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Ethnomethodology is a practical field of research in sociology that was founded by Harold Garfinkel in California (USA). She deals with everyday interactions and examines social facts as a result of interaction processes , with a focus on the methods by which these everyday interactions are accomplished.

The term “ethnomethodology”, which Garfinkel used in the 1950s, is vaguely based on the thematic structure of anthropology (and thus only partially derived from the Greek): ethnos refers to the members of a group and their knowledge, methodology stands for its systematic application in local-situational practices by the members themselves. Garfinkel's 1967 book Studies in Ethnomethodology , a collection of empirical studies and theoretical considerations, is considered to be the original text of this research direction. There are explicit references to the work of the phenomenologist Alfred Schütz and the sociologist of knowledge Karl Mannheim .

Approach and focus

In ethnomethodological work, it is important to avoid abstract theories about social reality . Instead, it is examined with which everyday practical actions this social reality is established. Ethnomethodological research provides precise descriptions of the methods used by members of a society, group, or community to do whatever they do. These can be highly specialized, technical activities or behavior in everyday life.

For ethnomethodology, the formal structures of practical actions are of interest, it should neither psychologize nor speculate about intentions. Any categories and schemes that are used to analyze actions can only be used meaningfully if it can be demonstrated that the actors actually orient themselves to these categories and schemes. This relation to the practically tangible reality points to the relationship between ethnomethodology and phenomenology .

Research fields that are particularly intensively worked on by ethnomethodology are the sister discipline conversation analysis , work and workplace studies and studies on the sociology of science, law and medicine, or Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Maynard and Clayman provide an overview of the breadth of ethnomethodological approaches in social science research. An anthology by Jeff Coulter in 1990 provides a further overview. Ruth Ayaß and Christian Meyer have brought together the current international status of ethnomethodological research in the anthology Sociality in Slow Motion for the first time in German translation.

Assumptions of the ethnomethodology according to Garfinkel

  1. The language is imprecise because it is pervaded by so-called occasional ("occasional") or indexical expressions.
  2. These indexical expressions are constantly interpreted by the participants in the course of the interaction.
  3. In order for interaction to run smoothly, participants must act on the basis of trust in the correct interpretation of the other participants.
  4. The participants in the interaction interpret the phenomena in such a way that meaningful meaning is created for them - meaningful normalization is constantly taking place.
  5. Meaningful normalization is produced interactively, actively maintained and sometimes socially challenged (see crisis experiments ).

On the one hand, these methodological assumptions resulted in the methodological approach of the crisis experiment and, on the other hand, the realization that science cannot maintain its prominent, objective point of view because it also has to resort to language, which in turn is permeated by indexical expressions. This results in the (sometimes weaker, sometimes more pronounced) self-image of some ethnomethodologists, not actually science, but rather doing craft .

The frequently mentioned concept of “ action-theoretical orientation” in ethnomethodology is an attribution that is primarily made by sociologies from other disciplines.

With regard to social order , what is decisive for ethnomethodology is not the binding nature and strength of moral norms, as Émile Durkheim or Talcott Parsons had assumed, but rather the internal construction (interpretation) in relation to personally favored interpretations of social norms in the respective interaction; the exact functionality remains unclear in ethnomethodology.

Basic concepts

Ethnomethodological indifference

Indifference (translated from the English indifference: "indifference, casualness") means that no research subject is in principle preferable to another. Previous experiences of the researcher are suppressed (or "phenomenologically excluded"). The procedures for describing, analyzing and representing are always based on the local requirements. Everything is equally interesting or uninteresting: It is always about the real-time production of meaning in an intersubjectively shared context.

In accordance with the ethnomethodological indifference, there are no preferred research areas or topics: "How to cancel a festival" or "How someone learned to play jazz" are just as legitimate subjects of investigation as "Driving 18-ton trucks on highways" or "Practicing Empirical Social Research Studies "- Researchers can learn and show how it's done by going and" watching how it's done ". There is no theory-style modeling.

Crisis experiments

Crisis experiments are often characterized stereotypically as the method of ethnomethodology; the time in which Garfinkel and colleagues carried out these experiments was mainly limited to the 1960s. They are not so much an experiment as they are “aids to a slow imagination”. They are intended to help the sociologist to recognize the basic rules of everyday life by forcing actors confronted with unexpected situations to explain what is going on. At this point Garfinkel introduces the concept of accounting (“account, present, explain”), which plays a special role in ethnomethodology.

In fact, Garfinkel did not use the term “crisis experiment” himself. In the crises it is shown that the stability of social norms in the interaction consists in the constant work of the interactants. The fact that the interaction works as a matter of course is a social achievement of those involved. Garfinkel later used so-called "tutorial exercises" in his teaching to demonstrate to his students that experiences are brought about through practical action.

Durkheim's aphorism

Émile Durkheim recommended that social matters should be treated as things. Usually this is understood to mean that the objectivity of social facts is taken for granted and thus forms the basis of all sociological analysis. In the interpretation of Garfinkel and Harvey Sacks, on the other hand, this objectivity of social facts is presented as an intersubjectively produced product of interactive work. The process-based production of social facts itself thus becomes the subject of research.


  • Heinz Abels: Interaction, Identity, Representation. Small introduction to interpretive theories of sociology. 3. Edition. Wiesbaden 2004.
  • Ruth Ayaß, Christian Meyer (ed.): Sociality in Slow Motion - Theoretical and empirical perspectives. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2012, ISBN 978-3-531-18346-6 .
  • Daniela Böhringer, Ute Karl, Hermann Müller, Wolfgang Schröer, Stephan Wolff: Keeping the case workable. Conversations with young people. Reconstructive Research in Social Work. Volume 13, Verlag Barbara Budrich, Opladen 2012, ISBN 978-3-86649-451-0 .
  • Harold Garfinkel: Studies in Ethnomethodology. Polity Press / Blackwell Publishing, Malden / MA 1984/1967, ISBN 0-7456-0005-0 .
  • Karin Knorr Cetina: The Fabrication of Knowledge. On the anthropology of natural science. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1981.
  • Michael Parmentier: Ethnomethodology. In: D. Lenzen (Ed.): Basic pedagogical concepts. Volume 1, Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1989.
  • Werner J. Patzelt : Basics of ethnomethodology: theory, empiricism and political science benefits of a sociology of everyday life. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-7705-2444-6 .
  • Dirk vom Lehn: Harold Garfinkel. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, Konstanz 2012, ISBN 978-3-89669-662-5 .
  • Elmar Weingarten, Fritz Sack, Jim Schenkein: Ethnomethodology: Contributions to a sociology of everyday action. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 3-518-07671-X .
  • Nicholas C. Mullins: Ethnomethodology: The Specialty That Came Out of the Cold. In: Wolf Lepenies (Ed.): History of Sociology. Volume 2, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1981.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Compare for example Harold Garfinkel , Harvey Sacks : On formal structures of practical actions. In: Harold Garfinkel (Ed.): Ethnomethodological studies of work. 1986, pp. 162–163 (first published in 1969; German: About formal properties of practical actions. In: E. Weingarten et al .: Ethnomethodology: Contributions to a sociology of everyday action. 1976, pp. 130–176.)
  2. ^ Ralf Bohnsack: Mannheim's sociology of knowledge as a method . In: Dirk Tänzler (Ed.): New perspectives in the sociology of knowledge . UVK, Konstanz 2006, ISBN 978-3-89669-697-7 , p. 271-291 .
  3. Dirk vom Lehn: Harold Garfinkel . UVK, Konstanz 2012, ISBN 3-89669-662-9 . S. ??.
  4. Harold Garfinkel (Ed.): Ethnomethodological Studies of Work. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1986/1969, ISBN 0-7100-9664-X .
  5. ^ Paul Luff, Jon Hindmarsh, Christian Heath (eds.): Workplace studies: recovering work practice and informing system design. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 2000, ISBN 0-521-59821-4 .
  6. Harold Garfinkel, Eric Livingston, Michael Lynch: The Work of a Discovering Science construed with Materials from the Optically Discovered Pulsar. In: Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Volume 11, No. 2, 1981, pp. 131-158.
  7. ^ Douglas Maynard, Steven E. Clayman: The Diversity of Ethnomethodology. In: Annual Review of Sociology. Volume 17, 1991, pp. 385-418.
  8. Jeff Coulter (Ed.): Ethnomethodological Sociology. Edward Elgar, Aldershot 1990, ISBN 1-85278-150-5 .
  9. Ruth Ayaß, Christian Meyer (ed.): Sociality in Slow Motion: Theoretical and empirical perspectives. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2012, ISBN 978-3-531-18346-6 .
  10. Heinz Abels: Ethnomethodology. In: Georg Kneer, Markus Schroer (Hrsg.): Handbuch Socziologische Theorien. Wiesbaden 2009, pp. 88/89.
  11. Harold Garfinkel, Harvey Sacks: On formal structures of practical actions. In: Harold Garfinkel (Ed.): Ethnomethodological studies of work. 1986, p. 166 (English).
  12. Harold Garfinkel: A Conception of and Experiments with 'Trust' as a Condition of Stable Concerted Actions . In: O. Harvey (Ed.): Motivation and Social Interaction . Ronald Press, New York 1963, pp. 187-238 (English).
  13. Harold Garfinkel: Studies in Ethnomethodology . Polity Press, Oxford 1967 (English). S. ??.
  14. Harold Garfinkel: Ethnomethodology's Program: Working Out Durkheim's Aphorism . Ed .: Anne Rawls. Roman & Littlefield, Lanham / Boulder / New York / Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-7425-1642-3 (English).
  15. Harold Garfinkel, Harvey Sacks: On formal structures of practical actions. In: Harold Garfinkel (Ed.): Ethnomethodological studies of work. 1986, pp. 160/161 (English).