits of a variety of overlapping formulations, depending upon, for example, whether it is set up from the producer’s or recipient’s standpoint. one formulation is: if a membership categorisation is selected to categorise two or more members from the same population, then further categories from that Mcd may be selected. from a hearer’s or recipient’s standpoint, a stronger form, stated in maxim terms, is “if (i) one or more membership categories are introduced proximately into a conversation, and if (ii) these categories can be heard as being from the same Mcd, then (iii) hear them that way”. in this form, the consistency rule is particularly manifest as a sense-making procedure and as a procedure making for a coherent strand of continuity in the conversation; the rule is an example of how the coherence and salience of a conversation is actively achieved from within the conversation – and of how the device is “achieved as natural”.
the consistency rule has a corollary: “if two categories deriving from the same Mcd are co-selected and if that Mcd is duplicatively-organised, then hear the two categories as deriving from the same ‘team’ unit”. consequently, sacks observes that, as a preferred hearing, “the baby” and “the mommy” as coming from the same family unit, in the utterance “the baby cried. the mommy picked it up”; in other words, despite the absence of a genitive, the baby is seen as the baby of that particular mother rather than any other mother in the population. Which Mcd is relevant (where, e.g., “mother” and “baby” may also belong to the Mcd “stage of life” as well as the Mcd “family”) is, again, a locally-occasioned matter. interlocutors perform the practical task of disambiguation by actively taking into account the context (for members) in which the categories were introduced on that particular occasion.
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in addition, sacks also adduces a members’ rule of referential adequacy, i.e. that a single membership category comprises adequate reference to a person of collectivity, despite the fact that, in principle, any person or collectivity may be referred to by a multiplicity of categories. to this, i might add that each membership category may be referred to through a variety of “category-labels”, i.e. of multiple designations for a given category. Whilst, in a crude application of Burke’s terms, these category-labels may work as synonyms, considered as conversational actions they may not be interchangeable, i.e. the label “gay”, as opposed to “faggot”, constitutes an up-ranked, upgraded reference to the category “homosexual”, whereas “faggot” works as a downranking, literally degrading, term (Watson, 1997). indeed, considered from the point of view of conversational actions, Burke’s notion of “synonym” often becomes problematic and is only sustainable through the disattending of contextual considerations. once more, a caveat is in order: apparently degrading terms such as “queer” (for gay people) may in certain local contexts, at certain times, be upgrading terms, terms of approbation. this context often involves who is using the term, i.e. is it an in- grouper, a gay person, who is using it? to whom is s/he speaking? And on what occasion? for what purposes? All these are “local” relevances in the selection of a category-label.
returning to Miner’s article: at the outset, i can observe that the local parameters of the particular puzzle are sustained by the co-selection of membership categories. If I treat Sacks’ “hearer’s maxim” as a “reader’s maxim”, I find it difficult to find a single MCD which incorporates what Miner terms “holy-mouth-men” and “medicine men” and “dentists” and “physicians” respectively. readers’ routinely- operative employment of the consistency rule does not predispose them, in terms of normative preference, towards finding an MCD which might fittingly collect these categories such that the relevant introduction of “dentist” might, say, be directly potentiated by the reference to “holy-mouth-men”. instead, the consistency rule here potentiates the proliferation of further categories from the Mcd “ritual healers”; our “instructed reading” militates against the salient introduction of categories from other devices, such as “(Western) scientific medical specialists”. in this regard, what Burke terms “misnomers” are not haphazardly selected but bear sensibly coherent, continuous and fitting relations with each other.
in quasi-Wittgenstein terms, i might, indeed, treat this item of mundane reasoning which Sacks termed “the consistency rule” as playing a significant part in sustaining a frame of reference located in the “ritual and magic” form of life rather than the “(Western) science” (or some such title) form of life – that is, in wording healing practices in terms of one form of life rather than the other. these things do not occur “automatically”; they must constantly and actively be achieved and re-achieved. A “perspective by incongruity” must be actively maintained as an instructed reading on the part both of author and reader, and it is the analyst’s task to explore the devices used in establishing and maintaining such an instructed
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reading. it is these devices, such as the consistency rule, which serve to sustain the stylistic unity to which i have referred above, upon which, in turn, a perspective by incongruity might be founded in particular textual circumstances.
When the puzzle is situatedly recognised by the reader as, in large part, a set of identity misnomers and the key to the local solution has been found (even if this occurs in the first paragraph of the first reading), the substitution of membership categories deriving from the Mcd “ritual healers” by those deriving from the Mcd “scientific healers” is itself sustained through a locally-embedded orientation to the consistency rule for the co-selection of categories. once the reader has arrived at the conclusion that one of the categories from the Mcd “ritual healers” may be read, or re-read, through the substitution of a category derived from “scientific healers”, the use of a consistency rule provides for the extension of such a solution, the instruction being “look first for (a solution in terms of) further categories from the MCD ‘scientific healers’”. Here, then, we have an extensible and reproducible method, each extension being conducted in situ through the methodic vehicle which i have termed the consistency rule. in the case of Miner’s text, what i am claiming is that the reader, in a sense, conducts parallel, localised consistency-establishing operations, namely, using the consistency rule to identify further categories of the “ritual healers” device and also using such a rule to identify additional categories of the device “scientific healers” as the key to solving a group of puzzles. It is through this parallel method that readers maintain and deploy (categories from) the natural attitude whilst simultaneously employing a set of, as it were, “exterior” categories.
Readers’ parallel use of these consistency rules in order to solve not only a first, but a second or nth puzzle, in turn means that Miner’s article as a whole gradually appresents itself as a satirical one, as a pastiche based on a set of textual puzzles to which this parallel treatment gives at least one major key. in a sense, the article, from being a putatively serious piece, “hoves into view” as a pastiche, a satire of sorts; the pastiche characterisation gradually gains sharpness and precision until the reader comes to see the pastiche characterisation as “the” characterisation, “what the article was about all along”. And – unlike postmodernist analysts – readers very well might not demur from imputations concerning the motivated character of the text, i.e. that the author intended this article to be a pastiche, that he wished to satirise the social anthropologist’s treating of other cultures in what, from the standpoint of the analyst’s own culture, is a set of terms which relativise conceptions of the credibility, efficacy etc., of the practices described in the text or of the grounds adduced in those descriptions. We might even speculate about a possible “serious intent” informing the satiric presentation – as, indeed, satire is usually held to involve.
In this respect, H. Garfinkel, M. Lynch and E. Livingston’s (1981) article on a group of scientists’ optical discovery of a pulsar is useful in the present,
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very different, context, especially in their (Garfinkel et al.’s) use of the simile “the potter’s object”. Garfinkel et al. say that the optical discovery of the pulsar gradually takes on its shape and definition through the ways in which the scientists use their specific techniques – in this case, corporeal and communicative ones – on the oscilloscope in order to “work it up”. these methods have a temporal order, whereby seeing the pulsar on the oscilloscope “first time through” may give only a crude approximation of what eventually, on a series of subsequent run-throughs using a variety of enhancement techniques, takes shape as an “emergent object”, an object whose definition is gradually sharpened so that, e.g., it stands out from its background more vividly and precisely. The “final” image of the pulsar stands, for the scientists, as “what it was all along”; the properties of that “final” image stand as the “actual properties” of the pulsar. Garfinkel et al. thus refer to “the local historicity of the pulsar’s production”, such that the pulsar’s existence as an object cannot be disentangled from the particular techniques which have progressively made it observable, distinguishable, specifiable etc. – as something that was “there to be found” from the beginning.
Garfinkel et al.’s use of the “potter’s object” simile operates to gives us a clearer conception of this process of gradual and progressive definition occurring over a temporal course. the shapeless piece of clay on a potter’s wheel only “takes shape” as (say) a vase through the potter’s manual working of the clay on the turning wheel; the object is shaped, in time, through the way in which it is worked. in a similar way, the emergent pulsar emerges through its “working up” by the scientists in the course of their night’s work.
the puzzle-based reading of Miner’s text may be conceived as possessing an analogous “potter’s object” character (as may, in some respects, the reading of other puzzle-based types of text such as the roman-à-clef). A “first-time-through” reading, particularly if done by a neophyte anthropologist or sociologist, may involve the taking of the descriptions in the text “at face value”. this may, then, also comprise an “only-time-through” reading, a self-contained naïve reading. only a subsequent reading may lead to the “discovery” that a planned misnomer has been used to stand on behalf of a familiarly-named object, event or category of person. Further readings may then yield the “finding” that the procedures used to solve that “misnaming puzzle” can be extended to resolve a collection of what now appears as other such puzzles in the text; this, in turn, may, through the noticing of other “unrecognisable” names, etc., occasion a search for differently-based puzzles in the text, so that eventually Miner’s whole text is re-documented as having been “all along” a pastiche, a satire on anthropologists’ descriptive practices as well as of the “native practices” anthropologists describe. following the characterisation of texts in the first essay in this monograph, we might treat the “text-as-read” in each read-through as establishing a new textual gestalt contexture, a recontextualisation of the previous read-through.
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A reader may then retrospectively ironicise her/his own earlier readings as “naïve”, “defective”, as the reader “having been taken in (at least initially / temporarily / partly)” etc., such that the temporal order of readings may also stand as an order of credibility as to the “real” character of the text. the text eventuated as a satire or humorous pastiche such that earlier characterisations are now down- ranked relative to that “final” characterisation. One might apply a similar analysis of the retrospective-prospective character of a course of reading to a single reading of the text, where particular sentences or paragraphs are re-read with a “fresh view” and the like. Here again, we have a parallel with Garfinkel et al.’s notion of “first time through”, “subsequent times through”, etc.
similarly, we can point to Miner’s use of the consistency rule when we wish to explicate one procedural basis of the element of planned deceptiveness in his article. the nacirema are, at the outset, described as living in the territory circumscribed by the canadian cree, the yacqui of Mexico, and the carib and Arawak of the Antilles. the consistency rule relating to the membership categories he introduces would yield the procedural instruction “treat the nacirema as another tribal peoples” (and not, e.g., as a national category even though nations are mentioned in an ancillary way in association with “the object”, the tribes).
A further procedural element in the solution of the puzzle may be found in the notion of category-bound activities (cBAs), (sacks, 1974: pp. 221–4). society- members may find the sense of an activity by treating it as conventionally tied to some membership category or some limited set of categories, e.g. the categories of a single Mcd (d.r. Watson, 1978: pp. 107–8). this cultural procedure of predication works both ways; one can “project” the kinds of activity that, say, incumbents of the category “baby” do (sacks notes that “crying” is a mundanely- imputed cBA of the category “baby”). Alternatively, one can “work back” from a predicated activity to the provision of its categorial subject, the incumbent of which might “typically”, “routinely” or “expectably” perform such an activity. it is this “working back” procedure which, perhaps, proves particularly useful for our present purposes. Again, we cannot escape from considerations concerning the temporal organisation of a course of reading, which involves constant prospective and retrospective operations.
A case in point is the passage in Miner’s article (p. 303) where he describes “medicine men” as “... not providing curative potions for their clients but deciding what the ingredients should be and write them down in an ancient and secret language. this writing is understood only by the medicine men and the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm.” Here, we have two activities – paired activities, in some sense – whose description is sufficiently specific (for here, surely, Miner abandons much of the dissembling vagueness which comprises a considerable proportion of the constructed ambiguity that pervades the article) such that it may be treated as “gist-preserving” in a relatively
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clear-cut manner; compare Miner’s description of them with, say, his description of the waterworks as “a Water temple of the community, where priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid relatively pure.”23 We can, in other words, find the “hidden sense” of the activities by treating them as being recognisably bound to the membership categories “physician” and “pharmacist” respectively; the complementarity of the described activities maps relatively unproblematically onto this “commonsensically-known” division of labour as between the categories, which in turn are provided by a consistency rule making available categories comprising “parties to the provision of [Western] medicine”. to be sure, this consistency rule also helps to render the “category-boundedness” solution an extensible one.
The back-and-forth reflexive ties between the category and its conventionally- attributable predicate(s) provide also for a categorially-based “checking-” or “proof-procedure”. once the activity, “deciding upon medicament”, is tied by the reader to the category “(Western) physician”, the other activities, or activity – components such as “writing [the ingredients of these medicaments] down in an ancient and secret language”, can also be scrutinised by that reader for its conventional attributability or “boundedness” to that category, the preference rule being “if the activity can be read as (also) bound to the category ‘physician’, then read it that way.” thus, the activities may be taken to form a conventional “package”, each related through its category-boundedness to “physician”, just as “physician” and “pharmacist”, etc., may themselves form a category-package providing for the reading of a sequence of activities as an ensemble. such procedures, in turn, add further “proof” to the reader’s correctness in substituting “(Western) physician” for “medicine man”, as “working out” and “working through” the equivoque. thus there is established by the reader a constant back- and-forth mutual determination of category- and activity-as-described, such that the category provides for the specific sense of the activity, and the activity – along with, perhaps, other activities provided proximately in the text – adds further warrant for the correctness of the reader in providing that, rather than any other, category. in this sense, too the “potter’s object” simile works – an increasing definiteness and precision evolves, in turn, during the course of reading and the deployment of these newly-relevant procedures. i shall shortly take up this back- and-forth mutual constituting of category and activity (or activities) in another way, with reference to what ethnomethodologists used to call “the documentary method of interpretation”, though some caveats and possible reconceptualisations will also be suggested.
the notion of “typically-found”, familiar, recognisable features or properties is, in very general terms, extensible to the realm of material objects too. As i have indicated earlier, our cultural understandings of material objects consist of our orientations to their place in a given (typical) course of action and, perhaps, a typical domain of action. to identify the course of action in which the material
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object is conventionally incorporated is to identify the object, too, and to provide, e.g., the name “medical cabinet” such that the term “charm box” comes to stand as a plausible misnomer.
such procedures also, then, can work as solutions to puzzles, or to what i might term “description-” or “referential puzzles”. it is important to note that whilst a consistency principle for redescription derived from person-description / reference puzzles (“treat membership categories from the Mcd ‘ritual healers’ as categories from [Western] medical practitioners”) might mobilise an overall scheme of interpretation which yields a general procedure for re-describing material objects too, it has to be emphasised that the operation of any such scheme is itself the reader’s practical accomplishment, achieved “for another first time”, and always with a mutatis mutandis rider whose deployment itself involves sense making work – often work of an elaborate nature – on the part of the reader. the achieved consistencies in the text are important because we are dealing with the text in course-of-action terms, as a course of reading.
the apparatus of membership categories, Mcds, category-bound predicates etc., comprises just one dimension of the textual-practices-as-read in Miner’s article. this apparatus is part and parcel of the corpus of commonsense procedural knowledge which is assumed, and morally required, to be held by competent society-members; indeed, “membership” is definable and describable in terms of the mastery of such linguistic (and other) procedures and practices – practices which we might generally characterise as “interpretively rich” and “meaning- saturated”. (in this case, the term “interpretively” is warranted given that there is an in-principle systematic ambiguity in the text-as-produced that has to be “interpreted out” by the reader.)
The documentary method of interpretation and reading activities
the apparatus outlined above also instantiates the local operation of a family of culturally-based “interpretive procedures” which Garfinkel,24 following Karl Mannheim, in one phase of his work termed “the documentary method of interpretation” – a set of lay methods of practical reasoning which constitute the “bedrock level” of members’ sense-making. the concept “documentary method of interpretation” basically models a set of mundane reasoning procedures tacitly held and used at the level of membership rather than exclusively and explicitly used by professional sociological analysts. Much of Garfinkel’s early ethnomethodological work was cast in terms of this model of members’ sense-making, and i shall discuss his rescinding of this model later. Suffice it to say that, for the moment, announcements of its death are premature.
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the core feature of members’ use of the documentary method is their imputation of an underlying coherent pattern to an array of particulars or appearances. each particular is treated as evidencing, or as “a document of” this imputed underlying pattern, and is treated as indexing this pattern (hence Garfinkel’s choice of the term “indexical particulars” for them). However, there is a constant back-and-forth reflexive determination of pattern and particular, since each incessantly determines and re-determines the other. The nature and significance of the particular, as well as its identifiable relation to the other particulars in the array, is given by its contextualisation in the pattern, but the pattern itself is imputed through its particulars, and is inextricable from each particular and from the constellation or series of particulars considered as an ensemble. the pattern, then, is treated by society-members as a coherent texture of particulars; the relation between pattern and appearance may be characterised in terms of the workings of a “hermeneutic circle”, and in using the documentary method, members may be termed “practical hermeneuticians” in operating this circle.
A central feature of the documentary method is its “open-textured” character, particularly as this feature relates to its temporal unfolding and organisation. the underlying pattern, for instance, characteristically casts a retrospective definition of “what (these particulars) really were / really meant all along”, “what they turned out to be”, and the like; or, alternatively, the particulars which subsequently appear are treated as creating and underscoring an already-established interpretation. Any change in interpretation may not be a radical one but may involve a subtle shift or readjustment. the open-textured nature of the documentary method involved a prospective element also, in that it constantly provides for and incorporates the possibility that particulars may subsequently appear which may occasion a re- definition (again maybe involving nuance and “fine-tuning” rather than necessarily involving a radical re-casting) of the underlying pattern and of the array of particulars through which the pattern is sustained. What the pattern and the set of appearances to which the pattern lends coherence “really mean, or were, after all”, and indeed “meant all along, as it now turns out”, is therefore re-cast, reconstituted and re- described. As A.V. cicourel (op. cit.) so succinctly termed it, the documentary method incorporates a “retrospective-prospective sense of occurrence”; this, of course, greatly complicates any straightforward characterisation of a course of reading as occurring in real time.
In an important and recent article, Harold Garfinkel (1996) has disavowed reference to the documentary method, having come to regard it as, in effect, a loose covering gloss for temporally evolving orders of phenomenal detail – a gloss that fails to render the identifying distinctiveness of particular cases, that fails to capture the distinguishing detail of the case and which thus concedes too much to Formal Analysis. I demur, at least in part, from Garfinkel’s claims. Much, to me, depends on the scrupulousness and skill of the practitioner in analysing the specific setting – as is the case, after all, with all ethnomethodological analysis
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irrespective of the rubric under which it is carried out. there are certainly some mechanical, cognitivistic, even formal-analytic references to the documentary method; arguably, these are present in some of Garfinkel’s earlier work. However, one need not refer to the documentary method in a “one-size-fits-all” way which ensures no specific fit. There is no in-principle reason why the uniquely-attuned detail of a given setting can not be rendered in terms of the documentary method, as i hope to indicate below: and there is every reason to suspect that if one entirely jettisons the documentary method, one sacrifices far too much, particularly in the sphere of identifiable order and pattern that so concerns Garfinkel in this article. It is, moreover, questionable as to whether Garfinkel’s article isn’t addressing the central issues of documentary interpretation in a re-worked form.
Garfinkel’s argument about the documentary method of interpretation as not capturing the properties of any particular phenomenal field, as in any actual case “undiscriminating” or “absurdly wrong” is ironic, given the fact that he adapted the model of sense-making from Karl Mannheim’s original use, namely the formal-analytic task of formulating peoples’ world views. Garfinkel employed the model in a very different way, – to conceptualise members’ local work in making sense of a particular, distinctive phenomenal field. Indeed, one might conceive of his successive reworkings of the documentary method as moves towards the progressive excision of cognitivist and formal-analytic elements of the model- decontextualisation, reification and the rest – and its reorientation towards the explication of a local phenomenal field. The model becomes increasingly fine-tuned for capturing the properties of each phenomenal field. The documentary method of interpretation models members’ contextualisation procedures – retrospective and prospective, etc. it emphasises the methodic nature of these procedures and presents members’ commonsense knowledge as procedural rather than purely propositional.
of course, the fact that the documentary method of interpretation is a model, an analyst’s model of members’ sense-making practices, renders it vulnerable to accusations of at least residual formal analytic or cognitivistic status, along with the suspicion that it somewhat conflates members’ and analysts’ constructs and highlights procedures rather than practices. (the term “interpretation” in the model is, also, problematic: people don’t go around invariably “interpreting” their situations.) However, the model only remains a gloss if only used by the analyst in a glossed way rather than being explicatively keyed into the phenomenal detail of the particular case. Our argument in the first essay of this monograph is that the given text-as-read constitutes a particular phenomenal field, and the documentary method is at least one candidate among others for the explication of that field: Miner’s article is a suitable case in point, particularly if particular, locally bounded, segments of the text comprise the object of explication – what one might call a textual gestalt contexture, as part of which the documentary method operates.
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consequently, should the documentary method come to be seen as irremediably formal-analytic, we can say that many of its properties are amenable to re- specification along the lines of Aron Gurwitsch’s notion of “gestalt contexture”, and, indeed, Garfinkel has discussed this notion (see, e.g. Garfinkel, 2002: p. 257 ff.). Much earlier, Wieder (1974: pp. 184–90) had linked the concept of the documentary method with that of gestalt contexture, averring that the indexical particulars collected via the documentary method comprised a gestalt contexture: here, of course, we see a complementarity as well as a respecification. We might thus construe textually-given contextures, or their “phenomenal field properties” in terms of the notions “documentary method” and “gestalt contexture”.
the issue of formalism is, quite clearly, not one that is restricted to issues concerning the documentary method of interpretation. consider just some of Garfinkel’s list of “autochthonous order properties” of formatted queues (Garfinkel 2002: p. 253).
  1. (6)  We observe as the accountable properties of the order of service a social fact’s identifying orderliness.
  2. (7)  We observe this: “All of a queue’s properties are locally produced yet a queue is seen by its local production cohort as a pre-existing propertied object.”
  3. (8)  We observe from one queue to the next, recurrently, “the temporally exhibited proper ordering of details.”
  4. (9)  We observe from one queue to the next, recurrently, “the temporally exhibited proper ordering of details tied to the organisation of the lived work of exhibiting just this thing.”
  5. (10)  We observe “in the case of the formatted queue the order of service – and All of its associated, dependent, observable and observed properties – are produced in and as the way its production cohort has positioned itself so as to exhibit that order of service.”
is this conceptualisation any less formalistic, any less schematic than the documentary method? is there something in this conceptualisation that can not be expressed in documentary method terms in respect of a given local instance of (in this case) queuing? there is, clearly, a “pattern and particular” formulation in Garfinkel’s scheme for the study of queues. Can not the above formulation of autochthonous properties be seen as little more than a rewording of “documentary method” issues along “gestalt contexture” lines?
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of course, the conceptualisation of any approach will (and has to) move on, and certainly new concepts may wrench us from the routine, over-familiar use of old concepts and afford us a fresh conceptual view of a phenomenon. However, one must ask whether, even in principle, Garfinkel’s new vocabulary necessarily sensitises us any more effectively to local phenomenal field properties.
We might admit that there have been, in ethnomethodology, plenty of loose analytic references to the documentary method: but then, there have been plenty of loose, indiscriminate uses of, say, sequential analysis in conversation analysis, too – cases where sequential concerns have been driven through data that are (also) amenable to other types of analysis. one might say the same of the indiscriminate use of categorial analysis, too. Where documentary methods have been referred to and conceptualised in a less cavalier manner, it has successfully rendered local instances – see, for example, Wieder’s early but effective rendition of local “tellings” of a convict code in terms of a gestalt contexture / documentary method (where the former is often presented by Wieder as a product of the operation of the latter). in other words, poor analytic treatments concerning the documentary method of interpretation should not be allowed to stand on behalf of all uses, of more subtle, sensitive and principled uses. reference to the documentary method is not a panacea, but in some cases it might serve well to bring to light a “pattern and particular” configuration, as a way of showing the locally-detailed planfulness, typicality, reproducibility, etc. of a given, situated complex of activities, i.e. of a “context”. What is the documentary method if not such a family of contextualising devices?
it seems clear that the excerpts i have considered above are readily amenable to strict rather than loose analysis in terms of the documentary method of interpretation, and that the above analysis cast in terms of membership categories, devices and CBAs, may be seen as comprising specific and local instances of the work of the documentary method. for instance, the category “medicine men” can serve as an underlying pattern, as a locus as it were, for a variety of predicates which constitute “appearances” or “particulars” of “medicine men” – predicates such as “deciding upon the ingredients for curative potions” or “writing [them] down in an ancient and secret language” – and, later, having an imposing temple, the “latipso”, where more elaborate treatment ceremonies are transacted. Here, the specific sense of the category and predicates illuminate and determine each other in a reciprocal manner; the sense of the category and predicates are mutually elaborated and (re-)aligned and each predicate gains its sense from (readers’ taking into account of) the other predicates. it is to be noted that these appearances are, strictly speaking, not made available simultaneously “at a glance”, as is, e.g., often possible in categorising people one passes in the street. the textual format necessarily involves the serial rather than the simultaneous introduction of appearances or particulars, each one retrospectively contributing to the specification or re-specification of the sense of the foregoing ones. A case in point is the “(few) women (i) afflicted with almost
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inhuman hypermammary development” and who (ii) “make a handsome living” by simply (iii) “going from village to village” and (iv) “permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee”.
similarly, the underlying locus “charm box” with its predicated particulars such as its being (i) “built into the wall”, (ii) “full to overflowing” (with) (iii) “curative charms and potions”, (iv) “decided upon by the medicine men”, can also be seen as analysable with reference to the documentary method. the serial provision of particulars progressively extends, “updates”, specifies or, perhaps, changes our state of knowledge of the “charm-box”. it is notable that the specification of the “charm-box” (not to mention “the name” itself) defines it with reference to its commonly-known place in human activities (for it is this rather than, say, the extension of the notion of category-boundedness from the domain of the descriptive apparatus of membership which gives these objects their conventionally-attributable predicates). the “charm box” case, for example, is a good example of a local phenomenal field (or perhaps sub-field within the broader field) whose field properties can be captured and explicated in their distinctive detail by reference to the documentary method of interpretation. We might say that the documentary method models how the coherence of (this feature of) the text is, to use Garfinkel’s 2002 passim, own terms, a procedural coherence. it captures Garfinkel’s claim that the sense of a local setting inheres in how that sense is produced: what we understand is coterminous with how we understand it.
it is also to be noted that the description of the “charm-box” trades upon the membership category “medicine man” and therefore upon all the predicates attributed in the text to that category. thus, one puzzle in the text intertwines with another, and this in turn provides for the mutatis mutandis extensibility of the solution which derives from one particular puzzle; witness, again, the way in which that extensibility is both a retrospective and prospective one, where if one effects “correction” of the planned misnomer “herbalists”, one can then work back to a resolution of a prior category, “medicine men”. in this way, the puzzles might be said to have a network of overlapping properties.
indeed, careful reference to the documentary method helps us understand how practical solutions to the puzzles are arrived at and how they are used. it might be noted that some predicate of the membership category “medicine man”, or of the material object “charm-box” might, say, be relatively transparently re-describable as a predicate of the category “(Western) physician”, rather than “medicine man”. the upshot of this is that the replacement of the former by the latter category – through the reader’s active “reversing” of the irony or perspective by incongruity – is established through, and acts as a rubric for, the re-description of the predicates provided in the text. Here, then, is a prime instance of later appearances occasioning a revision of earlier ones, the revision being effected through the reciprocal back-and-forth consultation of pattern and particulars.
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such pattern-detection and revision comprises an exclusively cultural operation rather than an operation conceived in mentalistic “information (text)-processing” terms, as is the case with some of the textual analysts mentioned above (see Quéré, 1996 and Watson, 1998 for a general position on cognitivism and Mentalism). the operation of the documentary method of interpretation involves members’ conjoint use of lay cultural resources in situ to make culturally-standard sense.
two more things must be emphasised here. firstly, – again with reference to the “potter’s object” simile – it is not the analyst’s intention to predict if or when the reader will arrive at the “realisation” that some item-as-described can be attributed to (say) a category not explicitly “made available” in the text. this may occur, if it occurs, very early in the text (even the title and opening paragraph are, together, redolent with hints, furnishing instructions for reading and clues) or very late, or on the first, second or subsequent readings. These are contingent matters. secondly, and relatedly, there is a variety of ways, or points of entry, through which the reader may arrive at the “realisation” that some textual item may be re-described, or that a misnomer is operative. for example, with reference to the “medicine man” / “(Western) physician”) example above, the reader may, as i have observed, commonsensically “recognise” Miner’s characterisation of the categorial “division of labour” as between “medicine men” and “herbalists”. As i have also observed, the reader may find that this division of labour is somewhat thinly disguised by Miner compared, perhaps, with e.g., his densely-deceptive descriptions of the “small font” with its “holy water” and “rites of ablution”. the varying levels of deceptiveness comprise just one of the arenas of contingency connected with these “points of entry”.
similarly, the puns, equivoques and terms that, at least as glosses, “travel” in some sense between the misnomer and the category-title that the reader may come to decide is “really intended” by the author (e.g. “medicine” or “medicine man”) may constitute the occasion of such a re-description. Again, the mis-spellings (“Pa-to-Mac”), reverse spellings (“notgnihsaw”), combinational forms such as reverse mis-spellings (“latipso”) and the various gist-preserving devices (e.g. preserving the gist of, say, Western medical/hygiene beliefs in the description of purportedly “ritual” practices) all comprise hints and clues provided by Miner as well as – once “realisation” has occurred – providing a rich source of wit and humour and a way of finding “similar” humour in “similar” examples.25 the hints, of course, also occur even when humour is not involved, e.g. in the first line of paragraph 3, where the nacirema are characterised as having a “highly-developed market economy” – something readers might not, perhaps, perceive as congruent with a “tribal society”. this characterisation “breaks out of frame”.
if and when such “realisations” will occur, or on which particular occasion of reading, cannot be codified by the analyst in any “recipe-like” manner. Readers’ practices in arriving at such “realisations” involving re-descriptions would comprise
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and require an empirical study in itself, in the way that A.W. McHoul (op. cit.) has already attempted to devise a protocol for the examination of readers’ work per se rather than inferentially “deriving” that work simply from his own reading of the text or from some theory-driven characterisation of that text. indeed, this would comprise a necessary next step in the analysis of readers; textual practices with regard to Miner’s paper.
one important point is that “realisation” may not, strictly speaking, be occasioned by intra-textual sources at all. “realisation” and re-description may derive from sources which are in no direct way integral to the text as such. to be sure, it seems to be a (largely unrecognised) pitfall of those analysts who confine themselves to using texts as data or, as is often the case, as the occasion for theorizing about reading / textual practices “in general”, that they treat the text as a self-contained entity. it is still often assumed that all decisions, imputations, etc., made by the reader derive from “the text” itself. such a fallacy in turn derives from the removal of the texts from the praxiological context of social relations of which they are constituents, as, again, smith so aptly observes. texts, just as is the case with other material objects, must ultimately be understood in terms of their place in courses of action and interaction. smith notes, for instance, that written texts are constituents of social actions and of the social relations which those actions accomplish and sustain. And anyway, we are always, inevitably, dealing with texts-as-read-in-a-given-context. thus, contextual contingencies such as being informed by others of the “key” to understanding Miner’s text may well figure in the reader’s approach to the text, whether it be an initial or subsequent reading.
In other words, we need to recall the comments made in the first essay in this monograph, concerning the “text as a phenomenal field”: so it is, but it also furnishes “field details” for a “broader”, enveloping phenomenal field. To be sure, the text may well be recast as part of the recasting of the enveloping field. For instance, a seminar of first-year university students may recast the field on the second, or even nth, reading through, perhaps moving from taking Miner’s article at “face value” to reading it as a “spoof”. This is a major recasting of the phenomenal field but, of course, the fact that students are doing this in a seminar with this being the set text is also part of the field. Thus, the issue may be “what can we (or what are we supposed to) learn from this?” thus, realising that there is a puzzle and solving that puzzle may well be understood as part of an educational task or the making of an educational point, and more specifically, an educational point about sociology or social anthropology. Texts, then, are not freestanding phenomenal fields. Their particular constitution depends upon the weave of purposes, relevances, activities, etc. that we gloss for convenience as “context” – context for readers themselves, not just for the analyst.
The Textual Representation of Nacirema Culture 93 Textual analysis: Further considerations on temporal organisation
Bureaucratic relations, scientific relations and discourse, management forms, etc., all rely unrelievedly upon an immensely varied array of textual materials – computer printouts and video displays, wage cheque notifications, hotel registration forms, faxes, drivers’ licences, credit cards, street signs, court orders, etc., are all just as “textual” as, say, works of literature, dramatic scripts or musical scores. Smith suggests that such texts, and “textual flows” of information, are constituents of social relations rather than, say, merely the passive products of the operation of the cognitive equipment of individuals psychologically conceived; texts are generically social. the issuing of a ’bus ticket, for example, is a move in the course of taking a ’bus journey. taking a ’bus journey is, then, an instance of what smith terms a “textually-mediated social action” and the purchasing and inspection of a ticket are “textual events”. We might provisionally refer to this phenomenon as the “local within the local” – the text as a phenomenal field operative within a more enveloping (but still strictly local) phenomenal field.
social relations and the social actions that compose them is mediated and, in certain ways, structured and oriented in their character and course by these textual-materials-in-use. it is in this sense that smith regards texts as “active” constituents of social relations. they are activated by (say) readers or users in the course of producing social actions. i may also add to smith’s observations the notions of texts as, perhaps, quintessentially reflexive features of social relations and courses of action. Wage-cheque notifications report in a variety of ways on the employee’s work, her/his relations with the state (tax, pension and national insurance deduction items) and so forth. in a strong sense, as i have noted above, texts comprise particularly perspicuous examples of the self-reporting and self- describing aspects of social actions, relations and settings – an essential feature of our making, displaying and therefore sharing of sense concerning these practical matters. texts report and make sense of, and advance, local social relations from within those selfsame relations. they are integral features of those relations. As loci of descriptive, sense-making resources, texts elaborate the sense of their enveloping settings and are elaborated by them: that is reflexivity.
smith’s analysis has the great virtue of directing our analytic attention to the frequent analytic requirement to look at “other” things than simply the intrinsic organisation and format of the “texts themselves”. smith directs us toward the need for more than an intra-textual analysis and it is in this regard that my study can be deemed as no more than preliminary (indeed, McHoul, op. cit., some time ago initiated a study which treats readers’ work in this broader frame of reference). of course, one may, for certain analytic purposes, legitimately (at least pro tem) make a purely and self-consciously methodological decision to treat texts as self-contained entities, but it would be a mistake to reify this self-containedness; again, we are always dealing with texts-as-read and thus must always attend
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analytically to the “text-activating” practices of readers in certain local contexts,
e.g. educational seminars.
However, smith’s recommendation that texts be treated as constituents of “broader” weaves of courses of action can itself be limiting if we disattend the (members’) fact that texts can be treated in the first instance as self-contained phenomena, too; after all, we do not need to have been on holiday with the person from whom we receive a postcard in order to understand a report on that holiday. to be sure, we must treat the text’s orientation to a broader course of action as part of its self-contained character. In this regard, there is a reflexive orientation between text and enveloping context, the “curtilage” of the text, where the phenomenal field details of each exhibit an orientation to the other: text addresses context and vice versa – each elaborates the other, and the “two” are in fact reciprocally constitutive of each other, are, in a sense, each permeable to the other. Whilst we may, perhaps, refer to “text” and (oriented-to) “curtilage” in terms of “the local within the local” we must not overdetermine the boundaries between the two.
in the case of Miner’s article, we can, then, turn smith’s analysis “on its head” in certain respects, although it must be said that in her own article she tends de facto to treat the texts she examines as self-contained phenomena, for all practical purposes. the realisation that Miner’s text is “really about U.s. society” rather than, say, some virtually unknown tribe, may indeed come from some intra-textual source, from some hint, clue or irony, as i have said; however, such realisation may well be brought about contingently by extra-textual matters. for instance, what readers might come to describe as the “real meaning” of the text, rather than its face value, may be furnished as part of a set of pedagogic relations, e.g. the giving of an introductory sociology / social Anthropology or high school course, where the topic is, perhaps, that of ethnocentrism, the description of one’s own society in terms usually reserved for other, very different, societies. or the classroom context may be of a somewhat more advanced kind, where the issues concerning the conceptual apparatus and terminology of anthropological analysis and its relation to the mundane conceptions of the people being studied may be subject to consideration – a kind of “sociology of sociology” / “anthropology of anthropology”. or, (relatedly), the “instructed reading” of the text may be that the seminar is about “anthropological or sociological writing”.
consequently, the teacher may point out that the anthropologist as an active describer of a society is very much a constitutive part of the circumstances s/he is describing rather than a merely passive receptor of societal information. or a more phenomenologically-oriented teacher may well point out to his/her students the ways in which we may suspend belief in anthropological accounts, the ways in which suspensions work and may be re-cast. or a postmodernist might point out the ways in which “otherness” or “alterity” are constructed through discursive
The Textual Representation of Nacirema Culture 95 practice rather than, say, its being an intrinsically-defining feature of the object of
study in itself.
there is, then, a wide variety of occasions where the “solutions” to what come to be seen as “practical puzzles” may be furnished, ab initio or otherwise (and again the temporal placement may be variable but is always important) from a source conceived as “beyond” the text itself. indeed, it may never lead to or involve the actual reading of the text at all by some students (not to mention the lecturer). How the revelation of the “real, underlying meaning” of the text occurs is, then, a contingent matter involving both retrospective and prospective concerns. given such a context, people may bring their “revelations” to a first reading of the Miner article or to a subsequent reading of it. Alternatively, an informed anthropological reader may bring to the text the specific item of knowledge that the anthropologist ralph linton in the 1930s recommended that his American colleagues look at their own society, that they embark upon a culturally-indigenous anthropology – as indeed Miner himself indicates. this item of substantive knowledge – whose possession is largely contingent on membership of a particular epistemic community – might in turn allow an informed reader to turn Miner’s reference to linton into a critical item for the (re-)reading of the article. Again, we have an illustration of the contingent character of “revelation”, where the contingency involves, in large part, differential “contexts of knowledge”. However, it must be pointed out that these “other” phenomena “beyond” the text are all part of a configuration of items, each of which lends sense to the other(s), and thus cannot be isolated or extracted from the others; as i have said, even an item considered as self-contained will exhibit an orientation to, and embedding in, these “other” items.
However, in, say, the lecture-room or seminar context described, it might be observed that the local nexus of social relations “reflects back” upon, and primarily confers (a) sense on, the text rather than vice versa, i.e. we have the obverse of the pattern described by smith, though i would not wish to present this matter in “either-or” terms. As we have indicated above, textual items elaborate the sense of the praxiological contexts of which they are integral components and are in turn elaborated by (participants’ orientation to) those selfsame contexts. nonetheless, the precise nature of these varied reflexivities needs to be teased out, again with reference to the documentary method of interpretation respecified in terms of gestalt contexture (Garfinkel 2002, pp. 176–9).
Whatever the way in which “realisation” occurs, however and whenever the key to what readers may construe as the “real meaning” of the text, the “solution(s)” to the practical “puzzle(s)” is uncovered, analytic reference to readers’ use of the sense-making practices comprising the documentary method of interpretation will assist us greatly. At the very least, reference to the documentary method allows us to avoid treating indexical particulars atomistically, to avoid mistaking the term “self-contained” as also connoting “in vacuo”: any such connotation
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would be misconceived. in this respect, another unacknowledged aspect of the “documentary method of interpretation” is that it furnishes a bulwark against the decontextualisation of this or that item, whether or not the item be textual in nature. in this sense too we should be wary of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”: before we jettison the documentary method, for all its alleged formalism and the rest, we should be sure that our reconceptualisation preserves all the advantages, pointers and caveats comprised within it: but is can be respecified.
i have already indicated the way in which the documentary method operates at the “local” (e.g. single puzzle-specific) level – the fundamental and generic level, i contend, in the text. We may now observe that it also works to provide us with a greater understanding of how the solution to a given puzzle can be made by the reader to work as (again, with due attention to detail differences) an extensible solution, a solution that works “over the course (of reading)”. the puzzle-as-solved can come to be treated by the reader as a particular instance of some family of referential puzzles, e.g. the family of identity puzzles of “medicine men”, “herbalists”, “holy-mouth-men”, and the like, or the family of “material objects”, puzzles such as “charm-box”, “small font” etc. A “due attention to detail differences” rider is required because the links between the individual cases of a given family of puzzles are, in Wittgensteinian terms, to be characterised in terms of family likenesses / resemblances. the instances of the family are not precisely or totally coterminous or duplicative, but instead are connected through overlapping similarities at various levels, though they are also characterised by differing properties, differing emphases or differing centrality of some common properties rather than others, etc. As part of the identification of locally-situated cases of such families in the text, the reader can use the solution to one practical puzzle to (a) find other cases of that family of puzzles, and (b) use the solution as a putative discovery procedure, further puzzle-finding and / or solution-searching procedure, for others of that family.
Thus, an underlying pattern or general rubric is established for a significant proportion of the text, where each puzzle-as-solved serves as a particular, an “appearance”, of the general pattern, again with many “let it pass” riders and other ad hoc localisation practices. the general rubric for identity puzzles, for instance, was “read the collection of tribal ritual identities as familiar Us / Western identities” (particularly where an Mcd such as “medical identities” may be seen as covering a substantial subset of identity puzzles). At this juncture, the reader may begin to treat textual devices in terms of “solution-before-puzzle”, as Anderson and sharrock (op. cit., p. 86) put it (though in relation to a different textual context). to somewhat modify their terms, given the availability of a solution, a set of puzzles has to be found for which that solution can stand – with all due detail modification – as a solution. in this sense, a given solution can come to gather together a “family” of puzzles and, in turn, to make an array of puzzles visible as a family, linked at least by resemblances if not by a single strict criterion.
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similarly, the “family” of material object puzzles might be seen to be subject to a general rubric of re-description from “ritual objects” to the “familiar practical objects” of Western / Us culture, particularly those connected with health and hygiene. since this rule for solving “material object puzzles” is an exhaustive one (within this text), the rule gives, and confirms, the sense-in-common of these puzzles as an ensemble, as a “family”. it must, though, be emphasised that although this sense-in-common may be treated by lay readers and analysts alike as imparting a strand of continuity to the text, the primary level is that of each device as a locally-situated item. the “solution” can only operate across some variation of detail in regard to the contingencies that comprise this local situatedness.
The text thus appears as a phenomenal field apperceived as a gestalt contexture, but one which – to again invoke the “potter’s object” simile – is an emergent phenomenon, assembled through the progressive articulation of its constituent parts. the pattern comes into view over the course. the gestalt has the temporal form of what McHoul (op. cit.) terms a “scenic course”, such that a given, locally- situated puzzle and solution could furnish what he calls a “key” to a number of other features in the text. the “re-organisation of the reading of the text” (again, czyzewski), may, therefore, involve a gestalt switch, though typically with none of the instantaneousness commonly associated with the term “switch”. More routinely, however, the pattern evolves not as a radical alternation but as an evolving one that is best characterised in terms of the “preservation” and “transformation” – terms introduced by sacks in his lectures on a rather different phenomenon.
indeed, McHoul’s closely-observed study of persons actually reading texts – pace its residual cognitivism – helps provide a protocol for the next step in a “textual analysis” of Miner’s work, i.e. the audio- or video-recording and detailed transcription of readers’ active work as “pattern detectors” in relation to a particular scenic course. (in this respect, the current study might best be described as an utterly preliminary probe.) Despite Garfinkel’s later position, McHoul, too, stresses that the bedrock level of operation of the documentary method is the level of local devices or operations (taking into account their varied manifestations), and it is through this local level that underlying patterns to the course of reading “as a whole” (glossed as “what the text is about”) are imputed. the solution-before- puzzle procedure, outlined above, is a case in point.
As McHoul also points out, and as we have already found, a course of reading operates in a glossed overall sense in real time (i might term it real reading time), but reference to the documentary method helps us unravel the many issues relating to the temporal operations which may be performed through such a course – operations which, as i have observed, operate a constant back-and-forth, rather than in a strictly “linear”, manner. to be sure, i feel that the examination of an article which works through a “perspective by incongruity” might be a particularly fruitful way in which to examine the “retrospective-prospective
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sense of occurrence”, which is such a central feature of the documentary method, regarding a course of reading. the study of the perspective by incongruity can itself do incongruity work.
such properties of the documentary method may be seen to be particularly highlighted when readers are identifying and “remedying” the planned misnomers through which, in large part, the “perspective by incongruity” takes on its form. the additional reference of the “apparatus” of membership categorisations, Mcds and category-bound predicates further assists in empirically specifying how the “perspective by incongruity”, with its planned misnomers, is specifically “delivered”, again with reference to the varieties of temporal operation (activities providing for the “working back” to a category etc.).
As i indicated with regard to the “potter’s object” simile, reference to the temporal operations integral to the documentary method is central in that, for instance, the method provides for the observation that some subsequent particular / “appearance” may force in retrospect a revision, redefinition or respecification of earlier ones, and for the imputation of a new or modified underlying imputation. i can thereby begin to examine the phenomenon of re-reading under a different rubric (say, “Western cultural identities and objects” as opposed to “tribal / ritual identities and objects”). consequently, i can move away from the sometimes-held assumption that texts are read only once – let alone in toto – by a reader. similarly, the prospective sense of occurrence is deployed when (in this case) the solution to a puzzle placed earlier in a text, or in an earlier reading, provides the rubric for the solution of subsequent ones. from this, it may be seen that considerations of temporal procedures in reading extend far beyond the serial order of events in the text and/or “in reality” – i can, for instance, read the day’s obituary listings in the newspaper without assuming that the persons listed there died in alphabetical order.
there are very many other textual devices in Miner’s sly and artful essay which could be analytically examined. the title alone deserves considerable analytic attention. Another is Miner’s attempt at formulating – however allusively – a concluding moral for the paper, in the same way that a fable or parable possesses such a moral. the moral takes the form of a concluding quotation from Malinowski, and could easily stand as a caution against Western ethnocentrism (though itself showing some strong elements of the very standpoint that it warns against). “looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilisation, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilisation.” this quotation, redolent with irony, not only works to present the paper as a cautionary tale (for teaching or whatever purposes) but, of course, also works as a closing clue to the “real meaning” of the article to those readers who
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have persisted in taking it at face value, i.e. as a final occasion for retrospectively revising “what the article means (after all)” and of re-organizing the reading of the earlier “local specifics” of the article.
similarly, the opening paragraph of the article presents prospectively-usable clues, including what some might read as a curiously “un-anthropological” comment about the nacirema showing “the extremes to which human behaviour can go” and, indeed, projects a judgemental context for the subsequent text. A moral does not need to come just at the end of a fable. in all, a perspective by incongruity can raise moral issues into view, too: “how would you like to be written about in these terms?”
in this sense, we see that the stylistic unity to which i have referred above has a practical, not just aesthetic, quality for the reader, allowing her/him to identify an overall interpretive frame of reference (ritual or magic, or, for the initiated reader, its transformability into Western scientific and hygienic practices) through a diverse range of particular textual devices. this, for instance, provides a general domain within which particular solutions to particular puzzles, hints, puns, anomalies, etc., can be sought, though the provision of such a general domain can provide no more than an interpretive backdrop informing the specific local work involved in such a search. in this, though, we can again see the interpretive process of reflexive determination of particulars and overall pattern which comprises “the documentary method of interpretation” as a family of lay sense-making practices held in common by members. despite my attempted defence, we may well, in the light of Garfinkel’s recent work, have to reject the documentary method, but if we do we must be careful not to lose the distinct advantages it carries as a characterisation of local contextualising devices. As indicated above, the most appropriate respecification, one repeatedly invoked in Garfinkel’s recent work but that has been always present in eM, (e.g. Wieder, 1974) employs the notion of gestalt contexture. eM has developed the concept from Aron gurwitsch’s original formulation, with an even greater emphasis on the identifying phenomenal detail of local social orders, and the concept clearly preserves the focus on indexicalities and reflexivities.
in this chapter, i hope to have shown how Miner’s characterisation of the nacirema counts on the locally-instantiated textual use of a perspective by incongruity. i hope also to have shown some of the devices of redescription which form the systematic basis of the incongruity perspective Miner utilises, and which generate and sustain that perspective. the issue of description and re-description has been discussed with reference to (a) the naming of specific objects or implements, and
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(b) the “substitution” of membership categories, i.e. identification categories for
in the next chapter in this book i shall show how many of the textual devices analysed above are employed in an actual case of social-anthropological / sociological writing, namely erving goffman’s use, in many of his publications, of similes in his analysis of communication conduct and impression management.
through the analysis of a parodic piece of writing, this essay has tried to bring into view the mundane foundations of the analytic instruments of professional sociology or anthropology and how the analytic extensions and transforms of these instruments operate to produce a sociological / anthropological account.
sociologists might say of this that they are of course aware of the natural language and naturally-theoretic aspects of their analyses. Maybe, maybe not (i suspect that often they are not) but the issue is not one of simply “being aware” of these issues and then passing on and performing the analysis as though they did not matter or simply by default: we might refer to this as a trivial “awareness” of the issues.
instead, we might hope that sociologists and anthropologists might begin to take on a non-trivial awareness of the way their actual accounts are formed as particular confluences of mundane and professional knowledge – particularly “knowledge how”. What would such an awareness involve? it would involve an extensive appreciation of the profound methodological consequences of these issues. it would, as a consequence, involve much less confusion of the lay and the professional in their accounts, much less of a readiness to allow the former to masquerade as the latter, much less of a willingness to tolerate the conceptual confusions, logical disjunctions and mistakes concerning analytic status that are attendant upon the conflation of technical and untechnical language. It might also help sociologists and anthropologists to understand how their accounts are shaped by ordinary language and laic textual conventions, a matter about which they seem, currently, to be largely ignorant or at least uninterested.
chapter 4
the textual incarnation of sociological Analysis:
the case of erving goffman’s Writings

Initial observations: Goffman and sociological description
This chapter substantiates, amplifies and, I hope, advances the three major concerns of this volume so far. these are: a) a concern with ordinary, sense-making practices as incarnated in texts, b) a concern with the textually-incarnate making of professional sociological sense and c) a concern to explicate the intertwinings between the two, e.g. how professional social scientists’ writings necessarily employ and depend upon ordinary-language textual instruments, where features of analytic reasoning such as (most fundamentally) practices of sociological description and redescription are ineluctably shaped by and through the mundane linguistic-textual resources that are deployed. thus, issues concerning variations of alignment of professional practice with ordinary reasoning, both oral and textual, are treated as focal – an issue that animated much of Alfred schütz’ phenomenological philosophy and Harold Garfinkel’s early EM studies: we may (or may not) nowadays see the latter studies as “proto-ethnomethodology”, but this is no reason at all to disattend the issues they raised. indeed, the publication of Garfinkel’s book Seeing Sociologically helps, albeit indirectly, to keep these issues at the forefront of our attention.
in the “nacirema” chapter we have examined a sort of double irony. Miner’s perspicuously ironic “take” on social scientists’ own methodological ironies, as evidenced in their (re-)descriptions of mundane reasoning, effectuates a dual shift in our perspective on professional textual practice. in the “going for Brothers” chapter, we have examined the way social scientists textually formulate ordinary practice within a minority community as the practices of that community.
the present chapter examines some of the textually-based metonymic devices employed by erving goffman in much (though not all) of his writing. it considers goffman’s writing, in the relevant parts of his work, as quite systematic exercises in the sociological description of mundane practices. that is to say: as schütz tells us at considerable length, the professional sociologist encounters a “ready-made” social world, a world that has already been described by ordinary society-members
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using received laic descriptions. in this sense, to lay members and professional
social scientists alike, the world appresents itself as “pre-constituted”.
the social scientist, then, is in principle presented with an analytic decision – whether to explicitly preserve the phenomenological integrity of these primordial descriptions in her/his second order “professional” descriptions or whether to set up those descriptions “in competition” with the primordial ones. for very many social scientists, however, there seems to be no explicit decision; they simply inherit and adopt a sociological tradition, itself “ready made”, where that decision has already been taken and, for them, “naturalised”.
this charge, though, can not be levelled against goffman. He was a self-aware user of metonyms, and acknowledged the methodological stance involved, and systematically employed it to a specific end. For instance, he cited as an influence some of Kenneth Burke’s analyses of style and rhetoric. thus, he said,
Burke, Kenneth Burke, was an influence in somewhat the same way. Louis Wirth, at the time we were all students in chicago, felt that Permanence and Change was the most important book in social psychology. so we all read that and that was a real influence on us all, I think.
(Verhoeven, 1993).
Whilst Goffman states that Burke’s later work was less of an influence, we can also note that other elements of his analysis did find their way into Goffman’s thought. Burke’s “pentad of motive terms” is a case in point. indeed, one way in which one can effectuate a methodological irony is for the professional analyst to alter a given ratio of motive terms away from the ratio deployed by lay members in their ordinary circumstances. However, the influence of Burke’s work on that of goffman is not restricted to ironicising devices and, anyway, in the present chapter our focus will be on features of his deployment of methodological irony other than those involving Burke’s pentad. Burke’s pentad is part of his “dramatistic” approach, to which goffman’s dramaturgical approach shows some elective affinity.
the “systematic” aspect is important, not least because it is so often missed, even by sociologists taken to be aficionados. Phillip Manning (1992: p. 15) tells us that goffman’s use of a theatrical analogy affords us “an idiosyncratic map of the social world”. Manning is in good company; Pierre Bourdieu, in his obituary to goffman in the newspaper Le Monde says that goffman’s work “can not be defined in terms of technique”,1 (Bourdieu, 1983: p. 112). these, though, are extraordinarily misleading statements, as i hope to indicate in this chapter. the real question is, though: how did these two writers, one a commentator on goffman’s work and the other a general sociological luminary, so spectacularly miss the point?
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i suggest that they have failed to grasp the point because they have failed to undertake a full textual explication along the lines of the three major considerations i enumerated in the opening paragraph of this chapter. Without a thoroughgoing attempt to deepen the analysis of goffman’s texts along those lines, the rigorous and exhaustive patterning and systematicity of goffman’s analysis can not even initially be identified, let alone approached. The “Goffmanian phenomenon” is lost.
More elliptical bearings on goffman’s systematicity – elliptical if for no other reason than that goffman himself was sceptical about sociologists’ claims as to what they were doing – came in a discussion i had with him at his home at 2048 rittenhouse square, Philadelphia, in March 1976. the topic was some items of canonical cA and i expressed my disquiet at the apparently “mechanistic” cast of these particular items. goffman’s rhetorical response was that his goal was to produce “as mechanistic an analysis as possible” of communication conduct. He was no opponent of “systematics” and no proponent of “soft qualitative analysis”.
this chapter will consider (sometimes critically) the strongly systematic element in goffman’s work – elements that involve his use of particular textually- sited stylistic devices. i shall consider the alignment of these devices with lay members’ instruments of ordinary reasoning. This issue is a difficult one for the alignments are multiplex. largely, though, in setting up incongruities with members’ conceptions, goffman relies very heavily on laic resources for his (re- )description of ordinary practice – not least the resources that his readers bring to his texts: in terms of reasoning, he relies on such congruences.
My interest, then, in goffman’s analysis derives in part from a more generic interest in how sociologists describe the phenomena they observe and how these descriptions at the analytic level are related to society-members’ common-sense description of those “selfsame” phenomena. consequently, i intend in this chapter to examine the stylistic devices goffman uses in the linguistic-textual presentation of his work and through which he attempts to render visible the mundane objects of everyday life. the observation that the commonplace phenomena of ordinary life unremittingly resist any attempt to render them visible is often made but seldom dealt with. Garfinkel usually refers to this difficulty as “getting the goldfish to become aware of the water”; that is, it is difficult to strip away the taken-for- grantedness which is an integral feature of such a phenomena and which all but buries them from view in the natural attitude – an attitude all too pervasively employed by very many sociologists. these phenomena are, to be sure, taken into account by lay society-members but are taken into account in a routine way, as part of the background of manifest action rather than as explicit matters.
it is no secret that goffman uses – particularly in his early work – a variety of metaphors and similes in order to illuminate what is usually left in the penumbra.
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such analogies include terms derived from what one might call a variety of “language games” – the theatre, team games, confidence tricks, espionage etc., and also from sources that do not derive from conventional social domains, such as his reference to ethology in defining ritual (Goffman 1971: p. 62), as Yves Winkin (1983: p. 111) has reminded us; hence goffman regales us with ersatz ethological terms like “family flock” (1971: p. 20).
i hope in this chapter to indicate how an examination of goffman’s textual devices enables us to address two distinct analytical tasks with regard to his work. each of these tasks, in its own way, involves our paying attention to the foundational issue of the descriptive apparatus used by sociologists. Whatever “explanations” the professional sociologist proposes, they are all premised on (and, in turn, help to constitute) on her/his prior description of the phenomenon to be explained: of course, such descriptions are most often assumed rather than topicalised. What, then, do we need to do to topicalise goffman’s descriptive work?
The first, analytically prior, task is to turn Goffman’s textual devices into objects of analytic attention on their own behalf, and i shall indicate some approaches and analytic resources that might be mobilised in the pursuit of this. i propose this approach largely because i believe that the treatment of goffman’s family of stylistic or textual devices as topics for analytic examination in their own right hits one of the few analytic standpoints from which it is possible to characterise and assess his work. One cannot, I feel, find the right analytic level if one is wedded, for instance, to the notion of a sociological “perspective”. We may not agree with Bourdieu that one cannot conceive of goffman as having had a “technique”, and i shall hope to document this disagreement by showing that when it comes down to the level of specific discursive practices, Goffman can be seen as having an identifiable technique, and without properly characterising this technique an appropriate analytic appreciation cannot be established. this is stylistic analysis deeply conceived. If goffman has a “sociological perspective” it is an emergent one. it is my argument that a proper characterisation cannot be undertaken without a systematic consideration of the mundane linguistic resources goffman deploys in this work: i shall return to this issue below.
An additional attraction of a critical appreciation premised upon a linguistic examination of goffman’s stylistic devices is that it bypasses the pitfalls inherent in the kind of approach which conceives of goffman’s analysis in terms of some ad hoc aspect or other of his biography or biographical epoch or situation, as, for instance, l. Boltanski (1973: pp. 127–47) has attempted in france. i tend to agree with Jeff coulter (1979: pp. 164–6), in his comments on this stock sociological move, when he says that such an approach runs the risk of working as an ad hominem discrediting device (as it also and generically does in its lay uses), and as such disattends the reasoning which informs the analysis under scrutiny. in that an analysis of the textual devices necessarily involves an examination of such
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reasoning procedures, I feel that not only will it find the right level but that it also potentiates a critique which addresses, in a grounded way, rather than arbitrarily downgrading or undercutting, that reasoning. My central argument, namely that goffman’s work comprises a major exercise in sociological re-description, will, i hope, allow us to preserve goffman’s practical reasoning.
As A.r. louch (1966: pp. 213–16) points out, goffman’s analysis involves the establishing of a (loose) “frame of reference” rather than a “theory” in the explanatory-validatory sense. in other words, goffman brings together a variety of observations under the aegis of some internally coherent pattern. the particular frame of reference goffman mobilises in much of his work belongs to a class which the analyst of style and rhetoric Kenneth Burke (1965: Part ii) has termed a “perspective by incongruity”; indeed, as i have said goffman himself acknowledges his general indebtedness to Burke’s dramaturgical analysis. i think it can be shown that elements of a perspective by incongruity can be found throughout goffman’s work and not just in the early pieces where similes and metaphors are most densely found (see my comments below, and d.t. Helm, 1982). goffman’s extension of a dramaturgical metaphor / simile is a classic example of the mobilising of a perspective by incongruity, where a set of terms from one form of life, the theatre, is extended to what members, in the natural attitude, might well see as a very different form of life. thus, goffman capitalises greatly on what the philosopher gilbert ryle would term a “category mistake”.
this is not to say that members in the natural attitude never use dramaturgical terms in metaphorical ways. indeed, goffman unrelievedly relies upon his readers’ common-sense linguistic ability to do this: however, he extrapolates such metaphoric uses well beyond their conventional locations in ordinary usage. so, for instance, goffman’s notions of “dramaturgical loyalty”, “dramaturgical discipline” and “dramaturgical circumspection” (1959: pp. 212–28) focus attention upon the displayed and exhibited features of adherence to norms, whether these norms pertain to family life, household-servant relations, management of stores and filling stations, streetwise hustlers, professional life and so on, and is designed to highlight what goffman takes to be formal similarities in such features.
goffman’s use of similes and other tropes, is then, a major part of his “machine for making formal properties”, in the tradition of his teacher e.c. Hughes and others in the “symbolic interactionist” genre of sociology (though goffman himself can not really be conceived as a symbolic interactionist tout court). As we shall shortly see, his is a stylistic technique that extends a comparative one used by initiators and proponents of various strands in the “chicago school”, all of which, by his own account, influenced Goffman.
We might, then, say that goffman’s employment of a “perspective by incongruity” comprises a production procedure for formal analysis – or, as
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we shall see, an array of such procedures. in a strong sense, perspective by incongruity is a device for “figuring up” what are held to be formal similarities and, simultaneously, for relegating to the background matters of “content”. However, the fact that content is so relegated does not mean that it is still not counted upon for “recognition” or “face validity” purposes.
Another, seemingly unacknowledged, aspect of the linguistic / textual constitution of goffman’s analysis is the way in which he adopts and appropriates local, often subterranean, “lingoes” in order not only to characterise the phenomenon to which the “lingo” is indigenous2 but also to establish formal similarities with activities and settings other than the indigenous one.
indeed, the very title of one of his early papers, ‘on cooling the Mark out’ (goffman, 1953), is a prime instance of this. Again, we see how what is, in this case, is the argot of a particular criminal group, confidence tricksters, is taken out of its local context of indigenously appropriate use and transposed into another context where it can serve to highlight an otherwise dimly-discernible phenomenon – in this case, ways of adapting persons to the identity threats or “loss of role” attendant on sudden failure. As we shall see below, not only is this technique by goffman characterisable in terms of Kenneth Burke’s notion of a “perspective by incongruity” but also shows a strong derivation in various strands in the “chicago school” tradition, e.g. the work of robert ezra Park and everett cherrington Hughes. Indeed, Hughes himself invoked Burke’s work, so the elective affinities involved are quite manifest.
goffman’s work involves, then, a secondary transformation in the ordinary apparatus for describing social scenes or actions; this transformation comprises the replacement of primordial terms given in the natural attitude by terms derived from (the proliferation of) a family of terms from a given conventional domain – terms which, in terms of familiarity for lay members, might not prima facie be integral to those original scenes or actions. A “perspective by incongruity”, then, involves what Burke (1965: Part ii) terms “planned misnomers” or “methodical misnaming” of objects that have more familiar or conventional names. Parenthetically, we might observe that goffman’s use of misnomers is not restricted to the deployment of a perspective by incongruity; he also has a less than endearing habit of renaming and otherwise encoding accepted analytic terms for no apparent reason other than analytic appropriation. Helm (1982: p. 156) – to whose analysis this chapter is greatly indebted – gives the example of his rewording of the phenomenon that conversation analysts call “repairables” by “faultables”.
goffman’s use of a “perspective by incongruity”, as its title indicates, establishes incongruous applications of terms in that it violates the conventional uses of those terms. the use of such a perspective produces “new alignments with the alignments flowing from other modes of classification” (Burke 1965:
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p. 102), predominantly those modes rooted in the natural attitude. necessarily, this involves a decontextualisation and a recontextualisation of actions and/or settings. We might also add that the use of planned misnomers, plus incongruous or even contradictory predicates and the rest as exposited by Burke, relies unrelievedly on the primitive common-sense recognisability and identifiability of the phenomena to be redescribed.
the planful violation of the proper conventional uses or applicability of a term may involve a variety of practices concerning subjects and predicates, such as his attaching of the predicate “cooling out” to the subject “educational (etc.) failures” rather than restricting it to its usual subject “marks” (victims of confidence tricks). Moreover, goffman’s approach goes way beyond these relatively straightforward descriptive transformations, as he uses more than one metaphor in parallel. in Strategic Interaction (1969a), for instance, goffman uses terms derived from espionage in combination with terms derived from team games: indeed, i suspect that although goffman is commonly noted for his use of dramatistic imagery, the term that does most of the “underlabourer” work is that of the team. Hence:
Perhaps the key problem in maintaining the loyalty of team members ... is to prevent performers from becoming so sympathetically attached to the audience that the performers disclose to them the consequences for them of the impression they have been given ...
(goffman, 1959: p. 214)
All these techniques assist in the development of what is by and large a culturally indigenous anthropology, and i should argue that incongruous metaphors work by occasioning a “look-again” technique in order to see unremarked objects anew, to render them “anthropologically strange”, by getting us to see them (or selected features of them) at one remove from the standpoint of the natural attitude whilst still using that attitude. the composite uses of metaphor, particularly, add multiple layers of incongruity, where terms from different metaphors are welded together to occasion a variety of perspectival shifts that are pressed into the service of goffman’s “dart-like style” (to use Burke’s term). this style, pace critics, is more allusive than elusive in that goffman’s approach is entirely planful in Burke’s sense.
In Burke’s notion of a “perspective by incongruity”, we have a first step in turning goffman’s analysis into a topic in its own right; in Burke’s notion of “planned misnomers”, we have a further clue to the linguistic nature of the exercise. However, the next step takes “the linguistic turn”, namely a specification of the ordinary textual devices, the textually sited “production procedures” as it were, through which the perspective by incongruity is linguistically generated and sustained. it is also to be hoped that we can thereby indicate the generic properties
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of these procedures, i.e. their properties at “bedrock” common-sense level, that of
ordinary linguistic usage.
We might first, though, discuss the “elective affinities” to which we alluded above, namely those between Burke’s “perspective by incongruity” and certain methodological techniques originally used by doyens of the chicago school such as r.e. Park and e.c. Hughes, and subsequently by their students – not only goffman but also other well-known practitioners such as Howard s. Becker and raymond l. gold.
gold reported that in his celebrated study of caretakers or janitors, (gold, 1952, 1964), supervised by Hughes, Hughes filled the margins of Gold’s report with comments comparing janitors with medical doctors and other established professionals. Hughes believed that processes that were not evident or even concealed in one occupation could be clarified by reference to other occupations (gold, 1964: p. 49). thus, the “dirty work” covered up by doctors might be seen more clearly by reference to janitors’ more overt orientation to dirty tasks: and processes in janitors’ work might be elucidated by reference to doctors’ work. Hughes held that one could “learn about doctors by studying plumbers and prostitutes by studying psychiatrists”.
Previously, robert ezra Park had recommended a similar technique, recommending that, for instance, beggars might not best be considered as jobless but instead as a “profession” with its own body of knowledge ways of carrying on the occupation, relations with colleagues, etc., thus rendering visible the occupational knowledge, culture as it informed the basic patterns of street activities of beggars – things which might have remained unnoticed had this technique not been deployed.
What a reading of Burke does is to help us move toward what we might call the “linguistic turn” in conceiving of such “comparative” techniques that seek to profit from seemingly incongruous pairings of doctors with prostitutes. Goffman is often conceived as taking the “linguistic turn” (considering linguistic data) late in his career but goffman had taken a different kind of linguistic turn much earlier, using, largely, similes, to effectuate a linguistic equivalent and extension of the Park / Hughes comparative technique. He took the vocabulary (and Burkean “vocabulary of motives”) from one occupational domain, the theatre, and applied it as a simile to non-theatrical settings, (both occupational and non-occupational). His specific deployment of that technique was textual: his similes and other devices were inscriptive. this was, of course, a major stylistic move ahead from the Park / Hughes technique. since goffman’s use of metonymy is often not conceived in terms of its precedents in Park’s and Hughes’ work, he has not, i feel, received full acknowledgement for this quite radical advance. We can now begin to consider the implications of this “linguistic extension”.
The Case of Erving Goffman’s Writings 109 Stylistic analysis: The linguistic turn in sociology
My argument here, then, is that the stylistic analysis of goffman’s work must be founded upon an analysis of linguistic usage, namely the consideration of the linguistic resources or procedures goffman employs in his work. this argument applies a fortiori to the use of simile and metaphor, and the following section of this chapter gives a signpost to one (and only one)3 of the ways which the linguistic turn may take us.
the basic point to acknowledge is that professional sociologists inhabit a social world which has already been described or linguistically pre-constituted. As edward rose put it in a pioneering study (rose, 1960), we already have a natural sociology, a common-sense semantic order, a set of collective representations in society. rose submitted the english semantic record to a diachronic analysis, and his observations on the conventional usage of the terms employed in an analytical way by professional sociologists – terms such as “group”, “interaction”, “role”, “function” – point to a generic issue.
this issue is that whatever its claims to an analytic vocabulary, sociology is, au fond, a natural language pursuit, an undertaking which perforce employs the ordinary resources of some natural language or other, be it english, Japanese or whatever. these languages furnish a variety of resources, e.g. descriptions of social organisation (see rose, 1960: pp. 194–7), and the vehicles whereby activities such as making claims, glossing, formulating, refuting, etc., are performed; indeed, describing is itself such an activity, and a linguistic one whether it be effected orally or textually. typically, these resources and vehicles are not explicated in “mainstream” professional sociology: they remain tacit but nonetheless are unrelievedly and utterly relied upon, not to say active in sociological texts.
the unrecognised and unacknowledged nature of professional sociologists’ dependence upon lay linguistic usage cannot easily be overstated, even when analyses, particularly those by sociologists, in the sphere of stylistics and rhetoric are involved. Just one case in point is Philip Manning’s analysis (1991) of metaphor in goffman’s work. in this paper a variety of angles are discussed concerning how goffman employs metaphor in his analyses. Manning understandably presents an unavoidably very selective set of studies, but in this selection edits out the sine qua non of such an analysis, namely the systematic linguistic analysis of metaphor, the analysis of such “imagery” as necessarily involving the use of a range of natural language resources and language-based procedures.
All the angles on metaphor that Manning sets out are derivative, necessarily having their anchorage in such lay usage – though this is not acknowledged by Manning himself. their form and character are actively shaped by the features and properties of such usage – features and properties which Manning relies upon
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but does not explicate. thus, Manning’s analysis employs as a tacit resource that which in fact should be treated as an explicit topic on its own behalf and which has analytically prior status.
Manning’s analysis – as are others of its kind – is thus fashioned in largely unknown ways by common-sense usage. such an analysis cannot but be idle, cannot but beg the question. In Garfinkel’s terms, it is characterised by “the missing whatness”, telling us everything except that which we really need to know. instead, an analysis which turns lay usage into an object for inspection in its own right will strike the right analytic level. it is at this generic level that the focus here will be upon membership categories but the analysis could equally well have focused on other procedural aspects of ordinary linguistic / textual usage.
An indispensable corollary of this shift from the epiphenomenal to that which has primacy is the discipline it imposes on the analysts in their use of language in their analysis. Manning, for instance, tells us that:
the overall view in The Presentation of Self is that of a world in which people, whether individually or in groups, pursue their own ends with a cynical disregard for others. on the rare occasions when audience and performer co-operate, both endeavour to return hastily to the shelter of their various masks and disguises and to avoid disclosing their inner selves. Here goffman views the individual as a set of performance masks hiding a manipulative and cynical self ...
(Manning, 1991: p. 76)
“cynicism” and “manipulativeness” are, in ordinary usage, predicates that apply to individuals: such predicates serve to impute psychological predispositions. there are several reasons why Manning’s use of such terms is injudicious. first, if we wish to play Manning’s moralistic game to the reception and monitoring of presented appearances, we might equally say that goffman’s work indicates not the cynicism but the credulity and artlessness of people in that they are, de facto, characterised as being taken in by these performances: one needs only to consider the situation from the standpoint of the recipient of these performances in order to recognise that.
However, such considerations do not take us to the core issue, which is the psychologistic cast in much of Manning’s interpretation of goffman’s argument. throughout his early work, and in later avowals too (see J.Verhoeven, 1993: pp. 321–6), goffman cites his indebtedness to e. durkheim and his latterday interpreters (radcliffe-Brown, Warner, Parsons and others) and his comments on impression management can equally – and far more productively – be seen as comments on the active operation of a normative social order, on the features of social, not psychological, organisation. characterisations in terms of “cynicism”, “manipulativeness”, “deceptiveness” and the like, because of their common-sense
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implications in ordinary language turn our analytic attention away from what is clearly a major theme in goffman’s work. indeed, many facets of goffman’s treatment of the presentation of self might be seen as exhibiting the orientation of self to the other and to the values and norms shared between self and other rather than what Manning terms a “cynical disregard” for others.
such points help us reprise and rework our comments on the characterisation of social actors as credulous and artless. instead of conceiving these predicates in psychological terms, we might instead treat them again in terms of the workings of a social organisation. this is perhaps most explicitly and perspicuously illustrated in Harvey Sacks’ Goffman-derived study (1972b) of police officers’ assessment of moral appearances and character. He points out the moral enforceability of “naïvely”, presenting oneself as “who one is”, but also of others taking those presented appearances at face value. the inferential work involved in such presentation and monitoring comprises cultural methods for the assessment of persons, these methods being constituents of the production of a social order. of course, such a social order can be exploited by those “concealing” criminal activities and the like. indeed, the occasioned detectability of such concealments gives sacks his analytic theme. However, the theme of the observability of criminal identities is also, of course, part of the methodic production of social order. thus, to present either goffman or his objects of study as “cynical” or, for that matter, “naïve”, runs the strong risk of not simply of irrelevance but also of misdescribing the analytic character and significance of Goffman’s project. It is not just that analysts such as Manning hit the wrong level of analysis but rather that they miscast the very auspices of the analysis.
the next move, then, is to give an example of the ordinary linguistic resources used by goffman and to indicate how they might be analysed so as to cast light on the “production procedures” for goffman’s analyses: we shall proceed on an instance by instance bases as these procedures are always locally-embedded, locally-deployed.
Linguistic resources and stylistic analysis: An illustration
one major, and in other respects well-documented, set of common-sense linguistic procedures is that of membership categorisation. Membership categories are ordinary language equivalence classes which may make reference to at least one member of a given population – “mother”, “American”, “tennis player”, and so on. (the emphasis on naming is not a bad place to begin since it is a foundational – though questionable – aspect of Burke’s approach that the operation of naming is prior to and formative of just about any other operation we perform on the world.)
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A first observation, then, is that Goffman’s metaphorical transformations involve substituting one set of membership categories for another; this is primarily what the effecting of planned misnomers involves. As we shall see, a characteristic technique that Goffman uses is to present a first-part categorial “misnomer” and then to present one or more “real world” examples, with categories named in what are prima facie more immediately recognisable ways. We are, in other words, first given the misnomers and then we are given the categories they misname and encouraged to see the latter, individually and as an ensemble, in terms of the former. A vivid example can be found in goffman’s writing about the “dramaturgical loyalty” of a team where he refers to strategies for forestalling the forming of sympathetic attachments between the performing team and the audience:
A second technique for counteracting the development of affective ties between performers and audience is to change audiences periodically. Thus filling station managers used to be shifted periodically to prevent the formation of strong personal ties with particular clients. it was found that when such ties were allowed to form, the manager sometimes placed the interests of a friend who needed credit before the interests of the social establishment. Bank managers and ministers have been routinely shifted for similar reasons, as have certain colonial administrators. some female professionals provide another illustration, as the following reference to organised prostitution suggests ...
(goffman, 1959: p. 215)
Most basically, we can readily see that this passage contains a dense concentration of membership categories|: “performers” and “audience”, “filling station managers”, “clients”, “friend”, “bank managers”, “ministers”, “colonial administrators”, “professionals” (and, by implication, “prostitutes”). Both the serial organisation and co-selection of the categories are introduced first, as a prospective rubric for the subsequent array of categories. this rubric works not so much through the finding of substantive similarities in the selected categories as through procedural or formal similarities. We are invited to consider the relations between filling station managers and (their) clients, bank managers (and, by projection, their customers), etc., in terms of the performers / audience analogy, such that the former are recognisable in terms of the latter. this recognisability seems to be provided for largely at the procedural level, and i shall now hope to be able to illustrate this.
i have referred to the cultural “apparatus” of membership categorisation practices in previous chapters, but they bear a restatement here, if only for readers who are reading a single paper in this volume. Membership categories are, in the conventions of each culture, grouped together into what sacks (1972a: pp. 31–84; 1974: pp. 218–20) has termed “membership categorisation devices” (Mcds) where, e.g. “mother”, “father”, “daughter”, etc., may be treated as a co- categorisation of the Mcd “family”. one of the major procedural rules for the
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combinatorial use of membership categories is the “consistency rule”, which, broadly paraphrased, runs: “if two or more categories are introduced proximately, and if these categories can be heard a coming from the same Mcd, then treat them that way”. this rule, then, comprises a sense-assembly procedure, a cultural method for making sense of co-selected categories. consequently “performers” and “audience” may be seen as co-members of an Mcd with a title such as “parties to a dramatic performance”, just as “bank manager” and “customer”, “prostitute” and “client”, etc., may all be seen as “standardised relational pairs” of categories (as sacks 1972a: pp. 37–8 put it), each pair respectively being derived from more inclusive devices, and therefore as relevantly co-occurring.
the consistency rule, then, provides for our making sense of the co-selection and proximate placement of categories such as “performer” and “audience”. However, a notable feature of the passage i cited from goffman’s early work is that the entire list of categories – “performer”, “audience”, “filling station manager”, “bank manager”, “friend”, “minister”, “colonial administrator”, “(female) professional”, “prostitute” – cannot be seen, through the application of the consistency rule, as categorisations from the same device (the Mcd “occupations” comes about as close as one can get, though the categories “client” and “friend” would remain anomalous). observe, also, how the category “friend” appears disjunctive with those of “filling station manager” and “client”, since it cannot prima facie be seen as deriving from the same device as (say) “parties to a garage transaction”. through such a disjunctive construction, and often through the addition of another category, e.g. using “friend”, goffman renders visible an (improper) “affective tie”. At the substantive level, the categories seem quite diverse and incommensurate. However, the diversity of the general collection also comprises a considerable resource for Goffman, because it allows him to make the next move of finding and showing an apparently powerful unity in this diversity.
In effect, what Goffman does is set up the first categorisations “performer(s)” and “audience” as a metaschema or master transcoding device, a set of instructions for reading the other categories as being relevantly and plausibly introduced, as being cases in point. for instance, the order of his listing predisposes the reader towards performing “category-mapping” activities, e.g. mapping the “performer”/ ”audience” relational pair on to the subsequent categories and their supplied or projected paired counterparts, such that we can find a homologous pattern in the collection. We are then led to read these subsequent categories as heir to the same predicates as the master device (e.g. see the supplied or projected paired categories as not being members of the same team, just like “performer” and “audience”).
Here, of course, we also encounter the “chinese box” uses of Mcds, where lower-order devices fit into higher order ones, e.g. the category “bank manager” is one of a set of categories which may be drawn together under the Mcd “bank staff”, where the “manager” and “client” categories might be drawn together under
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the Mcd “parties to a bank transaction” (and where, again, “performers” and “audience” comprise a master device). it is our lay knowledge of these formal, standardised tools upon which goffman relies. He uses the lower-order device, for example, to render the undesirability (for the team) of developing affectional ties with incumbents of categories which – although they have a proper place in the higher-order Mcd – do not derive from the lower-order device. it is to be noted that the same lower-order and higher-order device organisation, with parallel consistency rules, also applies to almost all the categories and their supplied or projected counterpart categories introduced by goffman in this paragraph, e.g. “religious minister” and “member of the congregation / parish”.4
observe also that this cultural apparatus for sense-making is brought to, and indeed elaborated in, a reading of the illustrations goffman provides, as in the exemplification of his reference to organised prostitution which follows on from the extract i have cited above. speaking of the development of affective ties between prostitutes and their clients, a pimp who is a member of an organised team declares:
the syndicate handles that these days. the girls don’t stay in one place long enough to really get on speaking terms with anybody. there’s not so much chance of a girl falling in love with some guy – you know, and causing a squawk. Anyway, the hustler who’s in chicago this week’s in st. louis next, or moving around to half a dozen places before being sent somewhere else. And they never know where they’re going until they’re told.
(goffman, 1959: p. 215)
there is a strong sense in which goffman gives us an instructed reading of this illustration, such that we read it in terms of the sense-making apparatus which his previous example, and above all his master transcoding device, have activated. never is this apparatus made explicit by goffman himself, although his analysis relies upon it in a tacit manner so that the reader can apprehend the organisation of the text. insofar as he is able to potentiate the application of this cultural apparatus on the reader’s part, he “allows” readers to “see for themselves”, to detect on their own behalf the patternings which goffman wishes to render noticeable and salient. such persuasive or predispositional techniques make it easy for readers (especially a “first-time-through” reader) to “arrive at their own conclusions” – conclusions entirely consonant with those required by goffman. such is the seductive quality of goffman’s prose; it is all too easy to read things his way.
similarly, in the collection of categories furnished by goffman in the paragraph on page 112 we can see the way in which given predicates are conventionally tied to given categories – predicates such as typical rights, obligations or activities. indeed, as i have pointed out above, he imputes the predicate “strong personal ties” to the category “friend” in order to render accountable the manager’s actions.
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elsewhere, he shows how these predicates may apply to all the categories of what sacks terms a “duplicatively organised device” (1974: pp. 220–4), i.e. a collection of categories which, as with the device “families”, divide into team-like units. for instance, the predicate of “in-group loyalty” may be seen as “travelling across” all the categories of a performing group. thus:
one basic technique the team can employ to defend itself against [such] disloyalty is to develop high in-group solidarity within the team, while creating a backstage image of the audience which makes the audience sufficiently inhuman to allow the performers to cozen them with emotional and moral impunity.
(goffman, 1959: p. 214)
Likewise, the metaphors of game teams, confidence tricks, co-conspirators in espionage, etc., can all be seen as mapping on to each other at the procedural / organisational level, since they are all duplicatively organised. such a mapping provides, especially, for their combinatorial use. this empirical issue is worthy of far more extensive pursuit than can be afforded here.
to be sure, goffman artfully uses the predicates attributable to dramaturgical categories as part of the application of a perspective by incongruity (as indeed we might expect in a text which has a section titled “dramaturgical loyalty”). We can see, for instance, how the phrase “cozen [the audience] with emotional and moral impunity” can come to stand as a gloss of an array of deceptive activities or practices. Also, as Helm insists (1982) with reference to goffman’s analysis of “response cries” (1981a: pp. 78–123), goffman remains in the dramaturgical or impression-management framework when describing actions and their motivated character. even the actions themselves are represented dramaturgically (e.g. utterances such as “Good God!” which Goffman terms “floor cues”) or are treated as bound to dramaturgical categories (e.g. “audience”). through these techniques, goffman redescribes courses of action. As John Heritage reminded me (personal communication, 1987), goffman’s use of a perspective by incongruity is by no means merely stylistic affectation or rhetorical flourish, but a praxiological shift – it moves from one descriptive rubric for action to another. dramaturgical metaphors often comprise action-descriptions (or redescription) or are action-implicative (via category-bound activities, etc.).
I hope now to have specified to some extent the way in which Goffman establishes a perspective by incongruity, and how he works his transformations on lay descriptions of phenomena whilst remaining utterly reliant on our ordinary knowledge of those descriptions, of how to use them and how to map them on to one another. not only does goffman quite clearly count on the primitive recognisability for the reader of the phenomena he redescribes, but also he counts heavily upon a very precise fit at the procedural level between the common-sense descriptive apparatus we mobilise and the descriptive apparatus he utilises at a (putatively)
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analytic level. of course, a perspective by incongruity must be relevantly used if it is to be at all effective, and for it to be relevantly used it has to show procedural affinities with that which it redescribes. The redescription outlined above only comprises incongruities at the level of content or substance, where again for these redescriptions to work at all they must possess a very precise consonance at the procedural level with the lay descriptions they replace.
An apparent paradox which Burke does not note, then, is that for a perspective by incongruity to operate recognisably and relevantly at all, it must show a finely adjusted congruity at the procedural or formal level with that which it transforms. this at least complicates any simple Burkean “piety” versus “incongruity” opposition. to be sure, my argument is that the substantive transformations necessarily partake of the selfsame descriptive apparatus in terms of which the first-order descriptions are organised. Whilst, of course, these transformations / redescriptions rely upon our common-sense understanding of their substantively incongruous nature in contrast to the familiar description, they also rely without relief upon our lay procedural knowledge, our “vulgar competence”.
of course, one should in passing at least mention that the procedural apparatus of membership categorisation, consistency rules, etc., is not the only set of lay procedural concerns to be found in goffman’s textual work. chief among the others is the family of common-sense interpretive procedures referred to at one stage by Garfinkel (1967, Chapter 3) – following but reworking Karl Mannheim – as “the documentary method of interpretation”, which basically refers to the mutual, back-and-forth hermeneutic determination between a given set of particulars and an underlying homologous pattern.5 the particulars are taken as “pointing to” or projecting the pattern, whereas in turn the pattern reflexively gives coherence to the particulars both separately and collectively. this mutual determination and redetermination works in much the same way as do the mutual determination of “part” and “whole” which characterise gestalt phenomena, and operates flexibly and revisably through time. Despite Garfinkel’s more recent attempted refutation of analyses cast in terms of the documentary method, this particular formulation works here very well in accounting for the identifying particulars of parts of goffman’s work (see also ch. 3 of this volume).
An excellent example of goffman’s reliance on this set of common-sense methods for analytic (and textual) purposes and, centrally, on the serial organisation of the text is given in the extract (goffman, 1959: p. 215) discussed on pages 112– 4 above. McHoul has argued (1982: pp. 11–36) most cogently for the importance of considering the documentary method in terms of temporal considerations in a “course of reading”, and goffman’s text shows the aptness of McHoul’s observations. instead of initially giving a set of particulars which potentiate the identification of a homologous pattern, Goffman characteristically first provides the pattern, thereby also providing a set of instructions predisposing the reading
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of the subsequent list of particulars as a proliferation of pattern elements. owing to its first-place positioning, it is the pattern rather than the particulars which gains salience. the pattern is maintained and manifested throughout the corpus of particulars in the paragraph. the solution, as it were, is provided before the puzzle and, indeed, defines the puzzle. We consult the solution to establish what the puzzle is: our reading is an “instructed” one.
the use of the documentary method (and of course the procedural apparatus built into categorisation activities) establishes and maintains what, adapting the application of one of e. Bittner’s phrases, we might term a “stylistic unity”. that is to say, the documentary method provides a set of procedures for generating what Bittner terms a “reproducible theme” (1974: p. 78), where “many specific instances can be compared with each other as variations of a single pattern”, which in turn “works against centrifugal tendencies and heterogeneity”. in this respect, we can see that the organisation of stylistic unity into the text has a practical rather than merely aesthetic or rhetorical quality for readers, allowing them to inspect a diverse array of instances for their transformability into the general and unifying theme of impression-management as conceived through dramaturgical and associated concepts. it does so through making available a set of “generative guidelines” which permits the maintenance of such a single focus in what, at the level of the natural attitude, comprise a diverse (indeed divergent) set of haecceities (Garfinkel and Wieder, 1992).
Readers can, then, embark upon the practical task of finding those features which stand as homologous instances of the theme established in the paragraph, such that the theme is thereby reproduced, instantiated “for another first time”, in Garfinkel’s immortal phrase (1967). In this respect, the conception of readers as active “pattern detectors” is particularly manifest, though goffman, through careful and persuasive editing and purpose-building of his examples, certainly guides and facilitates the “successful” accomplishment of the task. Again, we see an instance of dorothy e. smith’s point (discussed earlier in this book) that, readers make sense of texts, but not entirely in conditions of their own making. Using Anderson and sharrock’s term (1982), we might scrutinise goffman’s text for its “order-enhancing procedures”, where a given description is produced in ways which make available its symmetry, continuity or commonality with other proximal descriptions in the text. To find these is to find the text’s “coherent maps”, where individual instances can be treated as formal versions of each other. to cannibalise Karl Marx’s phrase too, we actively produce our readings of goffman but not entirely in conditions of our own making.
Let us move on to consider, all too briefly, some of the criticisms which the above focus on description and redescription makes available, though it must be added that i have some sympathy with the argument that the suppositions of this form of explication do not straightforwardly permit critical assessment (at least
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of certain kinds). Perhaps the most elementary set of concerns surrounds what Howard schwartz (n.d.) calls the “phenomenological intactness” of the social world, i.e. does goffman’s establishing of stylistic unity through misnomers falsify or otherwise destroy the authenticity or phenomenological intactness of each of the diverse examples and instances he provides? After using goffman’s approach, are we left with the same world with which we started out? By and large, this question derives (certainly in schwartz’ case) from traditional phenomenological concerns but is also to be found amongst the more methodologically radical symbolic interactionists, such as Herbert Blumer (1972). Blumer castigates goffman for disattending the specific point (for the social actors involved) of the examples he gives, and for disattending the distinctive content of the scenes of action he itemises.
in a general sense, at least, Blumer is providing a symbolic interactionist’s equivalent to what Garfinkel has variously termed the “quiddity” or (later) the “haecceity” of actions and their settings. in his december 1985 visit to Paris, and in his 1992 paper with Wieder, Garfinkel urged the audience to examine what are for members the uniquely distinguishing local aspects of given courses of action and the particular settings they produce. it might be held that goffman’s devices for establishing stylistic / thematic unities across such actions and settings forestall such analytic moves by conflating such haecceities. At least, we should consider Burke’s warning (1965: p. 97) not to mistake similarity for identity.
in a way, though, it should come as no surprise to anyone that if the social world is describable it is also redescribable (and – as we have seen elsewhere in this monograph - not just to sociologists). some derivative issues may, however, prove recalcitrant. one of these concerns the extraordinary extension of a metaphor such as “game” so that it forms a basis of a “frame of reference”. louch (1966: pp. 213–16) points out that in ordinary discourse, metaphors, similes and the like are conventionally tied to particular contexts, where conduct in other contexts may be pointedly characterised as not describable in terms of such a metaphor. thus, the characterising of some setting or instance of conduct as “it’s only a game” relies for its pointedness on the understanding that there are some cases in which conduct is most assuredly not a game. in this sense, goffman may stand accused of using a metaphor that is over-extended or even torn loose from the occasioning contexts which give it its ordinary relevance and impact. goffman here might be suspected of the equivalent of the “fallacy of unwarranted extrapolation”: the effect, though, is “the goffmanising of the world”, as edward rose lucidly put it to me (personal communication, 19 october 1994).
This point finds some sort of equivalent at the level of membership (or should we state it the other way round?) in s. Messinger et al.’s empirical observation (1962) that in mental hospitals patients felt they had to “perform” for an “audience” (doctors, nurses, visitors, etc.) all the time, and that the constant requirement
The Case of Erving Goffman’s Writings 119
to “perform” is experienced as unduly onerous, “unnatural”, alienating, or an interruption of their usual orientation to the social world. it seems that they too see “play acting” as a locally-occasioned matter rather than a pervasive feature of conduct in general.
Perhaps these issues, considered at the analytic level, derive from what Burke regards as a basic feature of approaches which consider human conduct dramatistically, namely that they incorporate a theory of agency rather than a theory of knowledge. one might, instead, wish for a theory which treats agency as informed by knowledge, as knowledge-in-action, as indeed does ethnomethodology. There is also the difficult issue of what Burke calls “downward conversion”, i.e. to metaphorically present all actions as moves in a game or as play-acting, or whatever, is – in members’ common-sense knowledge – to downgrade or ironicise them in important ways – treating such actions as less than fully seriously meant or consequential in their own terms (hence, perhaps, goffman’s reputation for cynicism and the like). Anderson and sharrock (1983) treat such “ironies” as major methodological devices in orthodox sociologies.
A related matter derives from my earlier comment about goffman’s dramaturgical redescription of actions and settings involving a praxiological shift. that is, he often creates dramaturgically-given scenarios of action rather than preserving what conversation analysts call “naturally-occurring” and “naturally- organised” courses of action or action-sequences. the virtues of recorded and meticulously transcribed action-sequences have been too devoutly intoned elsewhere for me to risk a travesty, but Helm’s example (1982: pp. 152–3) from what Goffman terms “response cries” is a significant one. Goffman treats response cries as, by and large, examples of licensed “self-talk”, talking to oneself. Helm, however, points out that such cries are all potentially available for interactive work and might more profitably be treated as public matters rather than “self-talk”.
furthermore, if one were to inspect recorded and transcribed instances of such cries, one would find that such items as “floor cues” (see above) can be seen as minimal pre-announcement sequences, the formal properties of which are necessarily tied into the intricacies of the turn-taking system for speech exchange rather than merely being contingently related to that system, as goffman tries to insist. the term “self-talk” in no way renders the organised communicative work done by such a verbal action: it is only by dint of goffman’s presentation of a dramaturgical characterisation of such verbal actions and of the dramaturgically reconstructed scenario within which they occur that we can see these utterances as “soliloquising”. in this way, the use of a dramaturgical metaphor has obvious pitfalls in rendering the sense of given verbal actions, given that the sense is typically only to be established in situ (in its specific sequential location), and at the level of members’ orientations to these. i feel that in goffman’s metonymic approach, we have no way of modelling members’ orientations (as opposed to
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stipulating them in advance), or certainly no way that accords with what Burke, in
his logology, terms “piety”.
these criticisms notwithstanding, i hope to have charted some of the contours of a treatment of goffman’s “dart-like style”, which is as i have observed above, a good deal less unique, elusive and idiosyncratic than is commonly supposed.
My reservations about goffman’s approach do not simply amount to a complaint that he is not specifically doing ethnomethodology or conversation analysis (although Goffman himself on occasion set up in specific competition against those twin approaches whilst, it must be said, frequently cannibalising them). the intent informing these reservations is merely to raise some generic concerns about the “empirical” character of various interactional analyses – concerns such as what counts as data, how much data might be analysed and what might be the constraints on any empirical interactional analysis. the comments in the second section of this paper on the way in which the resources of the natural language figure in the shaping of sociological description and analysis in the first place comprise part of the essential backdrop to such considerations.
to be sure, this concern with the typically unexplicated use of and alignment to natural language by sociological analysis leads us to what is, perhaps, the most fruitful of all the moves in analysing goffman’s work – a move whose utility i have, at least provisionally, attempted to indicate above. this move derives from the observation that (for instance) the categorial work done by goffman in his analytic enterprise – including the categorial substitutions or redescriptions of persons, as outlined above – is, at bottom, all of a common-sensical kind, found at the level of the natural attitude. the corollary of this observation is that goffman’s analyses may be treated as itself a datum, an object of analysis.6 A notable literary analysis with this theme has been conducted in a book by livio Belloi (1993). He not only elucidates goffman’s work through a comparison with Proust in relation to tropes, etc., but also, as yves Winkin has put it to me (personal communication 5 June 2005) does the work of “goffmanizing Proust”. A concern with the stylistic devices used by one author is used to elucidate the writing of the other. this shows that, pace Manning and Bourdieu, goffman not only has a technique but has one that is extensible to other authors. thus, K. Burke’s interest in subjecting “non- literary” works to a “literary” analysis can be seen to bear fruit, and i hope the analysis in the present article may contribute to that tendency: however, i have tried to show that “literary” analysis rests on more mundane foundations – a point that is not so clear in Burke’s approach but, perhaps, not entirely at variance with it either. goffman’s work may be treated as a textually-sited ensemble of common- sense procedures to be analysed as a topic in its own right. this is what the present analysis has attempted to recommend.
  1. 1  this example is adapted and extended from an article by myself and W.W. sharrock: “something on Accounts”. Discourse Analysis Research Group Newsletter, (University of calgary, canada), vol. 5, 1989.
  2. 2  H. Garfinkel: “‘Good’ Organizational Reasons for ‘Bad’ Clinic Records”, in Garfinkel (1967), pp. 187–207.
  3. 3  “Methodological Adequacy in the Quantitative study of selection criteria and selection Practices in Psychiatric outpatient studies”, idem, pp. 208–61.
Chapter 1
  1. 1  Macfarlane uses many other textual sources too, of course. He examines parish registers and other records, land rental and sale records, and so on. the attitude he adopts towards these texts in the process of using them does not vary, however: he again treats them simply as mere conduits to the phenomena they “report”.
  2. 2  for analytic commentaries on this, see clifford and Marcus (1986). these comments, however, are seriously mitigated by a methodologically-ironic cast.
  3. 3  it might be added that the comments above on transcription procedures in conversation analysis, and the ethnography of communication are not (entirely) critical. My primary interest is in turning the work of transcription into data to be analysed in its own right in order to show the basis of professional sociology in mundane cultural (in this case textual) reasoning and sense-making. it is not easy to see how such transcription practices could always be avoided in this kind of analysis. the only sociological studies that analyse (inter alia) conversational interaction without stipulating identities in the left-hand column tend to be highly formalistic and behaviouristic in character. An inventive and detailed example of such a study, which often does not count on the imputation of categorical or other identities to interactants is that of collins and collins (1973). see, for instance, their “behaviouralised” sequential analysis of conversations in example 9: pp.124–6 and example 10: pp.127–31.
  4. 4  Thus, blame-allocation is one of many specific and consequential activities the text may bring about just as “signing a contract” helps bring about a commitment, “signing a death warrant” works to facilitate an execution, “signing a marriage contract” helps execute another state, and so on. in this respect, texts draw heavily upon the conventional properties of the natural language as such, in its oral form,
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too: “saying” things can be “doing” things, e.g. “promising”, “threatening”, “condemning” and the like. All these and very many other activities can be textually as well as orally transacted by anyone having a competent mastery of a natural language in both oral and written forms.
  1. 5  i owe this point, and this example, to Wes sharrock: manuscript “rules”, nd, sociology, University of Manchester, U.K.
  2. 6  other members of the overall research team, funded by the french government’s Plan Urbain programme, were Kenneth l. Brown, isabelle Haumont, Michèle Jolé and georges Knaebel. i should like to thank them for their valued input into my analysis. thanks also to the then Programme director, now the late isaac Joseph. the team’s report was title Comment trouver sa place? (Plan Urbain, 1993) and the document of that report for which dr lee and i were primarily responsible was Final Report: The Interactional Organisation of Public Space.
  3. 7  For a specification of the term, see Smith (1984).
  4. 8  However, given the rise into prominence within ethnomethodology of “topics” or “fields” such as human – computer interaction, science studies, computer – supported collaborative work, etc., one wonders whether some of the concerns of conventional sociology have been permeating (and compromising) ethnomethodology.
  5. 9  i use the term “interpretative” / “interpretive” with considerable trepidation. As Garfinkel insists, we do not go around interpreting our world, interpreting signs or interpreting signed objects. in ordinary parlance, which as rose says, shapes analytic usage despite the stubborn resistance of some academics, “interpretation” is a term used where, for instance, the making of sense becomes non-routine, subject to perturbation, etc. this is one “grammatical” problem with the notion of the “documentary method of interpretation”. in extreme cases, there may be variant versions of a given state of affairs. thus one may say “that’s your interpretation, not mine!” often, as indicated in the penultimate section above, the apprehension of a text is quite routine, unproblematic and uncontested, and its sense is “taken as read”.
Chapter 2
  1. 1  liebow, e. (1967), particularly chapter xVi.
  2. 2  Ibid., p. 167.
  3. 3  Anderson, e. (1978), Ulf Hannerz’ classic ethnography (Hannerz, 1969) notes similar “going for brothers” phenomena.
  4. 4  this, of course, raises complex conceptual issues. some of these are raised in P. Winch (1972), pp. 8–49.
  5. 5  this is not to suggest that all ethnographers are equally adept in, or equally receptive to, such subcultural differences in communicative style or dialect; nor do i suggest that all ethnographers would posses the social credentials for bona fide participation. consequently i do not deny that there may be divergences in the interchangeability
Endnotes 123
of interpretation, reportage, etc., to varying degrees in various cases. for some comments on how the ethnographer arrives at a characterisation of the use of a term that is convergent with the use of that term by his sub-cultural subjects, see K. stoddart (1974).
  1. 6  After all, there are competing analytical views on the significance and derivation of the term “brother”. roger d. Abrahams, (1970), pp. 146–7, claims that the term “brother” in “soul brother” invokes (along, of course, with the term “soul”) a religious model for relations between Black ghetto dwellers. the terms “brother” or “sister” are seen as invoking the co-operative relations pertaining among members of a church, so that a term such as “brother” presents, for Abrahams, “the church (as) the model for co-operative life”. of course proponents of the view that such terms are in turn located in the co-operative nature of family life will not be entirely persuaded by Abrahams’ argument, but this simply attests to the possibility of proliferating divergent analytic interpretations: this is a problem for rose (1960) too.
  2. 7  d.H. Zimmerman and M. Pollner: (1970), pp. 90–1. the quotation nicely expresses one of the bases of the convergence of the ethnographer’s textual and the subject’s oral reports, referred to earlier in the present chapter.
  3. 8  Ibid., p. 91.
  4. 9  H. sacks (1972a), see also H. sacks (1972b). it must be added that these articles comprise the earlier developments of conversation analysis in ethnomethodology, and that more recent developments have tended to play down the issues raised in earlier stages. the present article simply attempts to work out “situated properties” of the various analytic issues in the social identification of persons, as pioneered by the late Harvey Sacks. The apparatus outlined by Sacks, plus certain modifications and extensions of my own, are deployed in the analysis of “going for brothers”; indeed, I believe it is through the conducting of such analyses that any modifications and extensions may be derived and their “adequacy” assessed.
  5. 10  H. sacks (1992), vol. 1. oxford: Blackwell.
  6. 11  H. sacks: “An initial investigation ...”, op. cit., p. 37 ff. note that the procedure used in the present paper to explicate Sacks’ work differs in significant respects from the procedure used by sacks himself; there exist some differences, for instance, in the order in which analytic issues are introduced and logically related.
  7. 12  Unless, of course, special provision is made in a particular instance: we might refer to this as a contextually-occasioned co-selection of categories, i.e., the achieved coherence, consistency, rationality, etc. of the co-selection is, if necessary, accounted for by an appeal to context rather than to any “natural” or “routine” relation.
  8. 13  on this issue, see d.r. Watson (1974). the analysis here, directed towards one set of analytic concerns (the “sacred” – “profane” opposition in formal-Analytic sociology) was developed in relation to other concerns in Watson (1974).
  9. 14  some of the lineaments of “device-bound” predicates are explored in a preliminary way in r. Watson (1978). this article involved an attempt not simply to explicate and extend the notion of “bound activities (on predicates)” but also to indicate that
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these processes are not freestanding but particularised for specific, contextualised
  1. 15  This, of course, may not be the case for the “fitting together” of the helping relationship that is constituted through the client-professional relational pairing, which may perhaps be taken as a duplicatively-organised Mcd in itself.
  2. 16  The converse also holds. The reclassification of a person from a “lover” to a “friend” serves to downgrade that person’s priority in his / her counterpart’s search for help. indeed, such a re-description may be part of what goffman refers to as someone’s “cooling out” by his / her lover: “...but we can still be friends.” such re-categorisations are not focalised by goffman, though they are surely part of the apparatus of “cooling out”.
  3. 17  An instructive general approach to this issue is to be found in H. sacks (1975).
  4. 18  J.l. Austin. on the invocation of membership categories in the construction of complaints, accusations, etc., see P. drew (1978): also d.r. Watson (1975), and Watson (1978), op. cit.
  5. 19  on the “stage of life” Mcd see sacks (1972), p. 220, and M.A. Atkinson (1980).
  6. 20  the number, of course, depends on conventions concerning the number of incumbents of a given category.
  7. 21  However, thomas s. Weinberg and i began to examine some of the categorial apparatus that, in a laic and taken-for-granted way, goes into the sensible discursive production of homosexual “careers” in our 1982 paper.
  8. 22  on such confusions as manifested in the work of symbolic interactionist, H.s. Becker, see M. Pollner (1974). sadly, however, Pollner’s own article is not entirely free from such confusions, e.g. in the realm of “secret deviance”, his critique of Becker does not hold.
  9. 23  liebow, op. cit., p. 166.
  10. 24  note the in-principle ambiguity of the term “girl friend” in this regard – an ambiguity that usually (though not always) achieves practical disambiguation through the provision by participants of specific context.
  11. 25  see liebow, op. cit., pp. 171–4.
  12. 26  Ibid., p. 173. Here liebow was discussing the case of stanton’s daughter who was being looked after by a woman whom stanton and others called his “sister”, though it was acknowledged she was not “really” his sister. liebow notes that the woman was performing a function frequently performed by a sister. note liebow’s use of the relativising term “label”– a frequently found methodologically-ironic element in ethnographic texts. often, in ordinary discourse, people protest “i have been labelled” as part of a claim that they have been falsely accused or falsely assigned some identity. the question in each case is: do the parties being analytically described as “labelling” each other actually conceive of their practices in that way? And what does so conceiving achieve? We might say that the concept of labelling is, in each local instance, intersubjectively problematic, or potentially so.
Endnotes 125
  1. 27  H. Garfinkel (2002): see, especially, Chapter 2.
  2. 28  note that liebow himself here categorises qua analyst a relationship rather than purely and simply addressing how parties themselves (here, stoopy and lucille) categorise it. it is characteristic of ethnographic texts that several such issues are almost inextricably entangled – the parties’ uses, the analyst’s uses qua analyst, analyst qua member, etc. the present chapter can not be the place to set out those issues, but Pollner (op. cit.) makes a start, as do Zimmerman and Pollner (see their quote, op. cit.).
  3. 29  the issue of “borrowing” has been examined by W.W. sharrock in his paper “on owning Knowledge”, in turner (ed.), op. cit., pp. 45–53: see also sacks (1992), pp. 382–8 (vol. 1) for related considerations.
  4. 30  Harold Garfinkel (1984), especially pp. 18–24.
  5. 31  this set of resemblances is analytically distinguishable from the family resemblances of specifically contexted manifestations of “Mutual help and support”, even if performed by incumbents of the same membership category. for one practical, if schematic characterisation of family resemblances, see J. Heritage (1978): especially pp. 86 ff.
  6. 32  this is not to say that the activity-descriptor “(giving and/or receiving) mutual help and support” serve only problematically as a rubric for gathering together a set of categories, i.e. of including some categories and excluding others. to be sure, this is part of the work which a gloss can do. However, the use of the gloss in this way is certainly not exempt from the mutatis mutandis clause indicated above: as Garfinkel and Sacks show, glosses are by their very nature embedded in the very circumstances they gloss. See, H. Garfinkel and H. Sacks (1970).
  7. 33  See Garfinkel, (1967), especially pp. 7–9, and Chapter 3.
Chapter 3
  1. 1  the text to which i refer is Horace Miner (1956), reprinted in Polhemus (1978). Any page references to this article in the present chapter are to the latter volume.
  2. 2  Burke (1965). even in what seems to be a simple name-substitution exercise, we run into problems concerning the descriptive apparatus of any language, e.g. the possible existence of (at least) two or three different names for the “same” object, as Burke points out (p. 109).
  3. 3  smith (1978): on material objects as culturally constituted, see especially pp. 45–7.
  4. 4  the notion of “constructed ambiguity”, as applied to Miner’s text, was suggested to me by Marek czyzewski, of the institute of sociology, University of lodz, Poland (personal communication, 10 october 1986).
  5. 5  Winch (1958). for an application of Winch’s approach to so-called “primitive” (just the kind of linguistic description that Miner sends up) societies, see Peter Winch, “Understanding Primitive society”, in his Ethics and Action, london: routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972: pp. 8–49.
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  1. 6  of course, social scientists generate analytic “news” on problems such as hygiene through the effecting of such transpositions. this is particularly the case where the analyst is attempting to formulate a highly abstract or formal theory – a typical formal-analytic enterprise. A classic instance in relation to the formal and general (cross-cultural) analysis of hygiene rules and practices is to be found in a study by Mary douglas (1970), though my analytic position is in direct opposition to hers.
  2. 7  Harvey sacks: “Poetics: spatialised characterisations”. lecture of May 17, spring 1971, in sacks (1992), pp. 396–401.
  3. 8  d.l. Wieder and d.H. Zimmerman (1976). Again, this point has been brought to my attention by Marek czyzewski. see also H. sacks’ metaphor of “the commentator machine” (in sacks, 1963, 1990). edward rose has taken up the discussion of sacks’ “commentator Machine” metaphor at several points in his book The Werald, vol. 1 (Boulder, colorado, U.s.A.: the Waiting room Press, 1992) – see, e.g., his chapter entitled “A conversation with Harvey sacks”.
  4. 9  J.c. Heritage and d.r. Watson. see also W.W. sharrock and d.r. Watson, (op. cit. 1991).
  5. 10  Ken dodd puts it most directly: “Humour is a perception of incongruity” he declared at his lecture “shakespeare and comedy”: royal shakespeare theatre, stratford- upon-Avon, 22 september 2005. As eM analysts, though, we should prefer to see incongruity as a device, a production procedure rather than a “perception”.
  6. 11  e. goffman (1952), pp. 451–63. it should be noted that the origins of the “perspective by incongruity” as a methodological device stretch back even beyond everett c. Hughes. robert e. Park, for instance, employed some elements of such a perspective by recommending that social scientists treat street beggars as though they were an occupational group, with its own working knowledge and expertise, its own working techniques, etc. such an approach “re-describes” the frequently-found conception of beggars as “inadequates”, “deficit systems”, and the like.
  7. 12  s. Messinger, with H. sampson and r. towne (1962), pp. 98–110.
  8. 13  this argument is rather similar to its truth-functional equivalents which have long been discussed in philosophy under titles such as “the fallacy of unwarranted extrapolation”, where what is found to be true within certain conditions and limits should not be presumed to be “generally true”, i.e. as holding beyond such limits and conditions.
  9. 14  the comments in the following two paragraphs and the observations which immediately follow, are adapted from a paper by W.W. sharrock (1988).
  10. 15  e. rose (1960). see also g. Watson (1991).
  11. 16  Even this formulation involves a certain over-simplification since Miner describes the nacirema in terms of what many would argue are discrete institutional domains, namely religion and magic, and in so doing, as I have said, conflates terms derived from two language games.
  12. 17  Bittner (1974). “the concept of organisation”, Social Research, vol. 32 (1965), pp. 239–55.
Endnotes 127
  1. 18  note that Bittner risks a cognitivistic formulation in his term “coherent maps”. His term is not to be confused with the term “cognitive maps” but instead comes from a phenomenological / “gestalt contexture” origin as respecified by ethnomethodologists such as Wieder (1974: pp. 188–202), and Garfinkel (2002, Chapter 8, especially pp. 257–8). the term “coherent maps” is, perhaps, best construed in terms of the term “phenomenal field properties” which has gained prominence in recent ethnomethodological respecifications of Gurwitsch’s original term.
  2. 19  Brookner (1984), pp. 27–8.
  3. 20  iser (1978). i owe much of this brief discussion of textual matters to iser’s considerations, and also to discussions with my colleague W.W. sharrock.
  4. 21  H. Garfinkel and H. Sacks (1970).
  5. 22  Marek czyzewski, personal communication, 10 october 1986. the notion of “re- organisation of readings” points to the organisational properties of texts as locally- recognisable matters for readers.
  6. 23  of course, both examples work in part by suspending members’ considerations and understandings of the practical efficacy of these objects. It is important to note that “practical efficacy” in this respect is adjudged as relative to a given language game.
  7. 24  Garfinkel (1967), Chapter 3. An interesting resource on the documentary method in relation to textual practices is A.W. McHoul (1982), especially pp. 11–36. of course, as I have noted, Garfinkel rescinded reference to the documentary method as a model of members’ sense-making, replacing it with gurwitsch’s concept “gestalt contexture”, (Garfinkel, 2002).
  8. 25  to be sure, even Miner’s article, whose internal diversity is, of course, necessarily limited by the stylistic unity indicated above, serves as a cautionary note to those analysts who seek the “essence” of humour, as though there were some unified, univocal core to all instances of humour. In fact, humour is immensely diversified, as diversified as the local contexts in which it is found. It is incarnate in, inextricable from and potentiated by, the virtually infinite array of linguistic activities and devices. there is no more of a common “essential” element amongst items of humour than there is a common “core element” amongst the linguistic devices, contexts and activities through which they are delivered. As a corollary, it might be noted that it is hopeless to attempt to analyse humour in vacuo, as separable from the linguistic devices which convey it – devices which can and do, also on occasion, convey nothing but seriousness. indeed, “humour” and “seriousness” might not be straightforwardly a contrast set; humour can have a “serious point” to the extent that one is incarnate in the other.
Chapter 4
1 not least because both Bourdieu and Manning tend to ignore one aspect of goffman’s dramaturgical approach, i.e. its close relation to what Trifiletti (1991: p. 150) terms (goffman’s) “... analytic passion for taxonomy ...”. goffman’s taxonomic
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orientations hardly qualify for Manning’s description as “idiosyncratic”. Trifiletti’s study is exceptional in that it explicitly and extensively considers goffman’s method of working, and presents it as systematic and precedented. See R. Trifiletti (1991).
  1. 2  nor was goffman’s use of such precedents any kind of end-point. others, notably ned Polsky’s study of pool hustlers (Polsky, 1969: pp. 31–l08) appropriates and employs hustlers’ argot to explicate the “inside” organisation of pool hustling. contrary to some claims, one doesn’t have to be goffman to do goffman’s work: there is an available method there, and others have used it. yet others have treated this appropriation as an analytic object, e.g. K. stoddart (1974).
  2. 3  this, perhaps, accounts for the extraordinary diversity of theoretical positions amongst those analysts who seek to pursue or criticise goffman’s work; as, for instance, the range of contributions to the ditton (1980a) collection illustrates. for our purposes, the most pertinent paper in this collection is that by Lofland, whose paper has greatly influenced the present chapter.
  3. 4  note that the procedure supplying the implied or projected counterpart category is also provided by the category-mapping procedure given by the “performer”- “audience” master transcoding device. on category mapping see also, inter alia, chapter 2 of this volume.
  4. 5  As stated in the previous chapter, Garfinkel later abandoned his earlier analytic formulation of sense-making procedures in terms of the documentary method of interpretation (see Garfinkel, 1996), but that formulation nevertheless helps us, at least initially, to sketch out the pattern-detection activities in the texts here under consideration. this preliminary sketch having been done, we are then in a position to consider these matters in terms of Aron gurwitsch’s notion of “gestalt contexture”, (viz. Wieder, 1974: pp. 186–98). For a treatment of a specific social phenomenon in terms of the family of concepts given by the collecting term “gestalt contexture”, see H. Garfinkel and E. Livingston (2005). I have attempted to indicate some aspects of the analysis of texts in terms of gestalt contextures, and to move textual analysis in that direction, in chapter 1 of the present volume.
  5. 6  That this analysis finds its proper level when it is “literary-textual” in nature is even acknowledged by goffman himself (Verhoeven, 1993b: p. 313). nor is it any accident that goffman’s work has been compared with that of novelists, e.g. particularly (and aptly), Proust. see l. Belloi, (1993) and, though to a much lesser extent, J.A. Hall (1977). Of course, such elective affinities can be forced too far – and can even become pretension.
Abrahams, r.d., Positively Black (englewood-cliffs, new Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1970).
Anderson, e., A Place on the Corner (chicago and london, University of chicago Press, 1978).
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accountability, examples 64
The American Anthropologist 57 Anderson, elijah 38, 45, 47, 53 Anderson, r.J. 73, 96, 119 anthropology, lack of humour in 58 Austin, J.l. 46
Becker, Howard s. 108 Belloi, livio 120 Berlinski, david 58 Bittner, egon 4, 72, 73 Black ghetto culture
fictive kinship 37
see also “going for brothers”; “going
for cousins” Blumer, Herbert 118
Boltanski, l. 104
Bourdieu, Pierre 63, 102 bureaucracy, and texts 7–8, 93 Burke, Kenneth 57, 61, 80, 120

downward conversion 71, 119 dramaturgical analysis 105 influence on Goffman 102 pentad 102
Permanence and Change 102
perspective by incongruity 66-7 cA (conversation Analytic) approach 1
example 11–13
goffman on 103
transcription practices, 10-11, 121n3

carlin, A.P. 10 categorisation 43–4
category-mapping procedures 47, 50 relational pairings 44–5
upgrading 47
see also cBAs; McA; Mcds; re-
categorisation “category-bound activities” 42–3, 44 category-bound attributes 44
category-bound taboos, and re- categorisation 49
cBAs (category-Bound Activities), Miner’s “Body ritual” 83–4
chicago school 105, 106, 108
cicourel, Aaron V. 64, 86
Cioffi, F. 73
coherent maps 72, 117, 127n18 “commentator machine” metaphor 2, 64

applied to Weber’s Ancient Judaism 4, 24
and social organisation 3
see also textual analysis coulter, Jeff 72, 104
cultural capital 63 czyzewski, Marek 62, 78, 97

description, and re-description 118 documentary method of interpretation
85–9, 122n9 formalism 88
gestalt contexture 88, 89 goffman 116–17
Miner’s “Body ritual” 89–92, 96 open-texture 86

downward conversion, Burke 71, 119 dramaturgical analysis, Burke 105 durkheim, e. 110
eglin, P. 46
eM (ethnomethodological) approach 1, 4,

5, 33, 40
“family resemblances”, Wittgenstein 52, 125n31
fish, stanley, on the informed reader 74–5 formal analysis 33, 50, 73, 86, 105 formalism
documentary method ofinterpretation 88 formatted queues example 88
140 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
Garfinkel, H. 50, 81, 85, 86–7, 90, 99, 110, 118
Seeing Sociologically 101
Studies in Ethnomethodology 4 gestalt contexture 95, 97, 99
documentary method of interpretation 88, 89
goffman, erving 22, 34, 58, 103 active readers 117 analogies, use of 104 Burke’s influence on 102
on cA 103
documentary method of interpretation

“lingoes”, use of 106
linguistic turn 108
Manning 102, 109–10
Mcds, examples 112, 113–15 metaphor, use 107, 109–10, 119 metonyms, use 102, 108 misnomers, use 106, 112, 118 perspective by incongruity 105–6,

106–7, 115-16 re-description 105, 115–16 response cries 119
textual devices, use of 104, 120 works

The Presentation of Self 110 Stigma 73
Strategic Interaction 107
“going for brothers” phenomenon 37, 38 mutual help entitlement 46 re-categorisation 45–6, 101
“going for cousins” phenomenon 38, 47 significance 49
gold, raymond l. 108 gurwitsch, Aron 32, 88, 99
Hci (Human-computer interaction) analyses 26
Helm, d.t. 106, 115, 119
Heritage, John c. 64, 115
Hester, s. 46
Hughes, everett c. 68, 105, 106, 108 humour

in anthropology 58
and perspective by incongruity 67,

in sociology 58
identity, similarity, difference 118 incongruity,perspective by
Burke 66–7
on everyday activities 68 examples 108
goffman 105–6, 106–7, 115–16 and humour, 67, 126n10
Miner’s “Body rituals” 67–73, 77,

97–8, 99 origins 126n11
inscriptive practices sociology 5–6
texts 6
interpretive communities, and texts 23 iser, on the implied reader 75
israel, Ancient, pariah culture 4

kinship, fictive
Black ghetto culture 37 examples 38
as special friendship 38

language, and social order 1
lee, John r.e., McA 5, 14, 22, 25 liebow, elliot 37, 45, 48–9, 50, 53 linguistic turn

goffman 108
sociology 109–11
linton, ralph 95
livingston, eric 20, 30, 31, 32, 81 long, norton e. 63
louch, A.r. 67, 68–9, 105
lynch, M. 81

Macfarlane, Alan 8, 10
McHoul, Alexander W. 21, 92, 97, 116 Malinowski, B. 61
Mannheim, Karl 85, 87
Manning, Phillip, on goffman 102, 109–10 Marx, Karl 117
McA (Membership categorisation

Analysis) 40, 58 newspapers 5
Mcds (Membership categorisation devices) 41–2, 45, 78
consistency rule 79, 81, 113
examples 112
in goffman 112, 113–15
in Miner’s “Body ritual” 58, 80–5 referential adequacy 80

Mead, g.H. 62
medical records, textual analysis 4–5 Meehan, A.J. 33
Messinger, sheldon 68, 69

and context 118
in goffman’s work 107, 109–10, 119 problems with 68–9

metonyms, in goffman’s work 102, 108, 119
Miner, Horace, “Body ritual Among the nacirema”
cBAs 83–4
consistency rule 83
description, substitution 61–6 documentary method of interpretation

89–92, 96
downward conversion 71
as humour 58
language use 70–1
Mcd 58, 80–5
moral 98–9
passages analysed 59–61
as pastiche 57, 59, 65
perspective by incongruity 67–73, 77,

97–8, 99
potter’s object simile 84, 91 puzzle-based reading 82–3, 96–7 re-description 62, 63, 65, 99–100, 101 readership 74–6
“real meaning” of 94–5, 98–9
significance 57
stylistic unity 67, 72, 81, 99 text-as-read 58, 74–8
textual analysis 94–9
title 98

misnomers, goffman’s use 106, 112, 118 Morgan, david 59
naming see McA; Mcds newspaper headlines
guilt-implicative text 17 puzzle-solution formats 14–15 McA application 5
Index 141 omissi, david 17
Park, robert ezra 106, 108 pentad, Burke’s 102
police records, texts 16–17, 33 Pollner, Melvin 6, 40

Polsky, ned 58
potter’s object simile 82, 98

Miner’s “Body form” 84, 91 Psathas, george, direction maps 27–8
and category-bound taboos 49
durée 48
examples 51
“going for brothers” phenomenon

45–6, 101
mutual help 47, 49, 52 stratifying practices 49
see also categorisation
and description 118
goffman 105, 115–16
Miner’s “Body ritual” 62, 63, 65,

99–100, 101 reader
implied, iser on 75
informed, fish on 74–5
texts, interaction 20–3, 28–9, 117

reflexivity 27, 52
and texts-as-read 34, 35

response cries, goffman 119
rose, edward 5, 9, 31, 70, 109, 118 ryle, gilbert 48, 59, 77, 105

sacks, H. 1, 2, 3, 41, 42, 43, 58, 111 Lectures in Conversation 42 textual analysis of Weber’s Ancient
Judaism 4, 24 scarne, John 19
schegloff, e.A. 4, 12
schenkein, Jim 5, 15, 76
schütz, Alfred 67, 101
schwartz, Howard 118
sense-making, texts 23, 24, 27, 34, 54, 79,

85, 87, 95, 101, 114 sharrock, W.W. 3, 73, 96, 119
similarity, identity, difference 118
142 Analysing Practical and Professional Texts
smith, dorothy e. 13, 14, 70, 72, 92, 93–4, 117
social action, textually-mediated 23–34, 93 bus stop research 25–6
social order, and language 1
social organisation, and “commentator

machine” metaphor 3 sociology
humour, lack of 58 inscriptive practices 5–6 linguistic turn 109–11 technical language 9
stylistic unity 73, 74, 77, 117, 118 Miner’s “Body ritual” 67, 72, 81, 99
sudnow, david 62
symbolic interactionists 47, 48

“text-reading pair” 20, 29, 30, 35 conceptual problems 31–2
activation of 22, 30
as active social phenomena 14–19 and bureaucracy 7–8, 93
bus stop research 25–6
diversity 7
examples 7, 93
inscriptive practices 6

leeway 19
schemata 23
and interpretive communities 23 and local organisation 30, 33 mediating role 24–5 multiple-author 17–18
as passive conduits 13–14 pervasiveness 7–8
police records 16–17, 33 production 5, 19, 29
reader, interactions 20–3, 28–9, 117

sense-making 23, 24, 27, 34, 54, 79, 85, 87, 95, 101, 114
and structuring of academic disciplines 10
studies 5 texts-as-read 32
Miner’s “Body ritual” 58, 74–8
and reflexivity 34, 35 textual analysis 2, 4
everyday artefacts 24, 29 example 16–17
high-status artefacts 24 medical records 4–5 Miner’s “Body form” 94–9 vacations 3

see also “commentator machine” metaphor; McA
textual mediation 27
social action 23–34, 93

turner, roy 45
vacations, textual analysis 3

Watson, g. 10 Weber, Max 7–8
Ancient Judaism, sacks’ textual analysis 4, 24
Wieder, d.l. 32, 54, 64, 67, 88, 89, 118 Wilson, t.P. 33
Winch, P. 63
Winkin, yves 104, 120

Wirth, louis 102 Wittgenstein, ludwig 4, 34
“family resemblances”, 52, 125n31 Wolff, erwin 74
world, as “worded entity” 9

Zimmerman, don H. 6, 40, 64, 67