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REVIEW A R T IC LE

A REVOLUTION IN SOCIOLOGY?
JO H N H. GOLDTHORPE
Jack D . Douglas (ed.) Understanding Everyday Life: Toward the Reconstruction of Sociological
Knowledge. London: Routledge, 1971, xii + 358 pp., £4.-20.
Paul Filmer, Michael Phillipson, David Silverman and D avid Walsh, New Directions in
Sociological Theory. London: Collier-Macmillan, 1972, vii + 246 pp., £,3m
5 o ( £ i paperback).
I
The emergence within the last decade o f relatively well-defined schools o f ‘phenomenologi­
cal’ sociology and, in particular, o f ethnomethodology has had an increasingly divisive effect
within the sociological community at large. Initially, the typical reaction o f more ‘conventional*
sociologists to these new movements o f thought could perhaps be best described as one o f
somewhat bewildered doubt, and such hostility as was displayed was probably aroused more
by the manner o f their presentation than by their actual content. The determinedly esoteric
and often impenetrable language o f their exponents and their preference for privately circu­
lated typescripts rather than for publication created the impression that they were more inter­
ested in forming a cult than in effective communication, and also the suspicion that obscurity
and inaccessibility were being deliberately used as protection against critics from without.
But at the same time it was in general the case that the more decisive the break w ith con­
ventional sociology that was proposed, the less the concern w ith attacking, amending or dir­
ectly competing w ith it. Most notably, Garfinkel and those associated w ith him maintained that
from the theoretical position they had adopted the principle o f ‘ethnomethodological indif­
ference* must apply to all questions o f the adequacy, value, importance or necessity o f
conventional sociology— as o f all other ‘constructive accounts* o f social life.1 Thus, the possi­
bility was present i f not exactly for peaceful co-existence, then at least for ‘separate develop­
ment’ ; and so far as the great majority o f sociologists were concerned, no particular response
to ethnomethodology, whether critical or otherwise, appeared to be called for.
Subsequently, however, this state o f affairs has been seriously disrupted b y a new wave o f
ethnomethodological w riting, well represented by the items under review, which is distinctive
in tw o important ways. First, it seeks to present the ethnomethodological approach to a rela­
tively widely conceived audience (and to this end is happily somewhat more attentive to
clarity o f thought and expression); and secondly, it is often taken up w ith explicit criticism o f—
and indeed polemic against— conventional sociology o f a quite radical character. A lack o f
interest in ‘remedying* the latter is still generally professed: but n ow only because the aim
is in fact to bring about a revolutionary ‘paradigm shift’ whereby the proper concerns, problems
and methods o f sociology w ill be entirely transformed. If, then, such an objective is to be
taken at all seriously, ethnomethodology and conventional sociology must stand opposed to
each other in a w ay that permits o f little indulgence: the intellectual credibility o f the one is
directly threatened by that o f the other. Thus, not surprisingly, the ethnomethodological
challenge has been met by counter-criticism o f a no less total kind, and also— which is yet more
divisive— w ith a refusal to respond to it which is in bad faith; that is, which represents a cal­
culated strategy o f attempting to minimize its significance, and thus perhaps its effect, b y
systematically ignoring it.

in fact. the structural-functionalists and systems theorists.3 and another (with Melvin Pollner) which seeks to establish one quite general. or on the writings o f Lundberg. W hat. W ilson to the Douglas collection (subsequently cited as D). much o f what they have to say is o f very uncertain relevance to their pro­ grammatic purposes. apparently less exciting. In the chapters in the Filmer volum e (subsequently F) which have a primarily critical intent. in the Douglas collection it is not accidental that D on H. A n evaluation made on the basis o f the tw o volumes here considered must lead to the conclusion that it is the latter. on their own terms. Lawrence Wieder) which demurs at an attempt by Norm an Denzin to represent ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism as convergent perspectives. however. even those varieties o f conventional sociology which w ould appear prirna facie to have most in common w ith it. rather. and in effect by most o f Douglas’s collaborators. but rather that many o f them could quite readily be accepted as valid— and without damaging consequences— by adherents o f various positions other than the ethnomethodological one. defining charac­ teristic o f conventional sociology— and one b y reference to which ethnomethodology may . In what follows. The main objection to w hich their contributions are open is not that some o f the criticisms they advance are ill-conceived (although this is the case2). and o f the possibilities for a significant expansion o f the field o f sociological enquiry which these arguments would suggest. However. they may be conceived and executed. a revolution in sociology is in fact a compelling one. to the conclusion that one need not accept that the objective o f a ‘paradigm shift’ in sociology has been achieved or even is in sight. o f a kind which might well come from among conventional sociologists themselves. That is. the distinction between (a) criticism o f methodo­ logical and technical shortcomings in particular pieces or styles o f research. it will not do for ethno­ methodologists to concentrate their critical attention on what would be quite widely regarded as bad research practice. Zimmerman co-authors one paper (with D . while the authors o f these chapters— David W alsh and Michael Phillipson— write in a highly polemical tone. It is quite consistent with an ap­ preciation o f the force o f certain methodological and theoretical arguments that are integral to this position. II Ethnomethodological criticism o f conventional sociology has as its major focus what are taken to be the ‘positivistic’ assumptions and practices upon which the latter rests. I f it is. then a crisis does indeed confront sociology: i f it is not. is crucial is that they should demonstrate ho w in principle ethnomethodology differs radically from. such a con­ clusion in no w ay implies a rejection o f their position in toto. Thus. Homans. and transcends. prospect that is to be thought the more likely: in other words. is unfortunately absent. provided one is not as captivated by fashionable discontinuiste philosophies o f science as are the ethnomethodologists themselves. and one which is in fact acknowledged at the outset o f a valuable contribution by Thomas P. the situation is presumably the less dramatic and more normal one in which the interest o f new thinking may be expected to lie as much in complementarities and developments as in oppositions and disjunctions. no matter how well. this discrimination shown by W ilson. In regard to such criticism. and (b) criticism o f a more fundamental character aimed at calling into question all forms o f conventional sociology. or at least to have made imminent. an important distinction needs to be made. Thus. or o f conceptual or logical weaknesses in particular theories— criticism. an attempt is made to provide the grounds for this particular critical stance.450 REVI EW A R T I C L E A crucial issue— and one on which the present discussion w ill concentrate— must therefore be that o f whether or not the ethnomethodologists’ claim to have made. The point that Walsh and Phillipson seem not to appreciate is that i f ‘conventional sociology’ is to be treated as a residual category— as including everything apart from ethnomethodology— then in seeking to maintain the claim that they have accomplished a paradigm shift.

one can still have good grounds for regarding conventional sociology as something clearly more than just one folk construction among others. information on the topics he investi­ gates. collect their data (by interviews. a most remarkable and fascinating social construction beneath his feet which alone sustains him yet which he does not notice or at least leaves unexamined. they assume. It is. Thus. the basis on which they may properly do so is not primarily— as Zimmerman and Pollner seem to think— a claim to greater objectivity and freedom from bias. The ways in which conventional sociologists define their problem areas (‘race relations’. These meanings and understandings. they can. if only through their use o f language. For example. ‘juvenile delin­ quency’ etc. ‘formal organization*. Nonetheless. M oreover. in drawing on a vast array o f everyday commonsense meanings and understandings. that they are able in this w ay to open up possi­ bilities for discussion o f a better grounded and more consequential character. use o f records. informants. official statistics etc. the systematic confounding o f ‘topic’ and ‘resource’. as suggested below. conform to certain standards o f logical consistency and exposure to empiri­ cal test. Although they imply that it is in some w ay untoward that professional and lay sociology should be ‘oriented to a common fact domain’. collaborators. provide him w ith significantly more. it must be ‘deprived o f any prospect or hope o f making fundamental structures o f folk activity a phenomenon’ (D p.REVIEW ART ICLE 451 be clearly set apart— namely. readers or whoever.). The thesis that Zimmerman and Pollner here advance is also utilized b y W ilson and is at various points alluded to by Walsh and Phillipson and their colleagues. The consequence is. there is still a far from trivial difference which remains: namely. may lead to greater theoretical awareness than is available to lay members. even i f the data collection activities in which the sociologist engages do not give him information that is qualitatively different from that available to the actor in everyday life. W hat they do not counter is the contention that. This analysis o f the predicament o f sociology as normally practised is. and more reliable.) and seek to explain ‘what happens’ (through hypotheses and theories) all necessarily involve them. sociology can never be more than an eminently ‘folk* discipline. even accepting all they have said. and do. in order to perform their intended function. 82)— which is true but hardly devastating. It may in fact be considered as one o f tw o lines o f argument which are o f a kind adequate to sustaining the revolutionary critique and programme that ethnomethodologists would wish to launch. rather. as it were. They are in fact themselves silent on this issue. Thus. and such an assumption is obviously fundamental to their entire enterprise— the crucial resource for the social activity which is ‘doing sociology*. and to which therefore one’s attention must be chiefly directed. as w ill be seen. in his introductory essay to his collection. unlike the latter. even i f sociological theories are addressed to essentially the same sorts o f problems as are lay theories. must. open to challenge in a number o f particular respects. but one may remark that Douglas. Y e t this resource remains quite unexplicated: it is simply ‘taken for granted’. when sociologists place the results o f their enquiries and their explanations in competition with members’ accounts and seek to ‘remedy* these. they appear to offer only one argument in direct support o f this v ie w : that in so far as sociology is a folk discipline. then. the most obvious response to it is not to seek to deny its basic validity but rather to raise a simple question: so what? Such a response is indeed one that Zimmerman and Pollner anticipate— but this only underlines their inability to produce replies which are adequate to their purposes. that the former theories. And this in itself. In its essentials. that conventional sociology fails to attain any significantly higher level o f theoretical awareness than that possessed b y the lay members o f society themselves. the argument in question is the following. Further. are ones w hich they largely share w ith others— their respondents. the ironic situation arises that the conventional sociologist proceeds with. one may also throw back at Zimmerman and Pollner the question o f whether any kind o f sociology can ever entirely escape dependence on commonsense meanings and understandings. W hile topic and resource remain so confounded. offers the follow ing crucial qualification .

Briefly. according to the nature o f the sociol­ ogist’s interest. 15): S o c io lo g y is necessarily a ‘fo lk ’ discipline inasmuch as its ‘discoveries’ are necessarily m ade fro m w ith in society. say. and then seeks to use these as ‘variables’ b y which observed patterns o f social behaviour can be specified and. The second major argument whereby it is attempted to show that ethnomethodology rep­ resents a qualitative advance beyond conventional sociology is again one employed by several contributors to the books under review. stable and intersubjectively verifiable. culturally-given set o f values and definitions. statements such as the foregoing are highly sig­ nificant. For the purposes o f the present discussion. 172. However. It reduces actors to mere .452 REVIEW ART ICLE to the ‘phenomenological’ stance (D p. It therefore follows that all descriptions that are involved must be ‘literal’ ones. ac­ counted for in terms o f action. . which presumably also derives from their common socialization. O n e objects to m uch so cio lo gy. But. The form o f explanation in question logically requires that any assertion entering into it is a ‘statement’ as opposed to an ‘indexical expression’ . it comes down to the claim that hitherto sociologists have been unduly complacent and unenquiring about the extent o f what they ‘take for granted’ in the various practical activities in which they engage. as making a salutary critical point and as indicating an important new area for sociological investigation— but without being thereby taken as anything like a sufficient basis for promulgating a sociological revolution. in order to explain how in the first place actors actually recognize particular situations and actions— as. equally available to participants and observers. and with one which cannot be answered in general terms but only case by case. the investigator identifies particular structures o f normative expec­ tations and complexes o f subjective orientations.4 A similar acknowledgement. In the act o f analysis. it must be supposed that different participants discriminate situations and actions in much the same way. accorded only the status o f a footnote (F p. 22): It is im portant to note. W here stable interaction occurs. having meanings that are context-free. in the study o f social interaction it is not at all apparent how such descriptions may be achieved. although. it may be added. the basic assumption is that in most contexts o f interac­ tion there exists some shared. it is held. For what they imply is that the argument about the confounding o f topic and resource is far less decisive than it might at first appear. then. is independent o f the occasions o f its use. w e are forced to assume some features o f an order ‘out there’ and thus to draw up on our com m onsense k n o w le d ge o f social structure . a difficult one to support. that no m atter h o w far back one goes in further reducing (or bracketing) o n e’s phen om en ological ‘reductions’ . it is that the aspiration o f sociology to follow the deductive form o f explanation which is characteristic o f the natural sciences is in fact blocked by fundamental problems o f the description o f the phenomena w ith which sociology is concerned. but which is best set out by Wilson. instances to which one set o f norms is appropriate rather than another. the ethnomethodologist would want to add. and that they do so because o f sub­ stantial cognitive consensus among them. . h o w ever. The problem Douglas raises (D p. in proceeding thus the conventional sociologist is forced to draw still further on his basic assumption. and it is this assumption which is then exploited for descriptive purposes. n. that is. but because it fails to exam ine h o w co m m o n ­ sense practices are used as a resource b y participants and observer. In conventional sociology. whether w ittingly or not. however. Such a position is. 22) o f just how far w e are to ‘reduce’ our everyday experience revels clearly enough that one is here concerned w ith what is eminently a question o f degree. Such a claim may be accepted as valid. there in evitab ly com es a poin t at w h ich one either accepts total solipsism and the im possibility o f ‘k n o w in g ’ anyth in g or grounds his th o u gh t in som e (presupposed) com m onsensical experience . curiously. is made by Silverman. under given conditions. n ot because it draws up on com m onsense k n o w led ge. For example. . In effect.

as being presented in— their interpretation and reinterpretation o f each other’s actions within a particular context. which is in turn understood to be what it is through these actions. This argument may be regarded as a good deal more consequential than that relating to the confounding o f topic and resource. so novel as some o f its exponents would seem to think. interviewing programmes. W hether the investigator begins with his ow n observations or w ith data from casual informants. more exactly. rather. The upshot is. distinguishes ethnomethod­ ology from conventional sociology. In contrast. Thus. In other words. shared meanings. the ethnomethodologists w ould themselves propose that social interaction should be treated as always and in principle problematic. T o quote W ilson again (p. I f social interaction is to be regarded as essentially an interpretive process. as situations change. Because literal des­ criptions are not possible. he must endow his ‘data* w ith meaning via his own interpretive practices. 69). 75): . because one is here on basically well-trodden ground. Stable interaction should be view ed not as the more or less automatic product o f pre-existing. culturally established values and definitions. then his descriptions cannot be independent o f context. but as being o f significance only in so far as they are incorporated as elements in actors* typifying. or even ap­ proach. and the interpretations o f different individuals w ill necessarily agree only in so far as they happen to succeed in negotiating a common social reality. ‘programmed* by their culture. it is held.REVIEW ART ICLE 453 automata. however. It follows. even when sustained. are. then. the sociological analyst o f interaction is in basically the same position as the lay participant in interaction: no meanings are directly given to him but. accounting and other interpretive procedures. nor inter subjectively verifiable in any strong sense. nor stable. there is no w ay o f treating observed behaviour and ‘events’ as interaction and o f describing its features. the tasks o f sociology cannot be undertaken through methods characteristic o f the natural sciences. written records or whatever.* Correspondingly. If the only w ay an observer can identify what actions have occurred is through some form o f Verstehen. therefore. rather. but rather as a practical accomplishment o f the actors involved: specifically. he is compelled to go through some process o f Verstehen before he is able to operate w ith notions o f action. depends o n the indefinite co n text seen as relevant b y the observer. rather than being cultural ‘givens’. ‘formulated on particular occasions b y the participants in the interaction and are subject to reformulation on subsequent occasions. as being created through— or. ‘positivistic’ presuppositions o f current sociological work. The methodological implications o f this position are then taken by its adherents as being far reaching ones. In other words. interpretations are subject to indefinite. and at the same time indicates the decisive break which the former has made with the established. that the descriptions o f interaction which it is possible for the sociologist to make must always be understood as interpretive descriptions and not as literal ones. other than by seeking in some w ay to go beyond ‘appearances* to the underlying pattern o f intended meanings within a given context. and it cannot do justice to the fact that social interaction. Acceptance o f this point. Thus. norms and roles are not to be seen as regulating conduct from without. is frequently experienced as highly precarious. it goes against evidence that the ‘same* norm or role may be construed in widely differing ways by different actors. that in the ethnomethodological view . interaction etc. as W ilson puts it (D p. as external constraints.. possibly retroactive revision.6 Moreover. to the fundamental question o f how social order comes about. a con text that gets its m eaning partly th ro u gh the v e r y action it is bein g used to interpret. It is not.. counter-arguments are . the study o f social interaction is not compatible w ith a commitment to pursue deductive explanations. there does not seem to be here a convincing answer. [T]he observer’s classification o f the behaviour o f an actor o n a giv e n occasion in the course o f interaction as an instance o f a particular typ e o f action is n ot based o n a lim ited set o f specifiable features o f the beh aviou r and the occasion but. being in fact but a modem variation on what is a very old theme.

does not lead one to deny that interpretive procedures are always involved in social interaction: it rejects only the contention that the sociological analyst may never. That is. And in any event. with the programme being then directly accessible to the investigator. The real issue can in this w ay be seen to be that o f the degree o f indexicality o f the questions asked and the answers given. which should not be burked but seem. rather. Thus. empirically plausible only where some degree o f ethnocentrism prevails. deserving o f consideration in their own right. it should be stressed. largely implicit. the ethnomethodologi­ cal case as a whole) starts with the assertion that the specific concern o f sociology is with social action and interaction. The critique o f the ‘normative paradigm’ offered by Wilson and others (and.7 Such a rejoinder to the ethnomethodologica! argument. for a total rejection o f such techniques. it may be pointed out that the strength o f the ethnomethodolgists* position depends crucially upon an empirical issue which they appear not to have treated very seriously and. recognition o f this variability is highly relevant to the debate over the use o f questionnaires and interviews as data collection techniques. as opposed to the ‘interpretative*. there would seem no basis. how far— social actors are ‘programmed* by their culture. willy-nilly. to be more a reformist than a revolutionary movement. to the extent that explanations o f the kind in question are successful.6 Certainly. and (ii) that in all situations alike an assumption o f basic consensus on meanings and definitions will be equally inappropriate. on the contrary. Douglas explicitly accepts (D p. take these procedures for granted. where such pre­ suppositions are not valid. instead o f the argument grinding to a halt. this w ill be auto­ matically shown up by its weakness or failure. better. one may question the. . not always to have recognized. give a more or less adequate basis for analyses o f action in terms o f ‘variables* and via deductive explanations. as a matter o f fact. it is led into questions o f a quite fundamental— in the end. ontological— kind. A second counter-argument which may be deployed is o f a still more basic kind. 42) that variability in the con­ textual determination o f social meanings ‘is normal in everyday life*. to be called sociology. and is not. perhaps. Nevertheless. as he also notes. it may be held. W hat is brought out is. w ith a properly formulated explanation. It is possible. so too is their insistence on the crucial but neglected role o f cognitive processes in social interaction. while. as it were. The force o f this point. even in the ethnomethodological position itself. the importance o f the practical matter o f deciding when questions and answers are so dependent upon the situation o f their use that the data which are produced are too unreliable to be worth having. Such a response might seem to turn the issue into the somewhat futile one o f what is. One has only to spell out such propositions for them to appear by no means self-evident but. though. indeed. But it must be noted that the ethno­ methodologists w ould want to question whether. First. In modification o f Garfinkel’s emphasis on the ‘awesome indexicality* which characterizes interaction. is sufficient to again bring from Douglas a significant concession. the issue o f whether or not— or. The ultimate proof o f the pudding must be in the eating. simply to rebuff this claim— on the grounds that it imposes limits on the subject to which it has never conformed in the past and to which it need not now restrict itself. it would still seem open to suggest that in some situations the presuppositions o f the normative paradigm will. In particular. it could be held that the study o f interaction in vacuo. then. in opposition to them. sociology could be about anything other than social interaction. to any extent. And. In other words. ultimately. the appropriateness o f the approach may be taken as confirmed. claims: (i) that norms and roles are always and to an equal degree unspe­ cific and subject to differential interpretation. is not a viable intellectual undertaking. rather. and ones which again point to the conclusion that ethnomethodology is destined. paradigm for the study o f interaction is totally and invariably inoperable. this is not to say that similarly good grounds exist for their contention that what W ilson labels the ‘normative*. one may add.454 REVI EW A RT I C L E not difficult to see. Conversely. The ethnomethodologists’ refusal to accept sociological theory which is viable only if actors are taken to be complete ‘cultural dopes* is empirically well justified.

available for study— in essentially the same w ay as is the w orld o f natural phenomena. Again. cf. ethnomethodologists write as i f they accept a straightforward dualism: the physical w orld is ‘out there* and real. then. W hat is important for the ethnomethodologist is precisely that the assumption in question should not be made— that the idea o f an ‘independent’ social reality should be abandoned. or Douglas’s contention (D pp. social reality is first produced. In other words. where perhaps the spectre o f solipsism looms up. might be radically corrective or revelatory. when differences w ith symbolic interactionists are being stressed. the w orld o f mental states is ‘in here’ and real. and social phenomena be treated as ‘real’ only in so far as individuals* actions and interpretations routinely confirm them as such. must start from the bottom and build up’ . the aim o f sociological enquiry can be taken as that o f describing and explaining features o f this w orld. that conventional sociology proceeds on the unexamined assumption that a social w orld is there— as a ‘given’. D pp. (F p. it is argued.REVIEW ART ICLE 455 III Undergirding the several specific criticisms o f the practices o f conventional sociology which ethnomethodologists advance. the social w orld is not to be regarded as a given. It does not exist. A t other points. an attempt is . 49. 87): I f m en act o n the basis o f the m eanings th ey g iv e to their w o rld and the project o f so c io lo g y is to understand m en ’s actions. there is always. Throughout ethnomethodological writings there runs an uncertainty on crucial questions o f ontology. in other words. it should not as yet be regarded as scientific since it is not grounded in the systematic observation o f concrete phenomena— such observation being possible only at the level o f inter-action. from which level a scientifically acceptable macro-sociology (if it is ever achieved) w ill have to be developed. but the social w orld has no such autonomous existence. however. the ethnomethodological argument is not without force. while macro-analysis should undoubtedly continue because o f its ‘great practical importance*. . by no means so unassailable as their proponents suppose. then the m ost adequate sociological interpretations w ill be those that m inim ize the rem edy o f those actions b y ensuring co n tin uity betw een their descriptions and the m ean in gfu l actions to w h ich th ey relate. at all events. This is so because the assumptions and arguments from w hich its further-reaching implications stem are. practical contrivance. that a stricdy mentalist view is being adopted: society is entirely ‘in the mind’ and has to be understood as being what people think it is. but as an everyday. h might appear. or at least suspended. 34) that ‘sociological th eo ry . that there can be no other— ‘macro’— level at which sociological enquiry can be conducted independently o f an appreciation o f how . and ‘social structure cannot refer to anything more than members’ everyday sense o f social structure since it has no identity which is independent o f that sense*. ‘independently o f the social meanings that its members use to account it and. whether explicit or not. A nd in turn. this means that it is only at the level at which such procedures are in operation— the ‘m icro’ level o f everyday interaction— that the sociologist can properly w ork. in everyday life. 11-12) that. 293-4). o f showing ‘what it is really like’. As Phillipson puts it (F p. Moreover. say. accounting and o f ‘order construction* generally whereby this consti­ tution o f social reality is actually brought off. W hat is ‘there’ for the sociologist to study can thus be nothing else than the procedures o f typifying. once more. hence. or. 54. but again too its shock w ould seem more likely to have a bracing than a fatal effect upon the body o f established sociology. that there is no possibility o f the sociologist being able to achieve a perspective on the social w orld which. A t some points as. one quite general and basic objection w hich it is essential to recognize: namely. equally dependent on this view o f social reality is the contention that the concepts which the sociologist uses in his analyses must always be derivable from those used by actors themselves. hence. . constitute it’. in relation to the standpoint o f the actors involved. It is in terms o f this argument that one must understand W alsh’s claim (F p. Zimmerman and W ider. to quote Walsh.

For the objective content o f ideas exists quite independently o f anyone actually knowing it: as. in addition to the worlds o f physical and mental states. as Popper has recently argued8. works o f art. in its own fashion. D p. even i f often better concealed. say. and consequently. Language. a point o f etiquette exists as an ‘intelligible’ even when it is in no one’s mind. any kind o f statement describing anything or conveying any significant message or meaning. 27. have nonetheless their own autonomous domain. this negotiated version o f reality will. (Cf. that. explaining it. in what Karl Popper has called ‘ontological parsimony*.9 Thus. language externalizes and objectifies actors* explanations. a ‘third w orld’ o f the objective content of thought. still involves entities which. Popper emphasizes. perhaps do not wish to see. A law. a human product. . while originating in mental states. objectifies and externalizes that w o rld for its m embers. For example. 18) that ‘Durkheim is not entirely mistaken in arguing for the objective (factual) character o f the social w orld . ’ but misconceives the source o f its facticity: It is n ot that a real objective factual w o rld exists o u t there to w h ich the m embers o f society are subject but that actors in the process o f apprehending this w o rld (that is. If. the difficulty is that to do so would also mean their accommodating certain other consequences o f the idea o f the ‘third world* which would not fit in so readily w ith their more polemical and ‘revolutionary’ concerns. This can be taken as comprising all such entities as theories (scientific and lay). b y virtue o f the categories w h ich it makes available for the interpretation o f the appearances o f the social w o rld . as the ethnomethodologists rightly argue. but. and in this w ay ‘constitutes’ the social world. in the case o f an unread book. W alsh also tells us (F p. W hat. as are the physical and mental worlds. that the version o f reality which emerges from interaction— like the outcome o f any negotiation— may w ell be an unintended (and possibly an unwelcome) one for some at least o f the participants. like any other. In mapping their social universe and in explaining and ‘accounting’ it. for that matter. one important point: that it is quite possible to treat the social world as they would wish— as being produced by actors in their interaction and as being ‘factual’ for them only through their apprehension o f it— without being thereby constrained to hold that its reality can have no more than an intersubjective character.456 REVI EW A R T I C L E clearly made to set out a rather more sophisticated position. This w orld o f ‘objective ideas’ or intelligibilia. is. the remarks by Silverman. ‘Constructed* social orders are not like dreams in that they necessarily vanish once they are no longer represented in individuals* mental states. means o f communication serving simply to evoke certain mental states or dispositions to act in others. once produced. one may suggest. a regulation. then one may ask w h y this w orld should not be regarded as being just as ‘real’. he shows. one may suggest. Its origin lies. In so far as they are ‘externalized’ in symbolic or linguistic form. actors come into contact w ith others w ith different social maps. as W alsh argues. what it would seem necessary to add here is. F pp.) The position is. it is mistaken to suppose that the entities within it are no more than symbolic or linguistic expressions o f subjective mental states or o f dis­ positions to act— or. perceiving it) externalize and objectify it thro ugh the available m o d e b y w h ich apprehension can be articulated. The confusion here displayed is recurrent in ethnomethodological w ork. that one may recognize. a customary practice. It is . an undeciphered inscription or a forgotten mathematical problem. 167-8 or Douglas. However. and secondly. they can live on autonomously. prevents ethnomethodologists from unam­ biguously accepting it as such is that they do not see. first. However. rather. bodies o f law. . have objective content capable o f existing independently o f the actors w ho created it. a problem o f negotiating and ‘bringing o ff’ some common definition o f social reality is inherent to interaction. defining it. apparently. established customs and convention— in fact. even when taken as defined in and through interac­ tion. definitions and perceptions. one which entails another or agrees or clashes w ith another. that is. Prim arily this m od e is that o f natural language. the ethnomethodologists could clarify their ontology greatly by accepting that the study o f the social world.

In short. It must then follow that such ‘third world* entities may properly be objects o f enquiry in. or even that it happens at all. concepts such as those o f ‘demand pull* and ‘cost push’ inflation or o f ‘structural’ and ‘exchange* occupational mobility are not— as W alsh asserts all sociological constructs must necessarily be (F p. such phenomena as inflation. and what its outcomes are (in relation. the claim that the subject matter o f sociology can be nothing other than social action is power­ fully controverted. it may be maintained that where series o f unintended consequences flow from the interplay between a multiplicity o f intended actions and their conditioning context. Such conditions must. there are ‘first w orld’ ones also— ones deriving from the fact that actors have bodies upon which action is in various ways dependent. B ut this is not to say that their effects in relation to social action w ill then. but still observe that ‘central* is not the same as ‘total’. such issues as whether or not interaction is possible or actually occurs. ontological pluralism o f the kind Popper suggests directly prompts questions concerning the relationships between the different worlds o f reality that are distinguished. only b y methods o f enquiry and concep­ tualization which go clearly beyond those o f lay members in everyday life. for example. Furthermore. while the first and third worlds are able to interact indirectly via the second. from a sociological standpoint. 18)— ‘second order’ constructs. w ho participates in it. For example.11 Moreover. it means recognizing that as well as ‘third world* conditions o f action o f the kind just suggested. the opacity which results w ill be penetrated. I f such a position is accepted. It is true that the physical w orld can directly influence the course o f social action only as it is mediated through perception and interpretation. and there seems no good reason w h y there should be any self-denying ordinance against their use. ecological. that is. Nonetheless. any more than those o f ‘third w orld’ entities. their own right— apart. for example. to actors’ purposes) are all ones to which physical aspects of. M ost obviously. the point is that processes o f interaction between different domains o f reality are typically complex. But many problems which are thus posed have always been o f interest to sociologists and would still appear entirely legitimate. that is. themselves be seen as being at some juncture determined or determinable in some degree by social action. they are ones o f some demonstrable heuristic and explanatory value. demographic and technological conditions are highly relevant as either constraints or facilities. obviously cannot be understood simply in terms o f action. be always intended ones. while crucial to the study o f action. Nevertheless. Popper himself has argued that the ‘second world*— that o f subjective experiences— interacts directly w ith both the ‘first w orld’ o f physical states and w ith his ‘third w orld’. the implications for the analysis o f interaction are considerable.REVIEW ART ICLE 457 there. and further that issues such as those raised in the previous paragraph. In treating such issues— ones o f the conditions o f action— the inves­ tigation. to be possibly invoked and appealed to— even i f variously construed— in precisely the processes o f accomplishing and demonstrating social order in which ethnometho­ dologists profess to be centrally interested. ‘constructs o f constructs made by the actors on the social scene*. o f course. It is likely that information w ill need to be collected on a scale or over a time period which w ould simply not be practical possibilities in everyday life. that is. and w ill frequently be opaque to actors in their everyday lives: consider the processes involved in. such concepts could be corrective and revelatory . if at all. for example. and are thus subject to limitations imposed by the physical environment. and that concepts w ill need to be formed that have little or no connection w ith those embodied in everyday descriptions and accounts. occupational mobility or residential segregation. as it were. In other words. in regard to certain problems. o f a variety o f ‘non-meaningful’ phenomena w ould seem very likely to be called for. 58) when he claims that the ‘central* concern o f sociology is w ith social action. N o r again need it be the case that those whose actions are thus con­ ditioned w ill know how this happens. it w ould appear evident that in certain contexts. say. O ne may agree w ith W ilson (D p.10 Finally. from their actual interpretation in social action and rather as the conditions of such action.

However. Filmer remarks that from a Parsonian standpoint such rules ‘would have to be found in the deeply internalized. and be accepted by members as such on rational grounds. . The most obvious difficulty w ith this reply lies in the fact that it raises another aspect o f the empirical question already noted: that o f just how far meanings and definitions in inter­ action are situationally determined and are thus only ‘analysable in context*. The crucial distinction is that between treating the basic rules as having substantive content or treating them as rules o f interpretive procedure. appears to understand the basic rules o f interaction as having substantive significance— as. appropriate explanatory paradigms and the like. 227): th ey are generated w ith in the activities w h ich th e y organize.13 T o the second question. the rules ‘come from* nowhere other than the occasions o f their use. invoke such ‘surface’ rules as formal regulations. Critics o f ethnomethodology. but. the standard reply would seem to be that one is rather misguided to ask. If the former position is taken. have asked: ‘W hat are these rules?’ and ‘W here do they come from?’. a number o f considerations have been advanced against the ‘militant’ ethnomethodological view that the procedures o f conventional sociology (understood as a residual category) are fundamentally flawed. in either case problems arise for programmatic statements o f the kind earlier noted. if the latter. which their writings display but which they do not appear to have fully appreciated. W hich alter­ native is adopted appears all-important for the nature o f ethnomethodological enquiry. 228). which in turn im ply different answers to the first question.’ (F p. such as Dreitzel and Gouldner. for example. then it is hard to see how ethnomethodology’s declaration o f independence from conventional sociology can be sustained.458 REVI EW A R T IC L E in relation to lay members’ understandings. test and improvement. common norms and values embodying the deterministic.14 Furthermore. but what is more relevant— and revealing— is that such a reply may be offered on tw o quite different bases. providing ‘a sense o f social structure’ . and that ethnomethodology itself represents a ‘paradigm shift* whereby a more valid definition o f the proper concerns and objectives o f sociological enquiry has been achieved. As Filmer puts it (F p. the argument that ethno­ methodology is unlikely to have a revolutionary impact may be taken into its exponents’ own camp by examining a crucial point o f division. The point relates to the ‘basic’ or ‘interpretive’ rules o f everyday interaction which play a central part in the ethnomethodological approach as the criteria or principles by reference to which members present and consider accounts as being rational and coherent. however. it may be held. For to say as Filmer does (ibid. conventions and the like. or at least o f uncertainty.12 IV In the foregoing. he contends that these rules are only established as what they are by their actual ability in organizing the settings o f everyday actions— which ability is in turn demon­ strated only by the rationality and coherence o f the accounts that members give. Thus. then serious contradictions become apparent within ethnomethodological writing on concept formation.) that the argument he presents has been ‘demonstrated quite explicitly’ by Garfinkel simply w ill not do. his ‘demonstrations’ in this connection are to be taken as no more than illustrative examples o f his thesis. to this end. Th is is the ‘reflexive’ and ‘incarnate* character o f the rules w h ich Garfinkel repeatedly emphasises as an awesom e and remarkable phenom ­ enon. thus. Filmer. and. in Cicourel’s phrase. and not as providing findings which can effectively substantiate it. in opposi­ tion to this view . In conclusion. O ne returns. As Garfinkel himself has— wisely— acknowledged. customs. Thus. to the point previously made that sociology can claim to be more than merely one folk construction among others— while being also distinguished b y the fact that its privileged position requires that whatever it offers as knowledge must be publicly available and always exposed to criticism. limiting conditions within which ordered social interaction is possible. fundamental.

the dependence o f ethnomethodo­ logical concerns on w hat must be the outcome o f other forms o f sociological enquiry. 95). . .17 Thus. ‘third w orld’ phenomena quite apart from ‘the occasions o f their use’ . absolutist (non-situational or non-contextual) th o u gh t is n o t the creation o f som e m ad scientist. willy-nilly. in a given situation. it can be said. and do. which participants bring to their interaction. substantive features. Moreover. o f course. they are intelligible. It is perhaps as a means o f avoiding this charge that the alternative position on basic rules o f interaction— that they are to be taken as ones o f interpretive procedure— gains its greatest attraction for ethnomethodologists. it must follow from Douglas’es stance that ‘third w orld’ entities are integrally involved in the study o f social interaction. . and w hy. the point is again underlined that ethnomethodo­ logical enquiry. Thus.’ (p. is prepared to accept. technical rationality) can. then. to quote Dreitzel. A fte r all. ‘I have no choice’) and rational absolutism (scientific method. and.) or as least ones o f ‘immense generality’ (p.15 a further pertinent question can be posed: W hat. economic. . to the extent that the rules by reference to which reality-construction proceeds are taken as substantive but.16 A nd what is further remarkable is that they pay little attention either to the ways— now increasingly explored— in which language and associated cognitive processes may be themselves conditioned by existing social relations o f advantage and power. Douglas argues (D p. in opposition to Garfinkel. more traditional. they also fail to enquire how . Douglas. in the tw o contributions to the Douglas collection co-authored by Zimmerman. rather than the former having any dependence on the latter. is incomplete in itself and not in­ tellectually viable in isolation from other. . Rules o f action such as moral or zweckrational imperatives can serve to structure particular situations for participants while existing independently o f those situations. D p. and what must here be stressed is that in so doing he also accepts. For instance. He then goes on to remark how both moral absolutism (‘It is a matter o f principle’. it is not simply that ethnomethodologists neglect questions o f how certain individuals come to be in certain situations in the first place. as cultural— that is.’ (Zimmerman and Pollner. ‘demands treating as problematic what in lay and professional sociological investigations alike is treated as a stable and unquestioned point o f departure. 99). political and symbolic. . Absolutist thought is afundamental part of Western thought— of moral thought and rational thought. as ‘not necessarily a free product o f the sub­ jectivity o f members in search for meaning’. understood in the manner in question. provide important rules o f action which are o f a clearly situation-transcending kind. the case for the separateness o f ethnomethodology from conventional sociology is closely linked with an insistence on the fact that ‘instead o f an ethnography that inventories a setting’s distinctive. the ethnomethodological perspective. 103). and the discovery o f the ‘basic rules’ o f interaction understood in this sense is then seen as the chief objective o f ethnomethodology. sociological concerns. The key assumption is that these practices display ‘invariant properties’ {ibid. its concerns and those o f con­ ventional sociology may readily be represented as quite distinct. to raise matters o f social advantage and power. underlying the communicative behaviour that goes on. that searches for the practices through which those substantive features are made observable. the research vehicle envisioned here is a methodography. situations may also be structured by the differential control over resources. for one. and is in fact to pinpoint other major difficulties in any purely ‘situational’ approach to inter­ action. and have to be understood.REVIEW A RT ICL E 459 as already observed. For example. Thus. the reality which is negotiated comes out the w ay it does and not otherwise? T o enquire thus is. the far more plausible view that situational determination is variable in its extent. with important implications for just what ‘sense o f social structure’ the members o f different groups and strata come to acquire. 39) that [A ] preponderant focus o n contextual effects tends to distort the realities o f eve ry d a y life . are the extra-situational influences that help determine what the rules ‘say’.

the discussions by Walsh o f ‘variable analysis’ (pp. For example. which was less deliberately distanced from ‘conventional’ sociology. for present purposes. O n the contrary. in their understanding o f ethnomethodology the interest in the ‘documentary method* o f interpretation— or. But what kind o f method. say. that the investigator’s constructs should be no more than constructs o f actors’ constructs. 41-55) and by Phillipson o f quantification (pp. ethnomethodologists would do well to remem­ ber that revolutions o f this kind are best discerned after— indeed. was explicitly intended to challenge. so oriented. In other words. the w ork o f Cicourel. reiterated throughout the Filmer volume— that actors* definitions o f the situation should be paramount. It should be evident. by Wilson. Glencoe: Free Press. and revise. it would seem most probable that any description and. Method and Measurement in Sociology. Harold Garfinkel and Harvey Sacks. for example. apparently more clearly than does W ilson himself (cf. one could say that i f ethnomethodology. too. one could add. and so on. Notes 1. and in terms which w ill be decidedly revelatory to him. ethology or neuro-physiology. H owever. that ethnomethodology. But such a lack o f consistency and clarity in viewpoint must make all talk o f a ‘paradigm shift’ seem quite absurdly pretentious. any explanation o f invariant features o f interaction w ill need to be through language other than that o f the everyday actor. then ‘interpretive’ methods can scarcely provide the appropriate means for so doing. . long after— the fact o f their occurrence. 97-100) are alike inadequate in that they are written without any attempt to take into account the contributions made by measurement theorists over the last half century or more. pp. D p. In any event. to proclaim one in the making is in itself to incite disbelief. for example. 2. Quite conceivably. In contrast.* (italics added). 1964. but as a method that members use in discovering and portraying orderly and connected events. 294).) Theoretical Sociology: Perspectives and Development. M cKinney and Edward A . one might then ask. for example. they see. See A .460 RE VI EW A RT I C L E O ne not unreasonable reaction to this position w ould be to ask what empirical or theoretical grounds exist for believing that other than trivial features o f social interaction are invariant to culture and can then constitute a subject matter for ethnomethodology thus conceived. A t very least. 32) that i f interpretive practices are to be opened up as a topic for investigation. especially. For as Zimmerman and W ieder make explicit (D p. the critique o f the philosophy and procedures o f conventional sociology that ethnomethodologists have offered and the alternatives they have proposed. That divergent and seemingly conflicting positions should be found among those w ho call themselves ethnomethodologists would be o f little consequence were the latter more ready to acknowledge the still highly inchoate nature o f the ideas and arguments which they present. 1970. that the remedying o f actors’ accounts should be minimal. the investi­ gation could lead— i f it led anywhere at all— not only out o f the field o f sociology itself but out o f that o f the social and human sciences generally and into. then this would seem to undermine. were to produce new foundations for sociology. the important point is that there seems no reason at all w hy whatever method is ultimately developed should conform to precepts o f the kind that are. I f ethnomethodo­ logical enquiry is to focus on interpretive practices o f the kind in question. in any form o f Verstehen— ‘is not in it as our method. attention may be directed to another problem. V . Tiryakian (eds. Cicourel. N e w Y o rk: Appleton-Century-Crofts. 78 and n. 345-6 esp. would be appropriate? O n this question one may find in ethnomethodological writing a frank recognition o f a problem still largely to be resolved. See. say. understood in the manner in question. or at least confuse. However. certain o f its basic presupposi­ tions. could not itself utilise the ‘interpretive paradigm* as advanced. these w ould appear far less likely to be o f a ‘phenomenological* than o f a quite strictly ‘positivistic* kind. ‘O n Formal Structures o f Prac­ tical Actions’ in John C .

on that central to the great debate in late nineteenth and earlier twentieth century Germany on the comparative methodologies o f Natur. the important postulate is that o f the ‘purity o f method’ : ‘choose the problem you are interested in. 1972. convergent perspectives o f Popper and Schiitz is o f particular interest. O xford: Clarendon Press. a theory also o f the measurement o f meaning. 23-27 esp. for example. London: Collier-M acM illan. its own— sociological— merits. C . Concepts and Society. It should. R. Indeed.) Methodology in Social Research.) Patterns o f Communicative Behaviour. 9. Jarvie. the system o f natural numbers may be regarded as a human invention.and Geisteswissenschqften. I f the latter fails. in the Filmer volum e there is remarkably little discussion o f symbolic interactionism. pp. 1968. w hom Walsh and his colleagues obviously take as a major source o f inspiration. D p. more generally. 5. It may be noted that Schiitz. in part. The error is w orrying in that it suggests ignorance o f the w ord’s etym ology w hich happens. see I. 10. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. 20. T o take Popper’s striking example. o f course. It is. and the idea o f a ‘true’ rate thus becomes problematic. it may be asserted that only some fraction o f all that knowing subjects could potentially know about ‘third w orld’ entities w ill in fact ever be known. M ax W eber’s Heidelberg. and thus an indefinite number o f discoveries about the system to be made. and having 11—(12 pp. As an example o f such ethnocentrism. K . 6. Most obviously. I have corrected Douglas’s mis-spelling here— as throughout— o f ‘solipsism’ . pp. and the attitude displayed towards it is uncertain (cf. 48-9. 3 and 4 esp. be added here that Cicourel’s w ork on the cognitive aspects o f social interaction and structure (continued in his paper in the Douglas collection) represents by far the most important contribution to sociological theory to have thus far emerged from the ethnomethodological ‘movement*. Douglas. then so too does the former. chs. however. then the former can be judged on. 11. 5 and 6 esp. It is in this connection. in addition to a sociological theory.REVIEW ARTIC LE 461 3. whereas to the extent that the latter holds up. 10-12. Blalock’s discussion o f ‘auxiliary theories’ in his paper ‘The Measurement Problem: A Gap between the Lan­ guages o f Theory and Research’ in Hubert M . i. 8. I am endebted to m y colleague Anthony Heath for drawing m y attention to this argument. yet it can be shown that there are infinitely many problems in the arithmetic o f integers. London: Routledge. as it were. 7. pp. 1970. Ethnomethodological criticism o f such data (cf.) . This actor’s dilemmas strike one as very American and contemporary: they w ould scarcely have arisen in. data in the constitution o f which interpretive judgments about actors’ motives and intentions are necessarily involved. Jarvie’s indication o f the. For a useful discussion o f some implications o f Popper’s ideas in this respect for the philosophy o f the social sciences. in this case. possible to think o f such explanations as embodying. pp. to be a good guide to its meaning. 127). moreover. the statistics o f social actions. See Objective Knowledge. that quantitative data o f a relatively ‘macro* character may be especially important. N e w Y o rk : M cGraw-Hill. 161. and Ann B . make its terms compatible and consistent w ith one another. say. consider its limits and possibilities. In other words. 1972. despite these entities being human constructions w ith no origins other than in human creativity. 118-9. In contrast.e. see Cicourel’s discussion o f the situation o f the ‘new faculty member’ in his ‘Basic and Norm ative Rules in the Negotiation o f Status and Role’ in Hans Peter Dreitzel (ed. 2. 6) fails because it is no more than an unjustified extension o f an argument that is cogent only in regard to ‘moral’ statistics or. chs. Blalock (eds. is quite explicit that much o f value may be achieved in the social sciences without introducing concepts that refer in any w ay to the actor and his subjective point o f view — provided that the investigator working in this w ay keeps in mind what he is about and does not ‘shift levels*. 4. C f. Popper.

Especially relevant to this problem area. x v et seq. Concepts and Society. if tendentious. review o f some o f the main issues. London: Routledge.A . as Mueller recognizes. 15. REVI EW A R T I C L E once accepted it. London 1956. University o f Leicester 1957-60. B . 390-95. bom 1935. Cambridge i960. The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. G o l d t h o r p e . see Claus Mueller. Part T w o . Nuffield College. ‘Introduction’. For a useful. 6-8.A . 1971. 1964. 1971 and vol. See his ‘Studies o f the Routine Grounds o f Everyday Activities’. ‘The Social W orld and the Theory o f Social Action* in Collected Papers. London: Allen Lane. 16. 2 esp. pp. is the w ork o f Basil Bernstein and his associates (see the papers collected in his Class. II. C f. vol. Editor Sociology 1969-72. 17. 14. See Peter L. The Social Construction of Reality. 2. vol. 1967. See Dreitzel’s ‘Introduction’ to the volume cited in n. The Hague: Martinus NijhofF. 6. ‘Notes on the Repression o f Communicative Behaviour’ in Dreitzel. W inter. stick to i t !’ Alfred Schiitz.. ch. pp. no. Social Problems. Compare in this respect the far more sophisticated treatment o f the processes w hereby ‘symbolic universes’ are maintained and controlled that is found in the ‘phenomenological’ sociology o f Berger and Luckmann. vo l. 3. pp. Official Fellow. Patterns o f Communicative Behaviour. Codes and Control. x v -x v i. Berger and Thomas Luckmann. K in g’s College. above. I. 1973). O xford 1969-. . N ote also the remarks by Dreitzel. Cambridge 1960-69. Fellow. Research Fellow. 1974. Y e t neither o f the volumes under review contains a single reference to Bernstein. ‘Introduction’.462 12. M . London: Heinemann. p. 13. Biographical note: J o h n H. xvii. pp. 170-2. and A lvin Gouldner.11. Jarvie. pp.