Abstract Sam Duffy 21st March 2013

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CogSci Seminar Ethno v ethno.png

A popular debate within Cognitive and Social Science concerns the juxtaposition of ethnography and ethnomethodology. We aren’t the only ones grappling with this either;

"I think it's also important that the distinctions between ethnomethodology and ethnography are made very clear, as they are very different and the goals are not collapsible. " Cognitive Science group member anon

"Ethnomethodological investigations often use ethnographically generated material but the distinction between ethnomethodology and ethnography is not always understood" (Pollner & Emerson, 2001)

"Communities applying ethnographical methods, for example in technology and design, sometimes assume that to understand one, implies understanding of the other" (Button & Dourish, 1996)

It seems we find it relatively easy to say what ethnography looks like;

"One way to develop a core definition of ethnography is to look at what ethnographers do - participating in peoples’ daily lives, watching what happens, listening to what is said and gathering data to understand the issues emerging" (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007)

However we seem less able to define exactly what it is – is it a methodology, a research method, an analysis technique or something else?

The founder of the ethnomethodological movement describes ethnomethodology as being how individuals reason about, and make sense of, the common sense world, making visible the ‘seen but unnoticed’ backgrounds of everyday activities.

"The experiences that make up the attitude of everyday life are constitutive of the institutionalised common understandings of the practical everyday organisation and workings of society as it is seen 'from within' " (Garfinkel, 1964)

However getting to grips with ethnomethodology is also no easy task. Any attempt to give an account of Garfinkel’s work is confronted by formidable obstacles, not least that;

"The reader is thus confronted by a series of essays, which, in their singularity and lack of compromise with conventional sociological sensibilities, both invite an engagement of an absolute kind whilst simultaneously resisting the assimilation of their perspectives and subject matter to any extant sociological framework" (Heritage, 1984)

And once we have all of that sorted out, is all ethnography carried out from an ethnomethodological viewpoint? It seems you can be an ethnographer without being an ethnomethodologist;

"Hutchins is an ethnographer but not an ethnomethodologist." Cognitive Science group member (anon)

…but can you be an ethnomethodologist without being an ethnographer?

As a research scientist (supposedly) studying ethnomethodologically informed ethnography, I really feel I should be able to answer these questions. Yet somehow, just when I think I have it sorted out in my own mind, someone comes along and tips my ideas on their head. So I am calling out to the Cognitive Science Seminar participants to help me nail this once and for all! I will start with a brief overview of my work, and why this matters to me, which will provide the framework for a more general discussion. This has been a heated topic in the past! Be nice and I will pull together the thoughts from the seminar and circulate them afterwards as preparation for round 2…...


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