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  Ethnomethodology, in sociology and sociolinguistics, is the study of the lay methods used by people in everyday life in order to construct, account for and make sense of what is happening in the social world. In short it means ‘the people\'s methodology’. The term was coined by the father of the discipline Garfinkel at the beginning of this century. The focus of study for the ethnomethodologist is the properties of practical common-sense reasoning employed in mundane, everyday situations of action, an area largely ignored by other branches of sociology.

This school of thought developed as a reaction to the implicit assumption of sociologists that they had a privileged understanding of the social world by virtue of the methods that had been developed in the field. Conventional sociology treats the accounts of ordinary people as deficient and replaces them with those of their own. Garfinkel argued that this marginalized the everyday knowledge of lay people. He maintained that lay folk also possess procedures (of which they are largely unaware), that, for all practical purposes, enable them to make sense of the social world and create a sense of orderliness.

Ethnomethodologists use two main techniques for study. The first method aims to disrupt the smooth running of everyday routines in order to reveal the bases of social order. Garfinkel, in what have become known as ‘the Breaching Experiments’, instructed his students to go home and behave as if they were lodgers. The reaction of parents and relatives was dramatic—puzzled, bemused, even hostile. Garfinkel believed that this revealed the careful and delicately constructed order of everyday life.

As an overwhelming number of everyday activities are carried out through speaking, ethnomethodologists have given a lot of attention to the study of conversation. The second method of ethnomethodological investigation is conversation analysis which, it is believed, reveals the shared understandings necessary for social life and the practical skills that are used by people in order to make sense of reality.

Ethnomethodology has highlighted the role of context in everyday understanding. An important feature of everyday life, it is argued, is the indexical character of conversation. Ethnomethodology points out that conversation depends for its intelligibility on the characteristics of the situation in which it is taking place. The meaning of conversation or talk is never unproblematic, it has to be worked out and there are immense skills involved in this.

A further feature of social life identified by this school of thought is the reflexivity of accounts. This view suggests that it is not possible to separate a social act from the account that is given of it. The accounts made by people of a given situation may also act to reproduce or transform those social situations to which they refer.

Critics of ethnomethodology have suggested that it deals with trivia; it presents an over-ordered notion of everyday life which is really fraught with conflict and misunderstanding; it contains no notion of wider social structures and thus cannot explain how activities are constrained; and it adopts the same methods of enquiry that it has criticized in others. DA MS

See also action perspective; individualism; microsociology; phenomenological sociology; social order; structure; structure-agency debate; symbolic interactionism.Further reading D. Benson and , J. Hughes, The Perspective of Ethnomethodology; , H. Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology; , J. Heritage, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology.



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