Ethnomethodology is a recently developed sociological approach that seeks to analyze the full range of rules that people follow in everyday social interaction. According to ethnomethodologists, all common social interaction between members of a group is governed by certain ?folk? rules. The members of the group (?ethno?) have available to them a body of common sense knowledge and assumptions about the world (?methods?), which they use to make sense of their world.
Harold Garfinkel coined the term ?ethnomethodology? when he was studying jury deliberation in 1945. In his book Rules, Garfinkel wondered how jurors could work together and reach decisions without having known each other before and without understanding the technical rules of law. He decided that there must be a set of rules called ethnomethods that we all share and that we can call on for knowledge of how to behave in novel situations, as on a jury. ?These ethnomethods, in other words, are a sort of shorthand that allow people to communicate and interact effectively? (Wallace & Wolf p.258).
Ethnomethodologists share with Goffman and the dramaturgical approach an interest in the techniques that people use to create impressions in social situations, but they ask a different question about techniques. They ask: ?How do such techniques or rules help form a common sense of reality, a feeling among people that their meanings are shared?? In common with symbolic interactionists, ethnomethodologists focus on the process of social interaction, rather than on larger social structures. While symbolic interactionists see the rules by which we interact as an outcome of the process of interaction, however, ethnomethodologists aren?t really interested in the origins of these rules. ?Rather, they are interested in the way people draw on the rules to know how to interact in a given situation?(Wallace & Wolf p.321).
The folk rules that govern social interaction involve a great many
people have about one another. These background assumptions are
generally so taken for granted that they are rarely even noticed. Yet when
generally assumed role of ?dressing for the occasion.? His disruption of the
rule may only puzzle some guests; others may shun his company.
Ethnomethodologists point out that even casual meetings are based
on shared assumptions. To show just how true this is, Garfinkel
act as though they simply do not understand the basic, unspoken
assumptions behind a conversation. The following is an exchange that
occurred between the subject (S) and the experimenter (E):
(S): Hi, Ray. How is your girlfriend feeling?
(E): What do you mean, ?How is she feeling?? Do you mean physically or mentally?
(S): I mean how is she feeling? What?s the matter with you? (He looked peeved.)
(E): Nothing. Just explain a little clearer, what do you mean?
(E): What do you mean, ?How are they??
(S): You know what I mean.
(E): I really don?t.
(S): What?s the matter with you? Are you sick?
Not only did these two people have trouble communicating, but the
person who did make assumptions was upset by the other person?s refusal to
share his assumptions.
families for a period of up to one hour as though they were not familiar
usually based its interaction on was to be taken for granted. Strict formality
?Sir? and ?Madam.? The result was a breakdown in communication, with
the family members becoming annoyed and upset. In attempting to restore
Ethnomethodologists also use participant observation to try and learn
discovered a complex unspoken code that governed inmate behavior. It did
not allow taking advantage of other inmates, having dealings with the staff,
or informing (?don?t snitch?). It also promoted sharing and loyalty among
the inmates. As an example of the operation of the code, Wieder points to an
inmate going to a staff meeting who remarks ?Where can I find that meeting
where I can get an overnight pass??(p.160). According to Wieder, the
inmate is letting his fellows know that the only reason he wants to go to the
meeting is to get a pass. He does not intend to break the code by
cooperating with the staff.
Ethnomethodologists are less interested in the substance of the codes
or the background assumptions than in the rules that people use to indicate
that the codes and assumptions are shared. Here are two easily understood
rules that ethnomethodologists have identified.
If people sense a lack of clarity when another is conversing, they will
situation. They might frown, or smile in a sarcastic way, or motion
negatively with their arms. The meanings of these gestures are widely
shared and quickly understood. They usually result in getting a
conversation back on a normal course. Another easily understood rule is the
?etcetera? principle. Much is left unsaid in actual interaction. People must
?fill in? or ?wait for? information necessary to make sense of another?s
conversation. When they do this, they are using the etcetera principle. They
are agreeing not to stop the communication by asking for the needed
information. For example, somebody using the phrase ?you know? expects
the other person to follow the etcetera principle: the other person is not to
disrupt the conversation with a response such as, ?No, I do not know.?
These rules may seem obvious, even trivial. But try to converse
without them! People must follow rules in their everyday behavior, just as
scientists must follow them in their experiments and players must in a