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Journal of Classical Sociology

Copyright The Author(s) 2009. Reprints and permissions: Vol 9(4): 500520
DOI: 10.1177/1468795X09344376

An Essay on Two Conceptions of

Social Order
Constitutive Orders of Action, Objects and Identities vs Aggregated
Orders of Individual Action


ABSTRACT I argue that there is a deep parallel between problems that John Rawls
(1955) argued had developed in moral philosophy as a result of not recognizing
the difference between two conceptions of rules, and problems that have developed
in sociology as a result of not recognizing that there are two conceptions of
social order. That most philosophers and sociologists have not appreciated this
problem does not weaken the importance of the argument. In fact, I think that
the misunderstandings which have resulted from lack of attention to constitutive
practices, with research and policy implications effecting social, legal and justice
issues in modern society, strengthen the original argument considerably.

KEYWORDS constitutive order, conversation analysis, ethics, ethnomethodology,

interaction, moral philosophy, ordinary language philosophy, theory, trust,

I argue in this paper that sociology and philosophy have both suffered from a
failure to distinguish between two very different conceptions of social order and
a corresponding failure to realize that the study of these has given rise to two dif-
ferent sociologies, with their own research methods and theoretical perspectives.
The argument runs along lines parallel to John Rawls argument in Two Concepts
of Rules (TC) (1955) that there are two different conceptions of rule at work in
moral and social reasoning.
Rawls argued that in at least some cases social practices organize social
action and that the conception of constitutive order and/or rules involved in such
cases is inconsistent with the dominant conception of social order as an artifact of
individual behavior over time, which he called the summary rule view. Therefore,
it is a mistake for moral philosophers to treat a summary rule view of social order
as if it could be applied to all aspects of order or to all moral questions. On this
view, he said, a society of rational utilitarians would be a society without rules
in which each person applied the utilitarian principle directly and smoothly, and
without error, case by case (1955: 23). This, he argues, is not possible. Consti-
tutive practices are required to facilitate coordination in at least some important
types of activity. Therefore, proceeding as if there were only one kind of order and
one kind of rule, according to Rawls, and [a]rguing as if one regarded rules in this
way is a mistake one makes while doing philosophy (1955: 23).1
The consequences for both philosophy and sociology of the idea that
constitutive rules lie at the foundation of essential social processes are important and
should be taken seriously. Recognizing the existence of constitutive social orders
would limit the applicability of utilitarian and or rational choice considerations to
only certain areas of sociological analysis.2 Seeing the difference between the order
properties of constitutive practices in institutional contexts and their ordered
character in ordinary interaction would clarify problems related to the assump-
tion that formal institutions (such as legal contexts, see Cicourel, this volume)
are organized by rules. Full recognition of that branch of sociology which has
been documenting and analyzing constitutive orders for the last sixty years would
radically alter the general perception of what is important in sociology. Further-
more, the order properties of the two conceptions of social order are evident in
entirely different ways and require different modes of observation and analysis.
Without a clear distinction between the two conceptions of order, and a clear
understanding of their relevant domains of application, serious muddles will
continue to beset sociology and philosophy.
This paper will: (1) consider divisions within sociology as a discipline
from the perspective of two conceptions of social order; (2) examine two missed
opportunities and one new possibility for a rapprochement between philosophy
and sociology, and within sociology, on these issues; and finally (3) consider
the implications of the idea that constitutive orders are foundational for a more
general theory of social order.

Sociology Viewed in Terms of Two Conceptions

of Order
Since the 1960s, sociology has been a deeply divided and embattled discipline.
Popular attempts to explain the divisions turn on the idea that there are different
schools and approaches to the study of the same social phenomena of order and
it has been generally accepted that different approaches to sociology occupy places
on a continuum between extremes of micro vs macro, qualitative vs quantitative
and interaction vs structure. But the explanation is unsatisfactory. These divisions
involve more than one conception of social order each with its own distinctive


social phenomena. The prevailing tendency to treat the two conceptions of order
as if they were arguing about the same social phenomena not only obscures
important differences between them reifying the social phenomena involved
but also makes those sociologists who focus on what is popularly considered
the micro-qualitative-interactional end of the spectrum look silly. This has been
Rawls argued in TC that the widespread application of utilitarian con-
siderations to any and all issues in moral philosophy had resulted in obscuring
essential domains of social action from view domains resting on preexisting
constitutive practices. This was a serious problem when dealing with actions
within a constitutive practice, because the obligations of practice and the objects,
identities and social relations that the practices constitute need to be taken into
account before individual action, let alone utility, even makes sense. Furthermore,
according to Rawls, the tendency to overlook this was not only leading people
to arrive at the wrong answers to moral questions, but also obscuring the very
existence of constitutive orders. Since these orders are foundational, and need to
be taken into consideration before utilitarian concerns with regard to individual
cases are heard, this is a serious problem. It was Rawls position that applying
utility in what he argued was the wrong way obscured the fact that there was an
alternative. Ironically, therefore, making this mistake had the result of making the
mistake itself look correct.
I argue that the same problem has occurred in sociology. A summary rule
sociology based on aggregated measures of how individuals orient toward goals
and values has claimed center stage. It has the same tendency to obscure the
alternative view and the same tendency to reify its own correctness as applying
considerations of utility the wrong way had on moral philosophy. As a conse-
quence, philosophers and sociologists alike proceed on the assumption that all
social orders (or at least the important ones) are of the aggregated summary
rule kind.
Given this tendency of the more popular philosophical and sociological
approaches to obscure alternatives, Rawls made an important contribution to the
development of both disciplines in pointing out the existence and foundational
character of a second type of social order: constitutive orders and their corresponding
rules. While we would now likely want to modify the idea of rule a bit to an
idea of constitutive practices as recognized in their details the point remains
essentially the same. Summary rules consist of loose descriptions of past behavior
trends Bell Curves in current terms.3 By contrast, constitutive rules are the
performative criteria that enable the existence of identities, objects and actions
as in games, for instance, but also in essential areas of everyday life, including com-
munication: talk. Without a foundational order of mutual intelligibility there can
be no social action or order at all. For Rawls, it is only because it can be said that
there are two different kinds of social order that his argument that two different
kinds of moral reasoning are required can be made. He is quite clear in making


this sociological point. It also follows that two different conceptions of order
require two different types of analysis and different research approaches, and this
has important implications for sociology.
Divisions in the discipline of sociology might best be understood in this
way. The big differences are not between views of social order which take different
approaches to the same social phenomena. The two domains of social order
are inherently different. One of the two approaches the mainstream approach
which I will refer to as summary rule or aggregate (AG) sociology4 proceeds
as if this difference did not exist and treats all social orders as resulting from the
same basic process of individuals more or less conforming to social constraints of
various sorts. The famous Bell Curve results from the predictability of the more
or less character of this individual compliance. In the AG case, social order comes
after individual action, and can only be measured as patterns of action usually
statistical which is doubly seductive since it appeals to the current almost
mystical belief that numbers are more scientific than words.
The other approach assumes that constitutive orders are pervasive and
important and consequently that the two sociologies have entirely different social
phenomena in view. This second approach takes the position that constitutive
rules, or expectancies, precede and define domains of action, and sets out to
document them in detail. It also examines the difference between ordinary
action within constitutive practices and the transformations of practice which
occur when action takes place in bureaucratic and institutional contexts. Because
constitutive practices come before individual choice and/or action, the primary
phenomena on this conception are ordered and social, not individual, rational or
choice.5 This argument with regard to constitutive rules roughly characterizes the
work of Harold Garfinkel, Erving Goffman, Harvey Sacks and those working in
the domains they carved out ethnomethodology (EM), the study of interaction
orders (IO), and conversation analysis (CA) since the mid-twentieth century.
As in the case of moral philosophy, taking the first, summary rule, or AG,
view of social order elevates considerations of individual choice and motivation
to a position of undeserved prominence, while it also has the tendency to hide
constitutive orders (CO) from view. As a consequence, sociology in recent years
has seen the expansion of rational choice considerations and the increasing
dominance of statistical methods in all domains of sociological research. The
warning should be the same as for moral philosophy. Considerations of utility, or
rational choice, no matter how they are framed, along with any order properties
resulting from aggregation, are not the relevant considerations for understanding,
explaining, judging or choosing between individual actions within constitutive
domains of social action.
The work of people like Anthony Giddens (1982), which has sought to
bring the contributions of Garfinkel and Goffman into the fold by treating their
arguments as a focus on social behaviors that can be seen as ordered through
a process of routinization over time, have greatly exacerbated the problem.


Ironically, the result is that through Giddens appreciation of Garfinkel and
Goffman, the AG view gained even more power to obscure an understanding of
the real issues at hand. This is the case also with the reigning dichotomies between:
micro/macro, qualitative/quantitative and interactionism/structuralism, which
only add to the confusion, as they reify the belief in a continuum of approaches
within a single set of basic assumptions or a single view of social order. Nothing
could be farther from the case.6 These dichotomies also reify the idea that the
discipline is paying equal attention to both sides when in actuality most micro
studies that are published are based on aggregated data, as are most qualitative
studies, while most published studies of interaction focus on considerations of
individual motivation, demographics or the negotiation of power relations, none
of which are relevant to an understanding of constitutive practices.
What has been going on in sociology, at least since the late 1950s, is
that because of the failure to distinguish between two different forms of social
order, CO have been hidden from view. It is no coincidence, then, that those
sociologists who have understood that at least some very important social orders
are constitutive in character and cannot be specified by statistics have been
interested in the argument of TC. Those interested in Garfinkel, Goffman and
Sacks in particular have been arguing that their domain of study is not only
properly sociological, exploring the parameters of essential social phenomena, but
that CO are first-order social phenomena, while the more popular AG phenomena
are only second-order, and that major changes in sociological theory and method
will be required to accommodate this idea.
Instead of taking these arguments seriously, mainstream sociologists have
been willing only to tolerate these researches in the way one tolerates a strange
relative while steadfastly insisting on slotting them in under an umbrella defined
by mainstream theory and methods: refusing to take them seriously in their own
right. The AG idea is that what CO researchers look at are just smaller things,
but of the same social type. Their findings are allowed no theoretical significance
of their own and they are constantly called to task for not addressing issues of
variable distribution, motivation and generalizability.7

Two Missed Opportunities and One New

Possibility for Rapprochement
This long-protracted misunderstanding which has cost the discipline so much in
terms of both lost research and lost careers is not only mistaken, but unnecessary.
There was an important moment between 1940 and the late 1960s when
sociologists who considered constitutive orders of interaction to stand at the heart
of essential sociological questions and philosophers who considered the logics of
ordinary language use to stand at the heart of essential philosophical questions
began to converge on the consideration of important issues. Quite independently,
and from entirely different directions, philosophers of language and sociologists


of interaction developed ideas of performative acts, constitutive use conditions
and the social constitution of objects and identities. In sociology this development
had roots going back at least to the 1930s in the work of Florian Znianiecki and
C. Wright Mills (and possibly earlier in Durkheim). In philosophy it began with
Wittgenstein and John Austin also in the 1930s (although, again, Wittgensteins
ideas had their beginnings in early discussions with Russell before World War I).
Approaching the idea that there is a class of acts whose existence is defined by
constitutive social performance criteria albeit from different directions there
was much of importance that the two approaches could have said to one another.
Use or performance criteria have an obvious social dimension, while the logical
implications of their existence call for a more philosophically oriented sociology,
albeit in a Wittgensteinian sense. Unfortunately, the potential of that moment
passed without any meaningful dialogue between the two perspectives.8 In fact, on
closer examination (below), there was a great deal of acrimony, particularly over
the idea of empirical.
There have been other missed opportunities. One important missed oppor-
tunity occurred in the 1960s within sociology. It began with a collaboration
between the four sociological giants of the day who were at the time meeting to
discuss the idea of constitutive orders and its implications for sociology. In a series
of meetings between 1959 and 1964, Garfinkel and Sacks focused on the consti-
tutive character of action and communication, while Goffman and Parsons oriented
toward shaping those considerations into a more general theory of society. If they
had been able to complete their work, we might have a better understanding of
why sociology and related disciplines like criminology are so deeply divided over
foundational issues and so unsatisfactory and even contradictory theoretically.
Finally, there is a new opportunity emerging for a convergence of ideas in
Paris, where sociologists and philosophers are for the first time taking up these
ideas in sustained discussion together. That the sociologists involved have serious
interests in Goffman and Garfinkel, while the philosophers have deep interests in
Wittgenstein and the pragmatics of language, is very promising. I will take these
three one at a time.

Ordinary Language Philosophy and CO Sociology Fail to

There were a number of reasons for the failure of philosophers of language and
sociologists of interaction to appreciate and cultivate their mutual concerns in
the 1960s not least of which was the confusion of an approach to social action
(interaction) as a constitutive production involving performance criteria with an
approach to social order based on norms and aggregates of individual actions. To
complicate matters, the philosophers, who were pursuing a branch of philosophy
carved out by Wittgenstein and Austin (philosophy of language and ordinary


language philosophy for simplicity I will refer to both here as OLP), enjoyed
serious differences of their own. The same was true for sociologists following
Garfinkel, Goffman and Sacks (working in EM, IO and CA).
Even though philosophers of language and sociologists of constitutive
practice insisted on their distinctiveness within their own disciplines, there
was, nevertheless, a tendency on both sides to confuse their philosophical or
sociological counterpart with the whole of the discipline in question. As a
consequence, sociologists of interactional practice who eschewed theory and
insisted on empirical evidence thought of philosophers as inherently theoretical.
The tendency of OLP to work entirely from armchair examples did not help.
Philosophers tended (and still tend) to consider social or empirical details to be
merely contingent and thus unsuitable for the sort of general/logical arguments
they are trying to make, missing entirely the fact that for Garfinkel, Goffman
and Sacks empirical details related directly to the performed details of the consti-
tutive requirements (rules) of practices. Like Austin and Wittgenstein, they were
engaged in exploring the use boundaries of ordinary talk and performative action
through an examination of failures and corrections, of what counts and what
does not count as a particular something in a given sequence of situated practice.
They were not computing averages or Bell Curves, but rather honing in on per-
formative expectations. The big difference was that they used actual examples and
consequently achieved very different results.
In confusing an approach to social action (interaction) as a constitutive
production in the context of performance criteria with the widespread mainstream
AG approach to social order which derives order from aggregated measures of
individual orientations toward norms and values polls or polling as Paul
Grice (1989) referred to it OLP found nothing to appreciate. In the 1960s, the
situation was exacerbated by a sociological attack on OLP spearheaded by Ernst
Gellner (1959), from an aggregate polling perspective. Grices response, char-
acteristic of OLP in general, was that polling had nothing to contribute to their
arguments. He was right about polling. But an empirical study of constitutive
performance criteria observational and based on the socio-logics of performance
would have been more than relevant. Unfortunately, the idea that there are two
different senses of empirical, belonging to the two different conceptions of
sociology and social order, never made its way into philosophy.9

AG Sociology Interferes with the Development of

Social Theory
This attack on OLP by representatives of an aggregate approach to social order
was not a unique occurrence. It reflected a sustained effort beginning in the late
1950s by advocates of AG to attack anyone who maintained a research interest
in inherent, logical, constitutive orders and who took the obvious non-AG


single case approach to examining these. These efforts to discredit opponents were
quite outrageous and consisted among other things of taking the opportunity
in presidential addresses of the American Sociological Association (which are
automatically published in the American Sociological Review) to castigate those
with serious interests in interaction, using language more evocative of Cotton
Mather preaching against witchcraft in the 1600s than of academic argument
in the twentieth century. Ironically, for the post-structural movement against
Parsons that was soon to come Parsons along with Garfinkel, Goffman and Sacks
was a focus of these attacks. What most people dont know is that Parsons was at
the time collaborating with Garfinkel (his former graduate student at Harvard),
with Goffman and with Harvey Sacks (their student and colleague) in a series of
meetings in California.
The four discussed important issues. They discussed the socially constituted
character of crime, deviance, suicide and social objects generally. Garfinkel
drafted a book on criminology. They discussed the relationship between concepts
and words, Parsons, Garfinkel and Sacks more often opting for the constitutive
and sequential view, while Goffman tended to insist on some connection to an
underlying logical or cognitive view. In collaborating together on research at the
Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, they spent long days discussing suicide
in all of its sociological ramifications. In what way could suicide be said to be a
social act? How could one attribute motivation? How did the act have meaning?
How did these research issues reflect on an understanding of sociological questions
generally? Throughout the discussions these four great thinkers were remarkably
patient with one another. They often took the positions one might expect:
Garfinkel asking how something was constituted, Parsons weaving implications,
while Goffman searched for conceptual grounding. Sacks would ask from time to
time just exactly how something worked. What exactly did the thing they were
talking about look like? Thus, bringing to the attention of the others conceptual
leaps they had made away from the empirical. At other times, however, the
positions would reverse, and Parsons would explain Sacks or Garfinkels position
to Goffman or Sacks would explain Parsons position to the others, and so on.
Shortly after these meetings, Parsons position succumbed to criticisms
from all sides quickly followed by attacks on Goffman, Garfinkel and Sacks.
Thus, this very promising collaboration came to an end as each of these most
important scholars of the day became the focus of attacks by the leaders of the
AG approach a kind of sociological inquisition. It was the pleasure of the inqui-
sitors instead of working up a consistent sociology of their own to proceed
by chipping away at those who were working together to put a very complicated
whole picture together: not only damaging them individually,10 but also, by pitting
their positions against one another, making the collaboration itself appear to be
impossible. In the process, not only was the synthesis their collaborative work
might have achieved lost, but even the knowledge that they had collaborated.11


Communication between OLP and CO Sociology in Paris
Now in 2009 especially in France a third possible point of convergence
seems to have arrived, at a time when the flirtation with pragmatism has taken
philosophy once again into serious consideration of the pragmatics (socio-logics)
of ordinary talk and action. In France this has involved collaboration between
philosophers and sociologists in a serious joint consideration of the relevance of
Goffman and Garfinkel to OLP (see the paper by Albert Ogien in this volume).
My own participation in some of these meetings and with participants since 2003
has brought me back into contact with philosophers with whom I had almost
given up having any serious conversation. A recent conference on Goffman in
Amiens, France, organized by the French philosopher Sandra Laugier is a case in
point. Rod Watson is also a frequent participant at meetings and seminars in Paris,
and a very early version of his paper for this volume was originally presented there
in French. Ironically, as American philosophers with interests in Wittgenstein,
like Juliet Floyd, are more popular in Paris than in the US, trips to Paris are
also beginning to facilitate an engagement between American philosophers and
sociologists that hopefully will continue.
The causes of the original problem still remain, however, as does the divide
between sociology and philosophy which must be bridged. Sociologists in Paris
are still looking for a common ground on which to talk about sociological issues
with philosophers. Although the interest in Goffman provides an immediate point
of contact between the two, Goffmans appeal to philosophers has a good deal
to do with his preoccupations with self which have a direct appeal to a kind of
pragmatism. It is a promising beginning, but agreement on the proposition that
Goffman was dealing with constitutive orders interaction orders and that
constitutive orders will be the key to a meaningful dialogue between the two
disciplines has yet to be achieved.
I believe that the recognition of two different forms of social order one
constitutive and one AG is the only remedy. Performative, or constitutive, acts
create objects that are entirely social in character (such as second base, questions,
pre-requests and marriages). Pragmatism without constitutive practices cannot
deal adequately with these. Furthermore, in a modern world not based on shared
belief, such constitutive orders are becoming increasingly important as Durkheim
had argued in 1893 they would (Durkheim, 1933[1893]). Within constitutive
orders of practice, objects exist only when, and as, participants in situated prac-
tices, adhering to constitutive expectations that are shared, perform such acts, in
such a way that other participants in the same situated practice recognize their
performances as social objects of a particular sort. The existence of the objects is
not only performative (and must meet performative criteria), it is also reciprocal
requiring mutual cooperation in, commitment to and confirmation of practices
that exist independently from individuals and in advance of action. A single actor
cannot claim the mutual intelligibility of objects if they are the only one who is


committed to a practice. With regard to such constitutive objects, the essential
questions are different than they are for natural objects, because there are no
real things in the world corresponding to them.12 They are the real things in
the world. Social objects are made to exist in and through the talk (and action)
that enacts them questions of reference and correspondence, or realism and
idealism, do not apply to them. The argument that the existence of such objects,
and the constitutive practices that sustain them, makes a difference for the way we
approach basic questions of justice, truth and meaning has been pursued by both
philosophers and sociologists since the late nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, in both cases, the inquiries involved have either remained
at the margins of their disciplines, or been seriously misunderstood, and the
domain of inquiry they define remains in jeopardy. This creates difficulties in
understanding things like, for instance, crime statistics which are (at least in the
US) an artifact of police work as a practice (assuming of course that we dont start
counting something else and calling that crime statistics). If the police do their
work, there will be crime statistics. If they dont do their work, then there will be
no crime statistics. How they do their work creates particular statistics. All of this
is independent of actual crime in the world. Furthermore, because in times of low
actual crime the police are still expected to work, they will continue to generate
crime statistics. And because in times of high actual crime they are too busy to
attend to minor problems, crime statistics as an artifact of police practice remain
fairly stable. We really have no idea what happens with actual crime in the world.13
AG causal explanations of crime are attempts to explain something which is an
artifact of police practices, as if it were caused by civilians. This is the kind of
mistake in reasoning that Rawls was pointing out in TC. In this case, however, it
is a mistake one makes while doing sociology. Researchers like Peter K. Manning
(this volume) who have devoted their careers to documenting the importance of
police practices in generating the artifacts we take to be real have been much
misunderstood. That crime statistics are an artifact of police work is a simple and
obvious fact. But it seems to threaten the very fabric of what we take for granted,
much like Galileo arguing that the world is not flat. And AG criminology, like
the medieval church, continues to proceed as usual essentially explaining police
practices (for example, crime rates) as the direct result of the individual behavior
of citizens a huge fallacy of misplaced reasoning.
This continued failure to distinguish between two different social orders,
two different sociologies and two different philosophies has another curious echo
in the argument of TC. Rawls asked: But, can it really be this simple? (1955: 7).
The answers, I think, are Yes and No. Yes it is that simple. But no, making
the argument has not achieved a simple solution because most people are either
unable or unwilling to accept the idea of constitutive practices. Whether this is
because they are too deeply committed to an alternative idea, or whether the
ideas of individualism and individual choice are just so deeply embedded in
the modern psyche that they cant be accepted as second-order phenomena,


I am not in a position to say. The point is that the argument has been made and
well made more than once. But it has rarely been understood, and adherents of
AG have proved themselves prepared to go to great lengths to prevent the idea
getting across.

Constitutive Orders and Social Contract

The idea behind the constitutive order approach is that in order to live in a
mutually intelligible world as social beings, with mutually intelligible social
identities, reasons and purposes, people must be guided by some set of rules,
expectations or preferred orders of action at a basic level. In other words, there
must be something like what Rousseau called a social contract, at least with
regard to constitutive practices. The problem that social theories have appeared
to face since the early twentieth century is that social orders seem no longer to
be guided by contracts, traditional values or agreements, so that this requirement
seemed to have died along with the societies of the past. In the absence of a
general social agreement, there has been a tendency to see society as fragmented
and disordered, and to believe that freedom and change have come as a result of
this fragmentation. The general view that results is one in which individual social
agents must fight against a coercive society that gives little or nothing in return
(beyond a kind of general security at the best of times). This view also suggests
that rules are the source of coercion and that individuals must resist rules in order
to gain freedom which makes motives for compliance with rules an issue. While
this may hold for some formal institutional rules and political relations, it is not
true of ordinary situated practices in modern societies.14
This way of thinking about social order, freedom and moral and rational
intelligibility as requiring rebellion against social order at all levels has been one
of the great problems of our time. If we want to subscribe to the idea of a crisis
in sociology, then I suggest that the crisis consists in large part of limitations
in the way we have conceived of social order. Yes, the world has changed, and
changed radically. But these changes were anticipated by nineteenth-century
theorists, and new practices have developed to facilitate the changes. It has been
in misunderstanding the warnings of Durkheim in particular, and overlooking the
call to think about social order differently, that we have come mistakenly to see
ourselves as caught inexorably in the circularities of a world without a center and
social events without mutually available meaning.
What Durkheim was urging his contemporaries to see when he wrote The
Division of Labor in 1893 (Durkheim, 1933[1893]) was that the old form of social
order was gone, but that this did not present a problem, but rather an opportunity.
With the center gone, practices would take up the slack. These practices were also
to be the focus of the new discipline of sociology that he advocated. Durkheim
warned against a strong tendency toward nostalgia for the past which had come
to dominate sociology through the influence of Comte, and argued that the


social orders of the new age would take an entirely new form: he referred to these
practices as self-regulating. These practices are no longer comprised of shared
values, and no longer require boundaries to be drawn between insiders and
outsiders. They are not coercive. The one requirement because participation
in a society based on a reciprocal commitment to situated constitutive practices
only works if participation is voluntary and egalitarian is justice. Participants
who are not sufficiently equal cannot participate in constitutive practices without
damage to the practice and themselves. This is an issue that Goffman noted and
which troubled him. It has also been a focus of my own research on interaction
between people socially identified as belonging to different races (A. Rawls, 2000;
A. Rawls and David, 2006). Durkheims point was that self-regulating practices
require actual conditions of justice and the equality necessary to make voluntary
and reciprocal participation in self-regulating practices possible for all.
Curiously, Durkheim has been interpreted as having argued the opposite,
as having been nostalgic for the past, and his self-regulating practices are unfortu-
nately equated with formal institutions. Famous writers throughout the twentieth
century and beyond have portrayed him as maintaining that shared values and
traditional institutional structures are necessary for social order, and that when
they fail the result is anomie and loss of moral centering a conservative position.
This misunderstanding continues to be consequential.
It has been our curious refusal to re-conceptualize the social as it changed
that has left us believing that we have no moral center. Yet, we continue to talk,
make sense, reason, argue and live socially identified lives in more or less consistent
ways. If it is necessary to follow rules, or engage in constitutive practices, in order
to do these things, then we are manifestly still following rules. If it is correct that
the old cultural and societal structures have broken down and I believe that to
a large extent that is correct then what we have needed to do is think about
different ways in which rules are being institutionalized, and different ways in
which following something like rules together can be conceptualized. In con-
ceptualizing these social processes, Durkheim wrote about scientific practices;
Wittgenstein about language games; Austin focused on performative utterances
which he claimed were at the heart of Aristotles politics; Parsons wrote about the
sociality of professions; Garfinkel gave us constitutive expectancies and trust;
Goffman the idea of a working consensus, interaction orders and presentation
of self; and Sacks turn-taking and preference orders.
If rules belong to situated practices of these kinds, and not to social
structures in the old sense, then participants in choosing to participate are
also choosing the sets of rules (or constitutive expectations) that they will/must
use/orient in enacting that participation intelligibly. Once having chosen to
participate, they also become committed to those practices. Here we no longer
have individuals pitted against rules and freedom as something that comes from
breaking and resisting rules. Now we have rules (and sets of rules) as the factor
that enables people to participate meaningfully with one another. Rules in this


sense facilitate the sociality that stands under and makes possible human reason,
identity and morality.
This is the social that stood at the heart of Rousseaus Social Contract: the
social without which persons would not be recognizably human, and on the basis
of which he argued that morality and mutual intelligibility come into being for
the first time. It is this argument that led Durkheim to call Rousseau a sociologist.
This is also the social that stands at the heart of J.S. Mills utilitarianism: the basic
need for social connection that motivates his idea of a general good, not the more
popular idea of maximizing utility for the greatest number which belongs rather
to his father and Bentham. Mill was influenced by Saint-Simon and Comte and
his early contact with sociology had an impact on the development of his ideas
(see Mill [1866] on Comte). That Mill eventually abandoned sociology, seeking a
resolution within philosophy alone, I attribute to Comtes failure to look forward
to practices, rather than backward toward shared beliefs.
In criticizing the broad application of utilitarian concerns in TC, Rawls
was continuing a long sociological tradition, albeit unremarked. In Durkheims
critique of utility, he argued that it is not possible to adequately account for the
necessity of a foundational sociality if one assumes that individual human socially
identified beings just exist and that is what philosophers (and sociologists)
since Mill have usually done. Of course, individual biological beings exist. But,
as Rousseau was the first to argue, social relations create and transform biological
beings into social beings, with social reason and social morality. Rawls restored
the missing social ingredient to moral philosophy. Ironically, the task remains
to effectively restore the social to sociology and to the interpretation of classical
sociological texts.

Implications for a Re-Reading of Social Theory

The prevailing interpretation of the sociological classics, and of Durkheim in
particular, as if they had equated social order with traditional and coercive
institutions leaving out social interaction and social practices has been evident
from the beginning. But this view was not fully developed until after the Second
World War, and its ascension is related to the struggles at mid-century in which
AG sociology eclipsed the development of a sociology of constitutive practice.
Textbooks often explain the coming into prominence of AG sociology in the
1950s as a transition in which the Columbia School replaced the Chicago School
as the dominant sociological perspective. But much more was involved.
Parsons, for instance (writing in the late 1930s), was clear that sociality
existed at several levels quite independently and later spoke in his meetings
with Goffman, Garfinkel and Sacks of money as being like a conversation, requiring
exchange to have value. C. Wright Mills (writing in 193940) argued that in
place of institutional rules, which he said could not be followed, vocabularies of
motive belonging to specific worksites played an essential role in organizing what


workers did. Wittgenstein (also in the 1930s) wrote about language games and
Austin wrote about performatives. Garfinkel wrote about the role accounts played
in achieving racism on buses (1941) and in courtrooms (1949 [1942]), while at
the same time rendering it invisible. Sociology and philosophy before the Second
World War were interesting.
After the war the situation changed rapidly. According to Garfinkel, the
war had the effect of elevating a statistical view of social order, something he
noticed in 1947 when he got to Harvard. What politicians and policy makers
wanted was knowledge with military utility. They wanted to know about AG
orders: how many bushels of corn ten men can move in one day; how much food
or ammunition will be required to supply a certain population; under what con-
ditions people will rebel; under what conditions a family destabilizes; what the
demographic factors are influencing each of these; what causes crime; and so on.
These concerns supported a rapid rise to dominance of AG in postwar sociology.
For some reason the essential role played in all of these activities by com-
municative practices, constitutive orders, went unrecognized. To address this issue,
in the 1940s Garfinkel authored several research reports on how communicative
issues effect military organization. One report addressed leadership issues, and one
patient processing at an Army hospital (reproduced in Garfinkel, 2008[1952]). In
both he was able to show that aspects of commitment to, and coordination of,
work practices had an effect on the work involved that the military would benefit
from taking into account.
The effort to document the constitutive practices involved in essential
workplace activities continues in the work of Christian Heath and colleagues in
London, Lucy Suchman and colleagues at Lancaster, Wes Sharrock and colleagues
at Manchester, Jack and Marilyn Whalen and colleagues at Parc US, Richard
Harper and colleagues at Microsoft UK, and myself and colleagues at Bentley
University. Sometimes known as workplace studies, these research efforts have
documented constitutive practices that are essential to high-tech work and human
machine interaction. While it was somehow possible for the military to take for
granted the constitutive orders on which its smooth working rested in the 1940s,
by 2009 the forms of communication involved in high-tech work have become
so complex that their constitutive foundations can no longer be taken for granted
(see A. Rawls, 2008; A. Rawls et al., 2009).
The effort to work out the dynamics of social orders (or mutual intelli-
gibilities) based on something like rules (or situated expectations) continued
immediately after the Second World War largely in the work of Garfinkel, and
Goffman, and some Chicago School ethnographers and sociologists of work and
labor like Everett Hughes and Don Roy. Goffman, at Chicago, from the early
1950s focused on the situated performative requirements underpinning self (and
the IO social contract, or working consensus, required to sustain them), while
Garfinkel at Harvard from 1948 focused on the larger idea of mutual intelligibility,
and the sort of social contract (trust conditions) and constitutive character that it


required. Sacks, in the early 1960s, worked with both to develop CA and the idea
of preference orders and membership categories.
All of this is to say that we have never been without a way of thinking about
the new forms that social order has taken: the situated constitutive-rule-based
forms of social order that bind us together reasonably, morally and intelligibly in
the twenty-first century. But because of a concerted refusal to question the idea
that large-scale structures and shared beliefs are the source of social order (just
because they are the source of power, coercion and inequality), there has been at
worst a concerted attack, and at best benign neglect by the discipline of sociology
of those who have offered these ideas; similar to the attitude toward Wittgenstein
and Austin and beginning at the same time.
If we would consider that accepting the idea that situated practices have
an order all their own does not deny that social structures are coercive, we
would gain much. But we would also need to accept that looking at the coercive
aspects of social structure reveals nothing about constitutive practices. In fact,
as long as we continue to assume that we must invest large-scale structures with
the guardianship of any possible meaningful consistency in human life, we will
not only fail to understand that consistency, but, it seems clear, we will be very
conflicted in our attempts to resist such structures. And, as long as we continue to
see our role as agents as somehow independent from the social orders which we
use to give ourselves identity and constitute the objects and meanings we share,
we will remain confused.
However, if the sociality that invests human life with meaning is situated,
constitutive and ordered, then there is a center for the production of both agency
and meaning from which any number of assaults on the power structure could
be launched if one so desired. On this view, the alleged failure of nation states,
or unified social systems, is not a crisis, or at least not the crisis for the moral
and rational being of humans that many believe it is. We make ourselves and
our rationality in contexts of constitutive situated orders, not societal orders
and if Durkheim is right, we have done so ever since the advent of modern
communication and exchange made the world a much smaller place, making it
impossible to maintain the sort of social distance necessary for old-style social
orders to maintain themselves.
Instead of being nostalgic for traditional forms of order, we could take
modernity as an opportunity. Old-style orders were limited in the morality they
could achieve (although their need to persist over centuries also tended to limit
the inequalities they inflicted). New-style orders based on constitutive practices,
by contrast, can deliver enormous freedom and equality. However, we should
remember Durkheims warning, somehow missed, that these practices only work
in a context in which justice has been achieved. When it has not been achieved
and we have not achieved it the level of inequality can far exceed anything in a
traditional society. Durkheim was concerned that unless justice is achieved quickly
this wonderful modern experiment, in which situated social contracts and practices


promise to liberate human beings and offer them the possibility of freedom as a
precondition for their form of social order, will fail. In his chapters on Abnormal
Forms in The Division of Labor (1933 [1893]) he detailed the ways in which this
might indeed be occurring and what steps needed to be taken to prevent it.
If the key to everything lies in the small-scale social contracts that people
are managing to maintain which Rousseau, Kant, Mill and Durkheim pointed
us toward then our refusal to take seriously the intellectual proposition that
constitutive practices exist; that a sociology of situated constitutive practices is
important; and that the social contract that stands behind constitutive practices
the trust requirement that makes human intelligibility, reason and justice possible
is a social contract for modern times, will have been the greatest problem of all.

Wittgenstein and OLP did a great deal of important work to establish the idea
of constitutive practices, clearing the ground, so to speak, and showing that use
considerations challenge accounts of language and practice that consider it in
isolation from the interpersonal pragmatics of actual occasions of speech. One
of the things that OLP was criticized for was not dealing with the big questions.
This was an oversight. The questions are big. In 1939 Austin (1961) used the idea
that a practice cricket constitutes its objects, in discussing Aristotles use of the
word happiness in two different papers, pointing out that for Aristotle happiness
was one of those ideas that is defined by a practice. This way of approaching
Aristotle could have been revolutionary, and still remains to be appreciated.
However, differences in approach, and in assumptions about the social and
empirical, prevented OLP and CO sociology EM and CA in particular from
pooling their results/resources. I used to think that Austin was wrong because he
missed things which he did. But now I think it is more important to see that
Austin, along with Wittgenstein, blazed a path and that the limitations dont
invalidate all the things he was able to show. For instance, in Ifs and Cans, Austin
(1961) points out uses of if that are not conditional such as I paid you back
yesterday if you remember and uses of can that are conditional. Although taking
sequential relations into account could change when an if is actually working as
a conditional, and it could add other sequentially implicative uses, nevertheless,
I believe Austin is correct that, in the cases he gives, ifs and cans are not playing
their logical roles, but rather uses designated by performative requirements, or
what Grice (1989) called the pragmatics of conversation.
The sociology of constitutive orders has documented something like
Grices pragmatics, but in much more detail. CA has also shown that any such
pragmatics needs to be more deeply embedded in situated orders, taking sequential
relations into account. There are performative requirements associated with turns
and sequential orders, and also social relations built into categories (membership


categorization devices). Neither of these dimensions of talk can be adequately
explored by making up examples. They are largely counter-intuitive, even though
they characterize most talk everywhere. Not recognizing that there could be
something like these constitutive organizing devices for talk, Austin, Searle and
others continued trying to build meaning into words, sentences and performative
criteria. Recorded data allow researchers to see that and how meaning is achieved
through much more variably ordered relations between parts, rather than needing
to be packaged into the units.
Even though, working only with hypothetical examples, OLP were able
to demonstrate some important performative and social aspects of meaning, the
generally deplorable state of social science methods (AG) and the unfortunate
social science attack on OLP (which paralleled the social science attack on CO
sociology and EM/CA) for not being empirical hardened OLP against any
interest in EM/CA when/as it developed. They were not open to empirical
evidence. Social order treated as a matter of aggregation is the sort of contingent
thing that philosophers claim empirical evidence is. But constitutive orders are
not. Seeing all social order as contingent was unfortunate, as EM/CA were to add
several more dimensions to Austins (and Searles) idea of performative utterances
and Wittgensteins use conditions.
Garfinkel began with the idea that no spoken word has only one meaning
outside of a sequence of action/utterance that exhibits a witnessable and recogn-
izable order. A word in such a case may have many meanings, but not only one.
Sequences are built over the course of talk, and as they are generated they either
change, or confirm, prior understandings. In describing one of his language games
Wittgenstein wrote that one party calls out the words, the other acts on them
(1953: 5e). Garfinkel similarly described communication as a process in which
participants respond to the moves of the other: each next move confirming, by
recasting, the meaning of what went before, supplying information to go on with,
in a context of shared constitutive expectancies a process he called reflexivity.
Thus, for Garfinkel and EM/CA the criteria for understanding per-
formative utterances are not located in the context (as a frame), or even in the
moves (as types), but rather in sequence relations and turn pairs: a constitutive
practice that has great flexibility and crosses many boundaries. This is very differ-
ent from Austin or Searles idea of performative criteria whose features must
be pre-specified. Displacing meaning from words or utterance types to ordered
relations between parts of sequences accomplishes two things. First, it makes the
process more flexible. That is, the order criteria dont have to be packed into a
pre-specified context, which has turned out to be untenable as an approach. Nor
do order criteria need to be built into particular moves. Rather, order is achieved
as the result of a course of ordered sequences and sequence pairs as contexts (and
there is a great deal of research now to support the contention that this is how
sequential relations work).15 Second, because this approach proceeds by empirical


research, it has been possible to show that almost all turns involve constitutive
performatives in this sense. And one upshot of EM/CA is that the argument that
performatives involve a special moral implicativeness, and that they might be fairly
extensive, can be greatly expanded.
With all the long history of debate and misunderstanding of the eclipsing
of Wittgenstein and OLP in philosophy, of dividing sociology into meaningless
dichotomies it comes down to something as simple as two kinds of social order:
two conceptions of rules. One order in which it is proper and allowable to talk
about rational choice and use statistical aggregation because the only order
there really is an aggregated summary of many prior actions. And a second form
of order which is constitutive of the objects and identities within it, and in which
it is not so much that people dont make choices of course people are always
making choices but that the choices they make are about actions and objects that
only exist in the context of the constitutive domain of practice they are currently
acting within. In other words, constitutive orders are a first-level order of object,
identity and action, on top of which at a second order choices can be made. But
a sociology that focuses on those choices, and AG summaries, will not only be
missing the level of order that constitutes the objects and actions on which choices
are based, but will be confronted with problems about meaning and order that
can only be addressed by focusing on first-level constitutive orders. As things now
stand in mainstream sociology, these issues of meaning and order are all handled
within the second-order domain AG which explains why the results are so
unsatisfactory, and general theory has all but disappeared.

1. This is analogous to Wittgensteins (1953) warning that thinking of meaning as something that
corresponds to words and things creates the appearance of problems with language another
mistake made while doing philosophy.

2. Each person has the choice whether or not to participate in a practice. But if they choose to
participate, they give up the right to question rules separately from the practice as a whole (and
still make sense) and they lose the right, and possibly even the ability, to meaningfully question
constitutive practices in individual cases (according to utility criteria) without damaging either their
own credibility or the practice itself through doing so.

3. They do not regulate as Searle interprets, but rather they describe.

4. Referred to as formal analytic or FA sociology by Garfinkel

5. For Rawls, of course, the considerations were moral/ethical, and he was not concerned as I am
with the implications for social theory. The social implications were there nonetheless.

6. Garfinkel addresses this issue in discussions like Both and Each (2002). Unfortunately, because
many readers do not understand that he is contrasting two completely different kinds of social
order they cannot understand his argument. This they attribute to the text complaining about
one of the great thinkers of our time that he is difficult to read. I hope my introductions are helpful


as entryways into these texts, but they should never be treated as replacements for them and I
would advise readers that until the text itself can be read it has not been understood.

7. The prejudice that CO scholars are weird or deviant in some way seems to persist. In 2008 a
graduate student of mine, traveling on a city bus to his first American Sociological Association
meeting in Boston, found himself sitting next to another young sociologist also traveling to the
conference. When asked what he was studying, he mentioned ethnomethodology. The response
was, Oh no, not another one of those weird ethnos. Why would you want to do that? This is a
question very familiar to me having heard it myself for almost forty years but still apparently
acceptable. The questioner was not embarrassed to ask the question. My student was amazed.
It was his initiation into the sort of prejudice that scholars who pursue the study of constitutive
orders can expect to face.

8. To clarify: some sociologists took the philosophers seriously, as papers in this issue make clear. But
philosophers never took them seriously. There was no dialogue.

9. I remember giving a presentation on Harvey Sacks method of analyzing conversation in a class

I took as a graduate student in philosophy in 1976. The experience was a painful one. The
commentary basically was that I could not be giving an accurate description of an empirical
procedure that any intelligent person would use. I must be making it up. The experience was
strange at the time and remains so in memory.

10. During one early job interview, Jay Demerath came down from UMass Amherst to take me to
dinner. During the meal he asked if I understood why he was there. I said that I assumed he was
there to interview me. He proceeded to explain that he had taken a vow, as he called it, to make
sure that no one interested in the work of either Garfinkel or Sacks would ever get a job on his
watch. As he had great influence at the university where I was interviewing, he told me he would
use that influence to make sure that I did not get the job. After this dinner I still had to make my
presentation to the department not an isolated incident either.

11. I am currently engaged in joint project with Uta Gerhardt to write a book about this collaboration,
in the context of which we hope to make selections from those discussions public.

12. There is still the complicated issue of the difference between objects at different levels of
social order (institutional vs ordinary interaction). While no social objects are natural, the ones
that we tend to call institutional are more durable and thus require less sustained constitutive
commitment. Many essential aspects of self, talk and objects, however, are very fragile and live
only in the shared moments of constitutive practice. This is why trust and the working consensus
are required at all points in such interactions. It is also one reason why such moments can only be
captured by audio and video records. Their essence as objects is almost entirely situated and does
not survive the transition to a retrospective view. This difference between institutional practice and
IO lies at the heart of much misunderstanding (see also A. Rawls 1987).

13. In the US, FBI crime reports are one attempt to solve this problem through surveys of individual
citizens perceptions of crime. But all such independent measures of crime are only measures of
what some reporting instrument shows that some population of civilians notices, remembers,
is willing to report and also believes are crimes. What ordinary persons believe counts as crime
and what actually counts as crime for legal purposes are not often the same thing. See Cicourels
paper in this volume for an illustration of the complexities of legal reasoning.

14. The idea of modern practices is important here because in the traditional social forms we seem
to be so nostalgic for even basic practices were constrained to some extent by traditional beliefs


and values, and the practices were also pre-formatted and hierarchical in extreme ways which
the modern form of practices are not (see Bellman, 1983).

15. The way in which constitutive orders are found to have properties of both etcetera (assume
it is the same as last time unless told otherwise) and ad hoc (that rules can be changed by
agreement of the group when needed) combined with the fact that playing a game is not just
about winning but also about making interesting and entertaining moves together (and then of
course winning) makes constitutive orders, even the constitutive orders of games, quite unlike
how they are typically supposed.

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Stories of 1941: Yearbook of the American Short Story. Boston: Houghton
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Anne Warfield Rawls has for the past nine years worked with a team of EM/CA researchers at Bentley
University who all focus on detailing constitutive orders. She has also been awarded a Senior Research
Laureate by the city of Paris to support a research collaboration with the Marcel Mauss Institute, EHESS,
Paris. Her research has ranged from specifying the significance of constitutive orders theoretically to
documenting their workings in contexts such as interaction between races, othering, humanmachine
interaction (and IT systems generally), religious practice, policing and prisons, and language and
communication generally. Her publications include Epistemology and Practice: Durkheims Elementary
Forms of Religious Life (Cambridge University Press, 2004), The Interaction Order Sui Generis:
Goffmans Contribution to Social Theory (Sociological Theory, 1987), Listening to What is Said
Transcribing what is Heard: The Impact of Speech Recognition Technology (SRT) on the Practice of
Medical Transcription (MT) (with Bentley colleagues Gary C. David, Angela Cora Garcia and Donald
Chand, Sociology of Health & Illness 2009) and Simple Enumerations: Ethnomethodology and MITRE
Information Assurance Data Standards (Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa, 2009, co-authored with
Bentley and MITRE colleagues Dave Mann, Angela Garcia, Gary David and Matt Burton). She has also
edited and written introductions for several important manuscripts of Harold Garfinkels that had been
languishing in boxes for over fifty years.

Address: Bentley University, 175 Forest Street, Waltham MA 02452, USA. [email:]