Now that I did my presentations at the college, graded last semester’s papers, and finished the hopefully-to-be-published conversation analysis article I can hopefully can fully re-engage with the actual work on my dissertation. Today I read some more Garfinkel. Referring to my short essay Am I an Ethnomethodologist, you can see that I haven’t read Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology at that point in time – this was one of the theoretical gaps that I definitely wanted to close before I start to write my dissertation. Well, I am happy about having made that decision. It is quite an inspiring, if sometimes cumbersome read. Here’s a small citation:
To treat instructions as though ad hoc features in their use were a nuisance, or to treat their presence as grounds for complaint about the incompleteness of instructions, is very much like complaining that if the walls of a building were only gotten out of the way one could see better what was keeping the roof up.[Harold Garfinkel – Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), p. 22]
Although it may at first appear strange to do so, suppose we drop the assumption that in order to describe a usage as a feature of a community of understanding we must at the outset know what the substantive common understandings consist of. With it, drop the assumption’s accompanying theory of signs, according to which a [Harold Garfinkel – Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), p. 28f]
referent are respectively properties of something said and something talked about, and which in this fashion proposes sign and referent to be related as corresponding contents. By dropping such a theory of signs we drop as well, thereby, the possibility that an invoked shared agreement on substantive matters explains a usage.
If these notions are dropped, then what the parties talked about could not be distinguished from how the parties were speaking. An explanation of what the parties were talking about would then consist entirely of describing how the parties had been speaking…
And finally, if you have ever asked yourself what to study as a professional sociologist, here is Harold’s answer:
Not a method of understanding, but immensely various methods of understanding are the professional sociologist’s proper and and hitherto unstudied and critical phenomena.[Harold Garfinkel – Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), p. 31]